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San Diego Spotlight: DANCE / EILEEN SONDAK

Berman Puts Her All Into Latest Multimedia Project

November 17, 1988|EILEEN SONDAK

"I don't want to call it a dance piece," said Sara-Jo Berman when asked to describe "Archive of Memory," her new multimedia collaboration. "That sets it into a genre and builds up expectations about it. It's actually a media environment with coinciding performances. The performance is placed within an installation."

Berman's interdisciplinary concerts are well-known to local performance-art fans. Although she works outside the mainstream, the San Diego Critics Circle nominated her for choreographic achievements in "Ocnoceni" back in 1985, and during the same period, the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art included her in its "Emerging Artists" exhibition.

Border issues--not just geographic, but political and sexual ones--have been a recurring theme in Berman's work, she acknowledged recently. "I keep coming back to the question of the human condition."

Berman believes "Archive of Memory," a project involving film, video, photography, music, installation, performance and light, represents the culmination of all her artistic efforts.

"This is what I've been building up to for years," she said. " 'Archive' is about isolation, the breakdown of the family unit and lost ritual. It's a metaphysical journey with a feeling of prehistory and post-apocalypse. There's a lot of duality.

"At first it was based on writing and acting," she said. "But words were getting in the way of the sense of journey, and I really believe people become numb to words. Aside from a Samuel Beckett text in the beginning, the rest is a theater of images, a ballet of images."

The performance takes place on boxes and a 75-foot ramp that curves around the performance space at downtown's Installation gallery. And, as Berman noted, "since it's about fear and isolation, it had to be a solo piece."

Berman began working on the project alone two years ago, but later teamed up with artist Graciela Ovejero for the environment and media artist Charles Craun for the video and film work, because "the scope was ridiculous, and I wanted a different perspective."

"This is the danciest piece I've done since '81, and I use everything--from my Balanchine ballet to Graham technique and Latin American, even Noh theater," Berman said.

The movement mix enhances the metaphor of diverse cultures coming together, she said. Don't expect a neat ending, because as Berman noted, "I always leave things open-ended. People can fill in the blanks for themselves."

In contrast to the didactic dances she has designed in the past, Berman's message in "Archive" is so abstracted that she isn't sure anyone will "see" what she does in the work.

"That's fine," Berman said. "I just want a reaction--any reaction."

"Archive of Memory" will premiere at 8 p.m. Friday, with performances Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4-5 and 11-12. Performances Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4 are free.

The San Diego Area Dance Alliance's pilot project, PAL, which offers independent dancers and interdisciplinary artists a supportive environment for experimentation, got off to a promising start in September with a sold-out house at Sushi and an enthusiastic response from local dance watchers.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, the alliance will sponsor its second PAL concert, and, as coordinator Judy Sharp said, "this one will be a real test of our success. Some of the same performers are coming back, including Al Germani Dance Company and a contact improvisation group. Laurie Lowry and Terry Sprague will be there too. People tell us this is a great way to support artists, and we're counting on them to keep coming to all our events."

Ben Lockey is best remembered from his Broadway role in "A Chorus Line," but he also has made his mark in Los Angeles choreographing jazz works. This weekend, he returns to the concert dance stage for the first time in years to join the Jazz Unlimited ensemble for a pair of performances at Sherwood Hall.

"One of our dancers got hurt," said director Pat Rincon, "so I called Ben and asked him to fill in. He thought it would be fun."

Jazz Unlimited dancers will twist their torsos for the first time this season at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, in conjunction with the La Jolla Museum of Art's salute to jazz, centered around the Matisse "Jazz" show which runs through Nov. 27

If you need any proof that San Diego is a good place to be from , just look at the roster of the North Carolina Ballet, the visiting dance company that stopped off at the East County Performing Arts Center last week. Diego Carrasco of Carlsbad was prominently listed as a soloist with the popular touring troupe.

Stage Seven-trained Mira Brink did not make it to her home town when Martha Graham's dance company performed at the Civic Theatre last weekend, but she has found a niche as a dancer in the Martha Graham Ensemble, a junior company that does educational tours for the internationally acclaimed troupe.

Nobody, certainly not its presenting San Diego Foundation for the Performing Arts, could have predicted that Philip Glass' avant-garde performance piece, "1,000 Airplanes on the Roof," would be the smashing success it was in San Diego.

"We expected to do well, but we didn't expect to be sold out early on the day of the performance," said director Diane Annala, "especially on a Monday night. People were being offered $110 a ticket right before the performance."

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