Nijinsky was in the house during This Sweet Nothing’s performance of Was it a Dream I Loved at Oakland’s Fox Theater on February 12. Windsocks fluttered from arms where one would have expected hands, and a changing naturalist screened backdrop offered the verdant or watery glade scenes that recall the mad choreographer’s Afternoon of a Faun and its semi-inscrutable steaminess. Tonight’s choreographer, Sonsherée Giles, took the daring step of positioning her work on the back of Nijinsky’s famously controversial one. She has designed sequences tailored to the acuities of differently-abled dancers by incorporating wheelchairs or stylized stilts to serve as prosthetics, as well as props (in every sense of the word). Some on the stage have gained many years of experience as members of Axis, where Homer Avila, a small, but handsome and powerful dancer, deprived of one of his legs by cancer, executed the full range of ballet and modern dance steps with a thrum of feeling and polish, and sometimes without prosthetics, props or partners, until his death about a decade ago.
Sonsherée’s collaboration with the composer Caroline Penwarden makes the 50-minute piece twinkle with ambition, even if material production values run into limits imposed by insufficient funding. When the raven-haired, creamy-skinned Lisa Bufano, who has no lower legs, enters the stage by rolling onto it from the wings, we see the energy and look of a young, if more lush and supple Liza Minelli. Her duet with Giles, in which both dancers use stilts to place themselves on the same locus, invites us to meet a pair of post-Nijinsky characters, two women who move like languid praying mantises, fluid, deliberate, yet delicate, as they explore a sensuality between women, untested by the choreographers of Nijinsky’s time.