|Brian Fisher and Katherine Wells in Duettos. Photo by Marty Sohl
Duettos â€” Mark Foehringer Dance Projectâ€™s eleventh season and latest World Premiere at the ODC Theater â€” is more than an ode to the choreographerâ€™s teachers and students. It is inspired by lessons learned and passed on, and it contains brief glimpses into the relationship that could be those between any mentor and student. Accompanied by a string quartet of members of the SF Chamber Orchestra playing various movements of composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, Duettos takes on a variety of moods as inspired by the distinct tempos of the music.
The â€śstoryâ€ť line of the program begins with a general warm-up by all the â€śstudentsâ€ť with the teacher (danced by Brian Fisher) instructing the ensemble with little adjustments here and there. Thereafter, with the exception of one or two numbers, the lionâ€™s share of the program is danced by Fisher and Katherine Wells. While Fisher plays the teacher/mentor, it is soon obvious that Wells is the most promising of students, who by the end of the program catches up with and surpasses her teacher both technically and creatively.
Within a set of panels in muted earthtones and in costumes (Susanna Douthit) varying in color and flow that reflect the mood of each number, the two main dancers gradually move closer to each other as they become more attracted to each other. It is the student who first becomes enamored of her teacher. But eventually, he too cannot resist the extraordinary beauty and talent of his prize student. The two become romantically involved daring to cross the psychic, physical, and forbidden â€śprofessionalâ€ť distance between them. As the tempos vary, so do the moods of the dance. They are playful, mournful, angry, depressed, longing, rejected, lost, understanding, compassionate, and finally triumphant.
What is particularly noticeable about Wells is how remarkably she differentiates her movements according to the particular changes of each musical number. Her entire body is affected from the inside out. What were once joyful leaps in the Saltando become somber ones in the later Adagio, not only in tempo but in tension as well. And even more remarkable is the ease and seeming effortlessness with which she accomplishes it all
Whether it is intentional or not is unclear, but the choreographed movements of Fisher as the teacher/mentor, while perfectly executed, are not as inwardly connected as those of his partner/student, nor as varied. There is much repeated extended-arm flailing, except in the far more dramatic power struggle scene. Here, the dynamic and vividly quick sharp thrusts include more angular extensions of the feet interspersed by moments of lyrical turning punctuated by staccato tossing and throwing of one another aside. By the end the two are at opposite ends of the floor.
In one of two silent numbers, instructor Fisher attempts to incorporate new ideas of movement with a knee that is suffering twinges of pain, broadcasting his physical decline, ending with an expansive gesture of imploring. A later solo scene, echoing similar activity with Wells, shows her to be more creatively innovative as she designs movement that later Fisher finally accepts into the body of their shared physical language. While at the beginning, student Wells merely parroted the movements of her teacher, but by the end, she has created steps of her own that she teaches a new student â€” thus coming full circle, helping him as much as her teacher once helped her. Now, it is the elder teacher who disappears into the background as she steps into his role to teach the younger student eager to imitate her to learn the art of the dance.
Perhaps in the next program, the other dancers in the ensemble will have more stage time to show off their talent. Either incorporate them more in the program, or leave them out of it altogether, for they certainly had little to do except in the set up of the story.
Mark Foehringerâ€™s choreography, although somewhat repetitive, by and large uses the dance to explore the emotional side of human experience which elevates it above the purely physical. The Bay Area eagerly looks forward to his next work.
For more information about the Mark Foehringer Dance Project/SF, call (415) 640-2784 or go to www.mfdpsf.org