Posted on Apr 14 2008 on SanDiego.com

It’s always encouraging to see San Diego artists and companies making global connections and developing international relationships. Cross-border conversations offer new perspectives, expose artists to new ideas and techniques, and push artists outside of their comfort zones. The Mojalet Dance Collective and director Faith Jensen-Ismay have found a second home in Switzerland, where they travel frequently to present dance and have in turn welcomed Swiss artists to San Diego. This weekend, the exchange continued with Swiss artist Elfi Schaefer-Schafroth in the program “Crosscurrents: Europe Collaborations.”

Schaefer-Schafroth began the evening with a solo of excerpts from “Lichtungen” and “amourire – to love, to die, to smile” for which she credited a long list of guest choreographers. Unfortunately, it was unclear how the guest choreographers contributed to the work, outside of a brief section where projections of various artists (including local dance makers Jean Isaacs and Jensen-Ismay) played out above the stage. That the choreographers listed are spread evenly around Western Europe and the United States suggests there was true global fusion at work here, though again the influence of eachwas ambiguous.

The work began with a dancing hula doll, shaking her hips happily under a spot light until a remote-controlled toy truck interrupted her dance to steal the stage and knock her flat – as if technology and aggression had crushed beauty. In another sense, the toy truck and the dancing doll brought to mind clearly gendered worlds where male dominance trumps female spirit. The automotive thread continued with projections of car crashes and rolling wheels – a world of glass and steel on the road to self-destruction. In response, Schaefer-Schafroth seemed to channel her inner femininity, though at times the effort to “learn” how to be a woman appeared exhausting. Over the course of the work, however, she morphed from a rather simple, pedestrian, androgynous persona to a flirty, waving, smiling, swimsuit-clad woman, much like the dancing hula girl from the start – yet more confident and ready to face any oncoming trucks.

Following Schaefer-Schafroth’s work was “Preludes, Fugues, and Riffs” by Jensen-Ismay, set to the music of Leonard Bernstein that alternated between a playful duet and a smiling quartet of women. It was a work that seemed to have little care in the world other than find the fun in the music and run with it. Melissa Nunn’s “Forever Without End” offered a sober counterpoint to Bernstein’s sunshine, beginning and ending with the simple and devastating sounds of a person weeping. The lighting imprisoned her dancers behind bars of light as each sought to deal with their own sadness and pain alone. The dancers rarely related to each other and when they did, they rarely touched. Loneliness pervaded the work. In the concluding scene, silent onlookers failed to lift a hand to assist a struggling companion; it was a gloomy suggestion that apathy is a prevailing social attitude these days.

Patricia Sandback’s clever “Life’s a Very Funny Proposition After All, ” was a refreshingly witty work that poked fun at, among other things, soap operas and infomercials. The constant chanting of stereotypical soap opera names channeled the obsession audiences develop with certain shows and characters; interspersed monologues detailing the complex and outrageous plotlines of soap operas felt like a parallel to the surge of reality TV popularity that has taken over American pop-culture.

In between these soap opera episodes, Jensen-Ismay strolled onto the stage with a variety of cooking gadgets and explained, in a barely understandable, eccentric voice, the various uses of her products. Her performance was unexpected and impressive. It was also a side of the veteran dancer that San Diego rarely sees – a goofy caricature with dead-on comedic timing and fully realized characterization that was thoroughly entertaining and expertly portrayed.

From television show to commercial and back again, Sandback brought to the stage what millions of Americans experience every night from the comfort of their couches. In placing it under lights and in front of a live-audience, she highlighted the strangeness of the circus that is American television, that calculating balance between the production of fantasy and the consumption of products. This “work-in-progress,” as the program states, is onto something interesting and will be worth developing further. Stay tuned.

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