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Some dances have such wildly inventive movement, and it flashes by so quickly, that the minute the piece ends, I want to see it again. That’s how I felt when I caught the premiere of “Odeon” by Ephrat Asherie Dance at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival last summer. I felt that way again when ArtPower presented “Odeon” at the Balboa Theatre last week.

Trained in ballet and modern, Ephrat Asherie fell in love with break dancing in college. Her dancers also have eclectic backgrounds. In the evening-length “Odeon,” the seven-member company (which includes Asherie) explodes onstage with fast feet, pirouettes, scissor arms, Latin hips, acrobatic scrambles, sharp isolations, and basket-weave arms like quotes from “Swan Lake.” There are B boy battles and a bit where two dancers simply stare each other down.

Though the movement is hybrid, it’s not some kind of homogenized goo, as if Asherie threw everything into a blender. Rather, in her refreshingly expansive movement vocabulary, the forms retain their integrity. In a similar vein, each dancer stands out as an individual: the vamper with slashing arms, the bald man who’s so fluid, he looks like he has Brazil in his veins.

Bessie Award-winner Asherie sets the street moves to an inspired choice of music—pieces by 20thcentury Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth. The mostly-sprightly score is played live by four musicians, led by the choreographer’s brother, jazz pianist Ehud Asherie. And the musicians aren’t just onstage. At times, they run out and mix it up with the dancers.

“Odeon” brims with a joyous sense of play.  Sometimes the musicians are silent, and the dancers do clapping and stomping games. (It’s no surprise to read that Asherie performs with tap genius Michelle Dorrance, coming to ArtPower May 15.) And Asherie herself looks like a gleeful kid, delighted with her good luck in getting to dance for us.

A riveting performer, she also brings palpable emotion to a slower, moody song near the end. Most (possibly all) of the dancers solo in this section, but she’s unique in using B boy moves to convey melancholy.

Having seen “Odeon” the first time in a black box theater, I wondered how it would translate to a conventional concert stage. While I prefer the black box intimacy, the piece worked fine in the Balboa Theatre. That’s good news, because I predict Ephrat Asherie Dance will be playing to crowds for many years to come.

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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