Sunday, February 02, 2003

Safmod Performance Ensemble


The dance scene in Cleveland, in spite of the departure of Cleveland-San Jose Ballet, is very healthy. There has been an explosion of small dance companies that have more than filled the void of no longer having a world-class production company in town. Two of the best are in-residence at Cleveland Public Theatre: SAFMOD Performance Ensemble and GroundWorks Dancetheater.

SAFMOD was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1991 by percussionist/composer Neil Chastain and dancer/choreographer Young Park. The company moved to Cleveland in 1993. The group is dedicated to multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural performances which strive to push the boundaries of dance, music, and visual artistry. Their multi-media approach has included the use of projected digital animation, aerosol art installations, dancers on stilts, spoken word poetry, audience involvement, trapeze work, and costumes often made from recycled materials.

SAFMOD’s recent performances at CPT were met by appreciative sold-out audiences.

The evening opened with “Temporal Tides,” a well-conceived piece which grapples with the forces of time. The dancers were huddled in a heap, mid-stage at the start. Each grew upward, upside down, feet first, then torsos, then heads. The slow, controlled movements continued throughout the piece. As is typical of the group, such props as tree limbs and ethereal lighting helped convey the message.

“Fionacci” was an astounding example of a perfect fusion of dance and music. The movements were so well synchronized to Neil Chastain’s music, which was specifically developed for this piece, and for Young Park’s choreographic and dance styles, that the two elements became one.

“(With In) Instrument” was a happy gymnastic-centered piece which had an almost Disneyesque quality. It featured the guitarist/singer Alex Alvarez performing an original song which choreographer Young Park transformed into a modern dance. The dancers conveyed convincingly the concept of people as bags of humanity who often bumped into one another.

“Ahimsa” was the weakest piece of the evening. Many segments of this attempt to portray some people’s inhumanity toward each other were to be acted as well as danced. It illustrated that proficient actors do not necessarily make proficient dancers. Many facial expressions and body movements were unrealistic. This was also the only piece in which the synchronization of dancers was weak. The stilt and masks created by Alison Egan and Alexandra Underhill were outstanding. Ezra Houser’s stilt movements were well done.

“The Playground” was a total delight. Not only did the audience love it, but the performers appeared to be having a wonderful time. The segment starts with a chorus of nine drummers beating on blue buckets. It segued into a playground with a trapezoid-shaped metal structure which was moved to allow the dancers/gymnasts to play at ease. A combination of routines similar to Olympic gymnastic routines combined with swinging and flipping brought the audience to gasps and prolonged applause.

Capsule Judgment: Safmod presented a wonderful evening of dance!