Dominating the Friday "Dance Park" program at the John Anson Ford Theater by ambition alone, "The Amazon, the Mekong, the Missouri and the Nile" used the resources of multimedia movement theater to depict Western man's instinct to define himself through conquest.
Jacki Apple's scenario and text evoked the ravaged cultures left in the wake of four major river expeditions. Besides depicting the rigors of the journeys, Mary Jane Eisenberg's dances linked the urge to control nature and subdue other societies with the oppression of women. Bruce Fowler's music helped shape the different styles of the four sections and provided a mournful outlook of its own.
Nobody in this triumvirate seems to have noticed that this hourlong performance piece may be seen as an example of the cultural imperialism they supposedly deplore: an attempt to co-opt epic events in the history of ancient peoples and repackage them as 15-minute vignettes.
What Conrad, Brecht, Herzog and others explored at length and in depth thus became the post-modern equivalent of a high school "Christmas in Many Lands" pageant. Moments of effective stagecraft--and the dedication of Eisenberg's eight-member dance company--seemed beside the point: Didactic art that offers only snap judgments and superficial impressions can't be trusted.
Sharing the Friday program: ODC/San Francisco, a company that has become so relentlessly cute, it is nearly unwatchable. An aimless, endless romp, Katie Nelson's "Wild Card" featured splashy playwear by Janet Koike and an inventive vocal and percussion score by Bobby McFerrin.
Brenda Way's "Diminishing Returns" offered an anthology of Tharpisms--from popsy, "Sue's Leg"-style dodge and weave maneuvers to linear, "Push Comes to Shove"-type balleticisms.
The dancers faced their technical challenges gamely enough--with Arturo Fernandez especially skillful in "Wild Card"--but the playful, pre-sexual stance of this ensemble effectively obliterated individual qualities and made everyone equally cloying.