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Sunday, May 11, 2008
Don Powell Theater, SDSU
This review first appeared on SanDiego.com

As I’m sure you’re well aware, this past Sunday was Mother’s Day – a day in which children celebrate the love, dedication, and sacrifice of the one who bore them with cards, chocolates, little gifts, and over-priced flowers. When Jean Isaac’s took the stage on Sunday evening to welcome the audience, she took time to point out the matrilineal themes within the evening – the fact that her daughter,

Liv Isaacs-Nollet, a longtime company member, was performing; the fact that Sadie Weinberg, daughter of choreographer, teacher, and costume designer Betzie Roe was performing; and Lauren Slater, daughter of San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price was on the bill as well. Not to mention the cast of Isaac’s “Engulf” which have a combined total ofnine children among them.

Yet while Isaacs was paying homage to the mothers of the world (asking for a show of hands of allthe mothers in the audience), she herself as the mother of San Diego Dance Theater (SDDT) was instead honoring her children, her company, by giving them a voice of their own. Isn’t that what mother’s do, after all? Encourage us, push us forward into the spotlight, support our creative endeavors, and of course stick around in the wings in case we need them?

And they challenge us, too. Making sure we don’t get too comfortable in our ways, nagging us to step out of our comfort zones and try something new. And so Mama Isaacs brought in some special guests to do just that and the result was a fresh and spirited evening from the familiar company.

Choreographer Wendy Rogers offered “Second Story” combining film and movement to moments of stunning effect. The visually captivating film caught dancers against the architecture of an oldhouse – framed in a window or moving up staircases. The film dominated the first several silent minutes before giving way to a calm, subdued trio. But where the piece worked best was when the focus shifted between the film in

the foreground and the dancers illuminated behind the screen in the background. In those moments, a world was created that brought the film to life and gave the stage a cinematic scale and it would have been fascinating to see that connection develop and extend further.

Quite on the other end of the scale, SDDT dancer Bradley Lundberg next presented a sexy, athletic pas de deux with Rayna Stohl of skilled balances and tempting looks that amounted to some seriously stylish foreplay. And again taking us to the other end of the emotional spectrum, Isaac’s followed up with “Engulf” a dark and heavy meditation on mourning that could very well have been at the funeral of Martha Graham, who’s spirit seemed to invade the sharp, forceful movements and solemn faces of the ten women dressed in black.

Renowned Bay Area choreographer Joe Goode set a new work, “I don’t want to be here” on the company that stretched the dancers’ chops to include bouts of singing, talking, and even wailing. Isaacs-Nollet portrayed a sophisticated, independent woman who more often than not found herself alone at a downstage café table with a glass of wine while she observed her fellow dancers interacting with one another.

Simply put, she stole the show. A live video feed projected her café table monologues onto a screen behind the dancers as if she was always observing them,literally looking downon them, all to brilliant effect. A scene in which she became entangled in a tornado of her own hair was mesmerizing and could have lasted twice as long. So what if the choreography itself felt a bit underwhelming and didn’t actually stray so far from the company’s usual aesthetic? The added theatrical elements were a refreshing departure for these dancers.

The second act featured a soft and elegant quartet by Isaacs followed by a fierce and relentless solo for the incredibly strong and confident Slater (also by Isaacs). Keith Johnson, a guest choreographer from Long Beach, contributed “I Dream a Highway” that might well have been the gem of this concert. Weinberg and Lundberg brought depth and humanity to the tender work. Slowly, the lengthy piece became a hypnotic lullaby and a steady pilgrimage of comfort and support that appeared to wander aimlessly until it reached its destination and you realized that the journey was rich with meaning all along. Finally, Weinberg’s own creation “American Torch Songs” brought me out of Johnson’s trance into the fun, frivolous, female world of colorful dresses and shared heartache-cum-empowerment that ended the evening on a energetic note.

Jean Isaacs has been a mother to many in San Diego. With Voices of San Diego Dance Theater, she celebrates the creative contributions of her children and her fellow choreographers. But it’s Mother’s Day, after all. So we celebrate her as well.