Contemporary ballet choreographers Amy Seiwert, Stephanie Martinez and Ben Needham-Wood use projection to varied effect in new dances onstage this week at ODC Theater.
The program, “Sketch 9: Perspective,” is part of a series Seiwert — artistic director of Sacramento Ballet and former choreographer-in-residence at San Francisco’s Smuin contemporary ballet — established in 2011, challenging herself and fellow dance makers to reach beyond their comfort zone.
The eight members of her troupe, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, are listed as collaborators, not dancers, in the program. But Isaac Bates-Vinueza, Alysia Chang, Joseph A. Hernandez, Peter Kurta, Kelsey McFalls, Austin Meiteen, Constanza Murphy and Shania Rasmussen are indeed accomplished dancers who looked good in all three works on Wednesday’s opening night.
The show closed with the most exuberant, yet perplexing, dance, “All I Ever Knew,” by Needham-Wood, a Smuin dancer and Imagery’s artistic fellow.
Set to a rushing electronic score by Kishi Bashi, it had a catchy, if not necessarily evocative, video design by Chris Correa, with eyes and faces projected at the back of the stage, while squares of light flashed onto square white boxes piled into a wall-like structure onstage.
Wearing flowing dresses, knee socks and their hair down, the women partnered with the men, attired in street clothes, in initially carefree, happy movement. Yet the scene suddenly, dramatically changed to chaotic, as the dancers frantically knocked over the boxes. Rasmussen, paired with Bates-Vinueza, seemingly trying to help her, had a breakdown of sorts, then regained her composure as the dancers restacked the boxes.
In program notes, Needham-Wood said the piece is inspired by a moment where people work to understand each other during a life-changing experience, yet its varied components — pleasant but not extraordinary movement, geometric scenery and somewhat abstract video — didn’t add up to offer such a cohesive message.
Meanwhile, Martinez, in the program, writes that “Otra Vez, Otra Vez, Otra Vez, ” the evening’s second dance, is loosely based on Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” While that connection was not obvious upon initial viewing, the work, again featuring the dancers often in pairs and the introduction of one hat, was subdued and lovely; musical accompaniment ranged from classical guitar to piano to castenets. Yet Ben Estabrook’s video design — lines and patterns of light projected onto the floor — felt unconnected to the action.
“Verses,” the evening’s satisfying opener by Seiwert, most successfully integrated technology and movement. Olivia Ting’s video design — images of windows projected onto the floor — worked quite well as passageways for all eight dancers, graceful and controlled, appearing in what Seiwert calls “modular” segments. Meiteen soloed nicely to start off the dance, set to excerpts from “The Chopin Project,” a soothing, beautiful recording by Icelandic electronic musician and composer Ólafur Arnalds and German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott.
The dance exemplified the fruit of Seiwert and her collaborators’ — including costume designer Christine Darch and lighting designer Brian Jones — continued efforts to stretch the boundaries of what some see as an uncompromising art form, and to see what happens when they allow themselves, as she says, to “fail forward.”
Sketch 9: Perspective
Presented by Amy Seiwert’s Imagery
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. July 18-20
Tickets: $25 to $55
Contact: (415) 863-9834, odc.dance/sketch9