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January 18-21, 2007
Copley Auditorium
San Diego Museum of Art

There aren’t a whole lot of annual events in the dance community in San Diego to which one can look forward each year, save for the expected onslaught of Nutcracker productions running through December. But Jean Isaac’s San Diego Dance Theater’s Intimate Cabaret Dances has been a consistent staple on the dance scene for several years and is always a welcomed show for this writer. There’s something comforting about seeing an annual showcase return from a familiar company year after year. This year’s cabaret dances provided an entertaining show where the strengths, as they should be, were the dances and dancers, and the weaknesses, as have come to be expected, are the “cabaret” aspects of the evening.

The evening began with Three Quartets, a series of quartets, trios, duets and, at the last minute, a solo since Erica Nordin was forced to perform sans her ill partner John Diaz. The stunning music from the Kronos Quartet that gave the piece its name (a confusing decision that kept me wondering when the three quartets onstage would develop) and also an urgent and dramatic dynamic. The choreography, marked by unusually frequent (for Isaacs) spins and pirouettes, created an atmosphere of controlled chaos that was almost on the verge of spiraling out of control.

In Cheers, which premiered in an earlier form at the Celebrate Dance Festival in August, Bradley Lundberg and Sadie Weinberg told the story of a doomed relationship in which one partner (Lundberg) refused to let go and the other was indifferent to his suffering. With aggressive partnering interspersed with pedestrian moments of stillness, the desperation of the duo shifted from physical to emotional and was successful in conveying the heartache of the story.

Of course, one couldn’t mistake it for anything else since Damian Rice (whose song provided the soundtrack to the piece) kept reminding us how hurt he was. The work was undermined by how literally it interpreted the song. The dance itself would have aptly conveyed the emotion set to any other piece of music. The fact that it was paired to Rice’s Cheers turned it into a mere illustration and robbed the dancers of their ability to embody the feelings rather than have them narrated to the audience.

Next up was Giallo per Quattro, choreographed by former Alvin Ailey dancer Jeffrey Gerodias who also performed as well, filling in for Diaz. The frequent repetition of the initial movement theme through the piece gave the impression that it didn’t really go anywhere. Though it was pleasant enough to watch, there was no arc to the work and thus it felt very superficial. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable.

Finally, the evening closed with Her It Age, the San Diego premiere of Isaac’s newest work, which draws from her Italian heritage. The frequent voice-overs by Isaacs addressed topics ranging from what she likes most about Italians to things she’s lost and things she’s found. As a result, the work had the feel of an autobiography, at least from a textual standpoint. Unfortunately, the choreography didn’t seem to add to the narrative or even address it in any overt way. Though segments of the choreography were fun and clever (particularly Weinberg and her “backup dancers”), there was a disconnect between text and dance that weakened the work,

San Diego Dance Theater can always be counted upon for audience-pleasing work that is very accessible to newcomers of modern dance. The Intimate Cabaret Dances is a nice venue in which to experience dance, though the “cabaret” aspect of the evening is its weakest element. Rather than being an integrated aspect of the presentation, the “cabaret” elements – a piano interlude and some monologues by MC George Willis – feel merely like fillers, and uninteresting ones at that. But hey, if “cabaret” also means that the audience is allowed to sip wine and eat cheese during the show, then it’s worth keeping. Until next year…