Jennifer Bishop Orsulak, Nol Simonse, Tammy Cheney
For Immediate Release Contact Heather Tietsort-Lasky

November 2005 415.609.6738

Janice Garrett & Dancers
in Concert

Join them for their 2005 home season at the
Cowell Theater,
Fort Mason Center, San Francisco

2 World Premieres; 2 Repertory Favorites; 1 SF Premiere by Guest Artist

Thurs.-Sat. December 1-3 and Thurs.-Sat. December 8-10 at 8:00 p.m.

Special Meet the Artists forum following Friday, December 2 nd performance

Tickets $25, Groups 10 or more $20, Students $18, Student Groups of 10 or more $15, Special Benefit Reception on Saturday, December 3, immediately following the performance (includes concert admission) $75

Cowell Theater Box Office 415.345.7575

Janice Garrett & Dancers sweep onto the stage of the Cowell Theater for their 2005 home season December 1-3 and 8-10. See two world premieres from Garrett and the San Francisco premiere of internationally acclaimed guest choreographer Charles Moulton's 18 Person Precision Ball Passing . Honored by Dance Magazine as one of their top “25 to Watch,” Janice Garrett & Dancers deliver “dancing from the heart, backed by a humanist vision” (SF Chronicle). With a keen eye toward craft, Garrett has emerged from a sophisticated tradition to become a fresh and energized Bay Area voice. 2005 marks her finely tuned ensemble's third anniversary showing.

Season highlights :

Fast Brass —World Premiere Fast Brass is the latest in Garrett's quirky kinetic movement exposés. The boisterous gypsy horns of Fanfare Ciocarlia provide the raw soundscape in which Garrett's troupe reels, rocks, and rebounds at breakneck speed to the deliriously celebratory music of one of Romania's finest all brass bands.

UntitledWorld Premiere With the support of a Meet the Composer grant, Garrett joins forces with Bay Area composer/cellist Moses Sedler in their first collaborative venture. This robust sextet explores the intersection of Garrett's dynamic movement world with the rich harmonic textures and swirling rhythmic impulses of Sedler's music.

Path on the Rug —(2004) The intricacies of human connection are at the heart of Garrett's duet, Path on the Rug . Described as “a superbly tension-ratcheting duet” (San Francisco Chronicle), this work probes the unspoken spaces between two people caught in a timeless exchange.

Ostinato —(2002) Garrett's company revisits this 2002 audience favorite which is set to the music of assorted 16th and 17th Century Iberian composers (Valente, Falconiero, Ortiz, Marini, and Merula) and performed by viola de gambist Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI. The lush score transports the ensemble through an exuberant and highly interactive landscape. “They flood the stage with swirling running patterns that only amplify the immense vitality of the early Italian and Spanish baroque music. They chase each other, and flutter their hands as though shaking with joy, and raise their eyebrows at one another's vanity as they pose for an imagined photographer.” (The Examiner).

18 Person Precision Ball Passing San Francisco Premiere (1988) Fusing the communal energy of team sports and the elegance of dance, Charles Moulton's ball passing pieces have been performed by dance companies around the world. As part of the 25 th anniversary celebration of this groundbreaking form, he is setting versions of his signature work at City Center Theater, New York and on Garrett's company in San Francisco. 18 Person Precision Ball Passing has never before been performed in San Francisco and Garrett's season will herald its Bay Area premiere.

Janice Garrett

Janice Garrett has been working as a choreographer and dance educator since 1992. She was a member of Dan Wagoner and Dancers from 1984-89 after which she began a freelance career of choreographing, performing, and teaching throughout the US and abroad. She has been commissioned to create dances for companies and performance groups in the US and in Europe. These include Scottish Dance Theatre, 4D Performance Group, London Contemporary Dance School, and Skolen for Moderne Dans I Danmark. Her choreography has been presented throughout the Bay Area and Los Angeles as well as internationally at The Place Theatre, London, the Nott Dance Festival, Nottingham, and Danse Scenen, Copenhagen. She has also been a guest teacher for numerous dance companies including, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, DV8 Physical Theatre, and Matthew Bourne's Adventures in Motion Pictures/New Adventures. In 2002 Garrett put down creative roots in San Francisco and formed her own company which has performed throughout California and is now beginning to tour the country.

Funders: Atlantis Research Foundation, Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, Meet the Composer Creative Connections Grant, W A Gerbode Foundation, W & F Hewlett Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation

For Tickets:
•  Cowell Theater Box Office 415.345.7575
•  General Admission $25, Student (with valid ID) $18
•  Student Groups (10 or more) $15
•  Discounts for groups of 10 or more, $20
•  Tickets for the benefit reception following the December 3 performance are $75 (includes concert admission)

Press Contact:
•  Heather Tietsort-Lasky: 415.609.6738 or

•  Photos and collaborator bios are available upon request.
(Photos can be downloaded here with password)

San Francisco Bay Guardian says:
Welcome back, Janice Garrett's return to the Bay Area is a triumph.

IN A PHONE conversation a few weeks ago Janice Garrett called herself an old-fashioned choreographer. But I'd say Garrett is a dancemaker who uses music imaginatively, who embraces crafted shape, who thinks in terms of movement, and who hires dancers that move forcefully. Old-fashioned? No way. Excellent? Yes.

Garrett is no newcomer. In the early '90s her pieces would pop up in group performances. Then she seemed to vanish, though she'd actually taken off for Great Britain and Scandinavia, where she further defined and refined her style of choreography. Now she's back, and having founded her own company, Janice Garrett and Dancers, with some of the Bay Area's best dance performers, she plans to stick around for a while. If her first full-evening concert at ODC Theater Dec. 5 was any indication, this is a good thing.

More than anything else, Garrett and her team of eight dancers (Kara Davis, Jennifer Golden, Brian Grannan, Bliss Kohlmyer, Dana Lawton, Heidi Schweiker, Nole Simonse, and Heather Tietsort) conveyed the idea that dancing is fun. They almost made you believe you could do what they were doing.

The program included two world premieres (Hither Thither and Unmarked Boxes), a duet from 2001 (Otherwise), and a fiery, joyful piece (Ostinato), which had stolen the final program of this year's Summerfest. In much of her choreography Garrett favors small groupings, first setting them against one another and then reconfiguring them. Garrett's dancers often perform in unison, which has the paradoxical advantage of highlighting their individuality. She also details phrases by choreographing tiny gestures and facial expressions.

The thoroughly enjoyable Hither Thither introduced the company, arms around one another, strolling toward the stage's back wall. Then two dancers broke away for a unison duet of twirling kicks. They were followed by a third who began to leap vertically, and in no time at all the initial calm had exploded into exuberant competitiveness. A slower section sent two groups of dancers around the stage until they found themselves in each other's spot. A quick-stepping, hands-on-backs portion called up Irish dancing even though the music – which featured Tuvan throat singers – was by the Finnish group Värttinä. An all-female episode in which dancers broke out of their huddles to chatter with hands, faces, and feet was perfectly timed.

Unmarked Boxes was marginally less interesting. Using a series of stools, featuring Golden, Kohlmyer, Simonse, and Tietsort, and set to a selection of music by the Tin Hat Trio, the piece's Edward Gorey whimsy was somewhat predictable but also inventive at times. Tietsort's dreamy waltzing in this musical chairs-style game almost accidentally alighted her on an open stool. Kohlmyer balanced precariously and her companions created the stepping stones to assist her progress – up and out into the wings.

Otherwise, languidly performed by Davis and Tietsort, showed these very different dancers in perfect synchronicity with each other and with Arvo Pärt's "Fuer Alina," beautifully performed by pianist Richard Hawkins. The piece felt like one long breath, with the two women effortlessly completing each other's moves.

The final work, Ostinato, looked just as good as it did last summer. Closely set to Spanish baroque music recorded by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI, this was a celebration involving good-natured teasing and a series of surprises. The dancers filled the stage with confidence, camaraderie, and a zest for movement. Tietsort burst through formal double lines, and dainty elevated steps gave way to exuberant runs. Inside large group patterns, duets came into focus as a dancer momentarily acknowledged a partner – sometimes gesturing frantically in an attempt to steal a moment of private conversation. At one point, a circle of dancers blew in from the wings, to the consternation of a preoccupied couple at center stage. A stack of dancers recalled Shiva until they "properly" coordinated their arms. Ostinato insouciantly played with baroque dance patterns, but it was also a thoroughly contemporary work – one that bodes well for Garrett's future, as well as that of local dance.

By Rita Felciano, December 11, 2002

The Wave Crests

Cowell Theater, San Francisco
July 24-25, 2003

The last weekend of Summerfest was an embarrassment of riches—what a feast of brilliant performances…

Even more gorgeous was Janice Garrett's Laulu Palju, which premiered on the final program, and seemed to take old-fashioned modern dance as a theme on which to work many sumptuous variations. My companion thought it was too pretty, and I would admit, it's probably too long (Doris Humphrey: "all dances are too long"), but Jesus, it was beautiful. It's set to an unnamed score that sounds like a Mass, by Veljo Tormis, performed in a language that's probably Estonian by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and its mode is melting, heavenly.

Garrett's movement is intricate, wave-like (including the partnering)—and as with waves, the movement is never over; the phrases have what versifiers call feminine endings, and THOSE turn out to have another sigh to them before they subside altogether. Garrett used to confine her dancer's bodies—say to a spot on a bench—and give them vivid things to do with torso, head, and hands, particularly the fingers. For the last few years, though, she's been sweeping her forces around the stage, bringing back folk-dance forms, moving her dancers FAST—and alternating that with little interactions that remind me of "all of Hamlet in 90 seconds." In this piece she seems to be reaching all the way back to Isadora Duncan for breath and surge and sweep and musicality—and her dancers, who are very released, seem to be naturally inclined to move in Duncanesque arcs, especially Heidi Schweiker, the most fluent of a remarkable group (which includes Kara Davis, Bliss Dowman, Brian Grannan, Dana Lawton, Nol Simonse, and Heather Tietsort Lasky).

Paul Parish, danceviewwest

Janice Garrett & Dancers present: Home Season 2002

To call choreographer Janice Garrett promising smacks more than a bit of condescension. Anybody who has followed, even haphazardly, the San Francisco Bay Area scene the past couple of years has noted her name for future reference and witnessed a dancemaker of stature.

Garrett brought an eight-member troupe of stunningly articulate performers to the ODC Theater last week for the kind of concert that one had thought almost extinct - pedigreed mainstream modern dance without message, agenda, talk, naked (or costumed) aggression or flying trapezes. You would think the trendoids who populate the scene might find Garrett’s work fusty, démodé and hopelessly dated. But no: the crowd Friday (Dec. 6) cheered the performance lustily and some of the community’s more prominent dancemakers were on site, too. There is hope yet - both for contemporary dance and its audiences.

Educated at Stanford and Mills College, Garrett arrived back in the Bay Area several years ago after dancing with Dan Wagoner and choreographing around Europe. She presented a full evening of dances last year, formed her own company earlier this year and rescued the final bill of last July’s West Wave Dance Festival from terminal dreariness by unveiling a baroque-influenced dazzler called Ostinato. That piece - a closer if there ever was one - also ends the current program which continues through Saturday, Dec. 14. A second reprise, Otherwise, and two premieres - Hither Thither and Unmarked Boxes - complete the package, although none of them quite yields the thrills and variety of Ostinato.

Hither Thither, however, comes close. It is all too easy to overlook the unsensational yet refined level of craft on display here. Garrett finds her inspiration in the recordings of Värtinnä, a Swedish vocal group, and YatKha, an assemblage of Tuvan throat singers. The sound is raw but rhythmically complex and the seven barefoot dancers of this impressive looking company - Kara Davis, Brian Grannan, Bliss Kohlmyer, Dana Lawton, Heidi Schweiker, Nol Simonse and Heather Tietsort - seem eminently alert to the music’s possibilities.In this exuberantly fluid mosaic, Garrett heeds the folk sources with insidious shuffles and kicks and little jumps that seem like ideal transitions between episodes. The slicing arms and unisons of threes and fours recall any number of modern dancemakers, but there is nothing derivative here.

Strange details - hands concealing mouths in mock-horror - do not intrude too long to puzzle us. Before you can process the information, they yield to corkscrews descent and silky recoveries. The weight - and the power and eloquence - always derive from the center. Garrett discloses a recognizable structure, almost that of a classical divertissement. Amid all the energy, a duet for the men near the end offers a moment and introspective lyricism. Garrett is blessed with a pair of men who are uniform in both physique and hairdo. The costumes, fabricated of Swedish modern prints, are just about perfect.

Unmarked Boxes offers considerable texture, too, but there are unintegrated moments which spell enigma. At the start, the four dancers (Kohlmyer, Simonse, Tiestort and Jenifer Golden) advance and climb matching stepladders and stretch across them. Later, Garrett offers shifting perspectives (the stepladders are realigned to face the left wall), attempts sequences of accumulative detail. I enjoyed the thrashing in Golden’s solo to "Willow Weep for Me," from the taped music by the Tin Hat Trio. Still, the work seems to come to an end before it stops with the dancers back on the ladders. Psychodrama just doesn’t suit Garrett’s temperament.

No complaints about Otherwise (1991), an inspired setting of Arvo Pärt’s piano works, Für Alina, rendered live and splendidly by Richard Hawkins. This duet pairs Davis and Tietsort in a legato study of slow arabesques and wafting hand gestures Michael Kruzich’s slit black skirts reveal contemplative extensions and the choreography trades in gestures of obstacles conquered.

Ostinato looked just as satisfying on second exposure; once with this piece is simply not enough. This may very well become the signature work of Janice Garrett and Dancers. This heady romp to a recording of baroque music led by the great Spaniard, Jordi Savall, leaves you slightly out of breath as the dancers tumble across the stage, devouring space like unleashed antelopes. Details - rotating shoulders, a conga line -come from nowhere, yet we too willingly succumb to the charm and inventiveness. If Friday’s dancers often looked a bit imprecise in Garrett’s recurring unisons, they each projected a strikingly individual personality. And that, in the long run, may be what matters most.

ALLAN ULRICH, Voice of Dance, December 9, 2002

What's new? Garrett's company has the answer

Whoever fears that the old-fashioned virtues of mainstream modern dance are dying needs to see the latest Janice Garrett & Dancers concert at Cowell Theater.

Thursday's opening drew a who's who of the San Francisco dance scene, and for good reason: Locals have had their eyes trained on Garrett since she returned to the Bay Area and introduced a bona fide company in 2002. And if the three premieres and one solid encore on offer now aren't quite crowning achievements, they prove nonetheless that hope is not misplaced.

Credit pure craft for the steep expectations. There is nothing flashy in Garrett's work, no high concepts or postmodern posturing or smug irony. This is dancing from the heart, backed by a distinct movement vocabulary and a humanist vision. At its best it presents Garrett's seven highly trained dancers as a kind of close-knit tribe whose world is sometimes comic, sometimes mythic, but always fully imagined.

In "Rumpus" it's a small world indeed. Flamenco, tango, African rhythms, suave French melodies -- nothing escapes accordionist René Lacaille and guitarist Bob Brozman's fusion frenzy. The result is a cartoon caper in a recognizably Garrett vein -- you can practically see the dialogue bubbles rising from the dancers' heads. James Meyer's oddly chic costumes are an explosion of squiggles.

Two other Garrett dances present solemn societies. "Talking With the Dead" is billed as the first installment in a longer work exploring mortality; it's set to American folk hymns sung by Word of Mouth Chorus and Anonymous 4. Glen Roger's gauzy golden scrolls frame a lantern ritual led by soulful Heather Tietsort-Lasky.

2003's "Laulu Palju" also draws from spiritual vocal music, in this case by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis. The full company, swaddled in iridescent gray, billows across the stage in heavenly groupings like a William Blake drawing brought to life.

It's a lovely vision, but it's five minutes too long, which points to the flaws common to all three works. The music for each is episodic, but the sections, while gorgeously constructed individually, don't contrast strongly or orient us in the work's arc; they're virtually interchangeable. And Garrett's precise musicality and signature hand gestures, so charmingly manic in "Rumpus," can become chattering in serious works.

Perhaps because it avoids both these problems, the standout here is a superbly tension-ratcheting duet. In "Path in the Rug," Heidi Schweiker and Nol Simonse pass their hands over each other's faces as though drawing a veil. Their stiff unison movements resonate with aggression louder than any slap of the face, and their cradlings convey a ghostly tenderness.

At the height of Peter Vasks' skin-crawling string dissonances, they lean into each other, face-to-face, at the lip of the stage. The choreographic structure of their encounter is subtle yet strong as steel, and Schweiker, a likable but often girlish performer, evidences compelling maturity.

The excellent company -- which also includes Kara Davis, Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman, Julian De Leon and Dana Lawton -- appeared a bit taxed by the volume of new material, but committed. They clearly believe in Garrett's dances, because even when Garrett is not in perfect form, she gives you something to believe in.

Maybe her virtues aren't so old-fashioned after all. Enduring might be more like it.

Rachel Howard, Special to The Chronicle, March 20, 2004

San Francisco Chronicle says:
Debut sparkles start to Finnish Garrett's company shows wit,
originality in new pieces

San Francisco's newest dance company was born at ODC Theater on Thursday night, and its debut was very promising. Janice Garrett & Dancers may turn out to be an exciting addition to the local dance scene.

There were four dances on offer, all by Garrett and each drenched in elegance. Two were recent, the rambunctious "Ostinato" set to recordings by Barcelona's Jordi Savall, and "Otherwise," a minor but lovely duet set to Arvo Part's gentle "Fur Alina" that also featured a sensitive piano performance onstage by Richard Hawkins.

The best pieces were the new ones. Garrett choreographed the ambitious "Hither Thither" to eerie, bouncy recordings by the Finnish vocal group Varttina that seem to bring Northern Europe's folk impulse right into 21st century pop. The choreography's teasing, fluid patterns fit the music with exquisite aplomb.

Garrett, a Bay Area choreographer who has danced with Dan Wagoner's troup and whose choreography has been performed around the world, set her "Unmarked Boxes," also new, to recordings by the Tin Hat Trio. Four stepladders, four dancers, plucked pizzicati and flashy clothes came together in a series of alarming gestures and insistent steps. There were hands waved fast around the ears, puzzled looks at the dancers' palms and a general feeling of having to move on after a disaster. The climax was unexpectedly serene, with an exit into the wings as if up the little ladder to somewhere much higher.

Garrett's is mainstream modern dance, created as if in energetic homage to the century that just passed. The precision of the best of her phrasing recalls the work of Viola Farber. Garrett's casual wit comes close to that of Mark Morris and especially to that of Twyla Tharp, whose own musical insouciance can sometimes also come off as fussy.

Garrett seems to know her dancers' strengths. The new Janice Garrett & Dancers includes local journeymen and women who also work with Robert Moses' Kin, the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and Kunst-Stoff -- and each looked his or her best.

Unison passages, which can show to disadvantage the group's eclectic training, were few. A rare exception came in the gripping "Unmarked Boxes" when Jenifer Golden and Bliss Kohlmyer danced a short series of barefoot arabesques that betrayed the otherwise wonderful Golden's lack of follow- through when seen next to Kohlmyer's.

Elsewhere, even the line formations, especially lovely in the folk-based "Hither Thither," seemed to play up individual personalities. The eight company members were winning, not just Golden and Kohlmyer but also Kara Davis, Brian Gannan, Dana Lawton, Heidi Schweiker, Nol Simonse and Heather Tietsort. These are dances and dancers to watch.

Octavio Roca, Chronicle Dance Critic, Saturday, December 7, 2002

Dec 5, 2005
Janice Garrett & Dancers: 2005 Home Season: Dances by Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton

It’s a bit curious: Bay Area based choreographer Janice Garrett refrains from calling her artistic organization a company. Yet, of all the local modern dance troupes, none merits the word more. Janice Garrett & Dancers is, in reality, a team of fine performers who seem to live, work and breathe together. The smoothness of ensemble, the empathy of the interplay, the intuitive understanding that passes between these artists is remarkable. You don’t appreciate those qualities, until they are missing in a dance performance and that happens more often than not.

The seven-member company is infusing Garrett’s third home season with tremendous appeal this month at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater, where the dancing continues through next weekend. Garrett has devised two world premieres, which succinctly display her range of tone and musicianship. Brink is a sextet set to a terrifically listenable commissioned score by Moses Sedler. Fast Brass is a whimsical quintet, arranged to Romanian pop music by a performance group that calls itself Fanfare Ciocarla. Revivals include the duet, Path on the Rug, and the 2002 Ostinato, an often seen and much admired company number that augurs to become Garrett’s signature piece. Garrett also keeps good company. For this engagement, she has invited Charles Moulton to stage yet another version of his post modern, 18 Person Precision Ball Passing classic.

The dances are not all top-flight Garrett, but there is much to admire here. What I love most of all is the manner is which she engages the entire body in her choreography. Limbs may often be isolated, but, inevitably, they are drawn into a flow of imagery and gesture that never fails to astonish. Heads, necks, angles are all assigned pertinent material. It’s all elevated movement language, too, far removed from the pedestrian ramblings and conceptual afflatus that often passes for innovation in hermetic Bay Area dance circles. Sweep and invention mark Garrett’s dances and they are gorgeous to behold.

Heard via recording, Sedler’s enveloping string score, almost symphonic in form, unfurls organically with the dance, which on Saturday (Dec. 3) featured Jennifer Bishop-Orsulak, Kara Davis, Julian De Leon, Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman, Heidi Schweiker and Nol Simonse. Dressed in gray skirts, which complement the swirling movement trajectory, the performers meet in elusive encounters, only to pause and redefine both space and their relationships. Garrett capitalizes on scooping arms, and, to the accompaniment of pizzicato strings in the third section, infuses the line with the rotating shoulders that have become one of her trademark moves. Nothing is there for effect, yet everything seems to make an effect. Still, Brink, for all its seamless allure, ultimately resists a formal cohesiveness.

Fast Brass, by contrast, is all jittery divertissement, as the black beret-clad performers line up and gesture manically, as if they were auditioning for a village entertainment in provincial Italy and were desperate to be noticed. The action is spasmodic and seemingly random, and the piece, mercifully, does not overstay its welcome. Christopher G. Maravich fashioned the lighting.

The most striking aspect of Path on the Rug lies in Garrett’s avoidance of cliché. A power play number for a couple (Simonse, Schweiker), this might have degenerated into games of naked aggression. Happily, the sculptural configurations and odd leaps keep formula at bay. The work looked slightly overextended, maybe because the score, by Peteris Vasks, runs longer than Garrett’s ideas do.

Everything fits in Ostinato, once a program closer, now an opener. Here, everything comes together in a parade of contrasting episodes, set to a collection of baroque music performed by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI. Details capture our fancy—I am particularly intrigued by a hand to mouth gesture that suggests a communal toast—but Garrett always integrates them into a larger structure. Sheer infectiousness reigns.

Moulton’s gem of a diversion, now 25 years old, has been seen in this area before (The Joffrey Ballet brought it to the War Memorial Opera House eons ago), but not in an arrangement for 18 performers (the number of participants has varied; Moulton recently staged it for 48 during New York’s Fall for Dance Festival). Still, the game plan remains pretty much the same. The performers sit on bleachers, exchange brightly colored orbs in a complex pattern that resists analysis. Gradually, the performers assume a collective character, bending and swaying in unison, like a wheat field in a high wind. As an exercise in team spirit and controlled chaos, 18 Person Precision Ball Passing, can’t be beat. Bill Obrecht’s delirious music, sounding like a dozen music boxes run amok, is an enormous asset.


Friday, December 9, 2005
Garrett dancers find sweet spot with 'Ostinato'

Janice Garrett & Dancers arrived on the San Francisco dance scene forcefully in 2002. To longtime local dance watchers this was no great surprise, merely the triumphant return of a homegrown talent who spent a decade in New York and years freelancing abroad to earn her chops. But whether you were new to her work or getting reacquainted, the dances were startling and refreshing.

Here was something rare for San Francisco: traditional American modern dance in the vein of Paul Taylor, dance that believes humankind speaks as eloquently through pure movement as through language. Here was a company that danced like a community. And here was a fully developed style: rapid bursts of crisp energy; complex gestures that use every body part -- shoulder, knee, rib, chin -- to create a sense of kinetic conversation; steps so richly suggestive you could see the lapping of water in the sweep of an arm, the flight of a bird in the raising of a leg.

All those ingredients come together to magical effect in "Ostinato," the 2002 work that opens the company's solid third-anniversary outing, seen last weekend and repeating through Saturday at Cowell Theater. And yet there's something more in "Ostinato" -- the spark of inspiration, the elusive quality that turns an expertly constructed series of steps into a soul-stirring statement. If that quality is missing from the three other Garrett dances now on display, this lushly performed concert still proves that the troupe belongs to the big leagues of Bay Area dance.

Garrett has two primary modes, the cartoonish and the elegiac, and the premieres offer an example of each. The more ambitious "Brink" pairs Garrett with cellist and composer Moses Sedler through the largesse of a Meet the Composer grant. In a menacing storm of urgency, trembling strings (heard recorded) send six dancers blowing through in trailing gray skirts and pants.

The cast gusts in and out from the wings, and dancers pair up to clutch at one another inside squares of light (design by Christopher G. Maravich); they huddle to link hands in a roiling chain of connection, and lift their partners into stunning windswept tableaux. Rarely a phrase rolls by that doesn't offer astoundingly beautiful intricacies, and yet the work begins to feel like yards and yards of gorgeously embroidered cloth fashioned into a garment of uncertain design. When the dancers end clutching skyward on that sudden final note, the finish feels tidy but not fateful.

Which is to say it's a perfectly lovely dance that doesn't crystallize into something transcendent, much like 2004's "Path on the Rug." Heidi Schweiker and Nol Simonse were outstanding in this duet of disturbing domestic intimacies, set to cinematically ominous music by Peteris Vasks. Every cradle, every touch of hand to shoulder, every glance was charged and meaningful -- which, at this work's length, was perhaps the problem. It lacked a climax.

No such problem with "Fast Brass," a zany caper that moved faster than a Tasmanian devil, leaving you pleasantly rattle-headed in its wake. The music was frenetic, klezmer-tinged bleatings by Romanian brass ensemble Fanfare Ciocarlia; the episodes were short and sweet; and costume designer Julienne Weston's beatnik berets were a clever touch.

Garrett also augmented her company with nine guest artists to perform Charles Moulton's "18 Person Precision Ball Passing." This is a concept piece with legs, created for three dancers in 1988, since performed around the world by groups as large as 48, who stand in bleacher formation like sports fans, obsessively handing off balls or doing the wave, cogs in a cosmic machine that also has a sense of humor. It fit perfectly with Garrett's humanist spirit.

But nothing was as memorable as "Ostinato," and if it seems ungenerous to criticize Garrett's other dances for stopping short of transcendence, see this work and you will understand. The music, by 16th and 17th century Iberian composers, has a Renaissance lilt; the atmosphere feels warmed by a Spanish sun. Jennifer Bishop-Orsulak danced a doleful fugue with expansive generosity. The rest of this finely trained company -- Schweiker, Simonse, Julian de Leon, Tammy Cheney, Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman and Kara Davis -- swooped like a flock of instinctively attuned swallows.

If you know Garrett's work is capable of taking such uplifting flight, you can't help wanting to see each dance soar.

Rachel Howard, Special to The Chronicle

November 28, 2005

It's been four years since Janice Garrett returned from Europe to put down roots and focus her dancemaking in the Bay Area. While the thrill of discovery of a talented choreographer working at capacity has somewhat abated, her company can still thrill even longtime dance observers. My companion, a keen and at times rather cynical dance watcher, kept muttering “I can't believe it” throughout Janice Garrett & Dancers fourth home season program.

Before Garrett took off in the nineties for guest choreographing and teaching overseas, I had seen a small work with two people and a movable wall called, as I recently learned, “The Conversation.” It was one of those pieces that didn't quite work but with enough ideas—movement and otherwise—to make it stick to the back of your mind. Garrett choreography today is nothing like that earlier work. For one thing, there are no props, no sets. It's dance and music, the later being an additional reason for seeing the company. Garrett seems to have taste for contemporary Baltic music, most of it little known around here. Yes, there is Arvo Part, but more interestingly, names like Petris Vask, Teljo Tormis and Varttina, a Finnish vocal ensemble, expand ones sound palette.

For “Brink” one of two of this season's world premieres, Garrett stayed closer to home. Yet the collaboration with Bay Area composer/performer Moses Sedler, on a commission from Meet the Composer, made sense. Sedler, according to his program bio, has an interest in “improvisatory music, eastern European folk and Indian music.” His score abounds in tense textures, with acerbic and percussive writing for the strings.

“Brink” was performed by Garrett's ensemble made up with some of the Bay Area's best independent dancers: Jennifer Bishop-Orsulak, Kara Davis, Julian De Leon, Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman, Heidi Schweiker and Nol Simonse. Davis and Simonse looked particularly good in Garrett's full-bodied choreography.

Coming as it did as a program closer, the new “Brink”could have set trajectory that Garrett might further pursue in the future. But the four-part sextet's showed the choreographer doing what she does so well and pretty much did all evening: non-stop streams of phrases that spin and curl and sputter and retreat with the easy of a doodle except that that you can see the hand controlling the pen. Arms, notably, are mobile, pulling the back into deeply felt articulation but also spreading like waves into the flamenco-inspired “mariposa” gestures for the hand.

Unabashedly hooking into pre-post-modern dance, Garrett's voice remains a welcome addition to the Bay Area mix. While her artistic identity is distinct, immensely likeable and a joy to watch, it remains to be seen how much farther she can go within it. You want an artist to have a personal signature but you don't that to become a straight jacket.

“Brink” moves at ever greater speed to the point where towards the end some of the connections began to look frayed. Conceptually Garrett seemed to explore the idea of the duet as an elastic mode of coalescence and separation, unisons and recombinations, solidity and evanescence. Dancers spill out of the wings in twos and get sucked in by them. They may get together in a quasi ritualistic unison circle or in a stacked chug-along diagonal but always they pair up. Kohlmyer and Davis— both of them blondes, one tall, the other petite—played off each other's temperamental traits beautifully. Both of are fiercely intense but Davis is more the luxuriating of the two.

A key moment in “Brink”—which returns leading up to the the finale—has the  three couples perform in unisons side by side each. Each duo is plunked into a separate square by Lighting Designer Christopher Marvich. Then the duets separate, and one partner peels off, ever so slowly walking upstage and joining a penumbral trio. The effect was of losing one's shadow, or half of one's identity. Except that you didn't realize it happened.

The other world premiere, the appropriately named “Fast Brass” appeared a trifle in the sense that bravura pieces often can be. This one looked like a sped up comedy routine, full of precision moves and nonchalance clowning. Dance with the finger on the fast forward button. Fun to watch—and listen to with Fanfare Ciocarlia's speed-devil Gypsy music—it deployed five of Garrett's good-natured dancers—they seem to be up for anything--in black, including berets. With considerable gusto and tongue-in-cheek, they hopped, kicked, marched and flew through the choreography's loose-limbed puppet patterns. “Brass” was a good introduction to Charles Moulton's post-intermission “18 Person Precision Ball Passing”, here receiving its San Francisco premiere.

Choreographed originally in 1979, supposedly as a “metaphor for community and cooperation,” the work exists in many sizes. This 1988 version was well performed by Garrett's own, augmented with twelve at large dancers. Pattern dancing works best when the patterns are transparent, clean and with enough variety to maintain interest This one worked admirably with balls passed in small circle, changing levels, through braided arms and knots, canons, unisons with the performers sitting, plieing, stretching and walking. There even were waves, and I always thought they were an idiosyncrasy of stadium audiences.

The remainder of the program offered two rep pieces. “Ostinato”, set to Spanish Baroque music as interpreted by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI, still looks excellent. A favorite part, in which Garrett's dancers become slightly exasperated with baroque composers' love for repetition, is as funny as when first seen in 2002. “Path on the Rug” (2004), again performed by Schweiker and Simonse, is dark, with its desperate sense of inevitability even more acute. Spiraling, hanging on and trying to escape, these two lost souls seem to love and hate each other in equal measure, unable to distinguish between the two.

Rita Felciano |

Janice Garrett & Dancers, 3153 Seventeenth Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-864-6716, EMAIL:

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