May 18th, “Dearest Home,” Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion

Before the show began, Abraham offered us a choice: watch the show in silence or with music via earbuds. He warned us to stick with our choice as switching between them can be disruptive to watching. He also mentioned that the dancers rehearsed in silence, which is how they perform the piece. I found this direction distracting (almost annoying) and I ignored it. I started with the music and then at random times throughout the 70-minute piece, I turned the volume off and watched in silence – I could hear the dancers breathing and the sound of their bodies moving.

I did not read the program notes. I don’t think it would have made a difference for me. My expectations were high. I rather enjoyed Pavement  (2015) for its movement quality, and more importantly, for how it didn’t let us off that easy.  I thought I might experience more of the same. The dancing and dancers were exceptional and certain choreographic moments stood out. Yet, Dearest Home seemed to be missing something for me so I did a little research, looking for insight.

The text that accompanies the promotion video (about 1 minute in length) on Vimeo states that:

“DEAREST HOME is an interactive dance work developed in a multi-year process, focused on Loving and Longing, Love and Loss. Comprised primarily of solos and duets generated in conversation and collaboration with a variety of age groups and self-identified subcultures, HOME interweaves movement, in its most vulnerable or intimate state, with cross-cultural conversation and community action.”

I could feel the sentimentally of loving and longing, love and loss. At times the mood was melancholic, even dramatic. Yet, I did not feel the embrace of conversation or community. The stage was set for it; an intimate in-the-round space where you could see others watching at times.  

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Dearest Home is deeply personal. Yet, I also think of home as a concept and social construct that is also deeply political, particularly in San Francisco. Perhaps I was expecting or even needing, the dance to think more critically about home. I did not stay for the talkback after the show. Instead, I stayed out late (for me) with friends to discuss our mutual dissatisfaction. I was thankful for the conversation, for the chance to share reactions and tell stories. And, I was thankful to for a home to go home to.

Watching, But not Writing

 

I must confess. I’ve seen some dance and performance that I haven’t written about. Some of it was just too dull. Some of it just didn’t inspire. And others I couldn’t find the time to write the fullness they demanded. So here is a list:

May 7th Rioult Dance NY, “Bach Dances”

May 6th ODC School, “Uncertain Weather”File_000 (28)

April 28th Risa Jaroslow & Dancers, “Touch Bass”

April 21st San Francisco Playhouse, “Noises Off”

April 6th Wooster Group, “The Town Hall Affair”

February 21st, San Francisco Ballet, “Frankenstein”

February 18th Mike Daisey, “The End of Journalism”

I’m looking forward to Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, “Dearest Home” (May 18 –  20) and Hope Mohr 10th Anniversary Season, “Precarious” (June 1 – 3). And I’m looking forward to writing.

April 15th “Prescription Drug Nation”

Here Now Dance Collective

Joshua Kosman, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, said that “Prescription Drug Nation” didn’t have “much to do with either the corporate or the sociological aspects” of prescription drug use; it wasn’t “a crusading, big-picture slab or reportorial nonfiction.” He claimed the piece was a more intimate look at six of the most common medications on the market: Adderall, Ambien, Xanax, Prozac, Vicodin, and Viagra. I don’t disagree.

Fletcher carefully explores how these drugs affect the body with delicate gestures and attentive facial expressions. These subtle indicators seemed to speak nuanced truths about these drugs from the inside looking out and about how they impact the social field. While there were clear markings between the different scenes (and drugs) such as costume changes and text projections it was not always easy to notice the differences between them. Perhaps that was part of Fletcher’s message. Might she be asking us how these drugs “do the same thing.”

The superb music by Aaron Gervais that was performed by Mobius Trio added moods, tempos, and sounds to the landscape on stage. The music contributed to the waves of alterity that moved in and out of consciousness, elation, attention, and confusion. And yes, the dancing was strong. 

I’m not sure I had any expectations walking into the theater. I did notice the stack of pamphlets about drug safety and awareness on a table in the lobby.

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Their presence seemed to suggest that “Prescription Nation” just might try to say something or intervene in someway. When it didn’t I was a little surprised. I did leave the theater wondering how many of us experience the world under some kind influence. What might that matter to how we live and are living?

Antigona, February 25th

Where is Antigone?

Whenever my brother comes to town we go see some dance. This time, we saw a flamenco version of the Greek tragedy Antigone by Noche Flamenca. It was a feast of sound, rhythm, and drama. It had dancing like I had never seen before. It held my attention from start to finish. I wanted to see it again. I wanted to talk with the director, choreographer. I think there are a lot of questions to ask about this piece.

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I have a history with Antigone and ancient Greek tragedy. I’ve studied and taught about Antigone. I also wrote about tragedy in my dissertation. So my response is an extension of this history and heavily influenced by my field of study – rhetoric.

I’ve always been drawn to the story of Antigone as told by Sophocles. In 2015, there were 3 productions of the tragedy in the San Francisco Bay area; I saw two of them but only wrote about one. There is something timeless about this tragedy – we keep coming back to its multiple struggles between public and private rights; human laws and law of the gods; duty of kinship and religious obligation. The program notes explain that Antigona addresses the themes of “catharsis, issues of dictatorship, repression, loss, the strength of family and female empowerment,” which are also strong themes in flamenco. The notes end with a reflection on the character of Antigone as a “poster-child for civil disobedience and free speech.” The words behind the piece suggest that Antigona will show the strength of Antigone as a female hero through the language of flamenco.

I was disappointed.

Antigona begins with the story of Creon and his family, and it is not until the 6th scene (out of 15) that the Sophocles’ tragedy actually starts. Sophocles’ Antigone starts with her words, her voice. Antigona’s beginning features the male characters – Creon, Tiresias, Polyneices, Haemon. Even though Soledad Barrio dances a powerful Antigone, her part seems diminished somehow along with the politics that drives the drama. 

Might Antigona rely too much on the language (and culture) of flamenco to tell Antigone’s story? I’m not ready to answer that question for I’d need more knowledge of flamenco not just as a dance form but as a way of thinking. It is a question worth asking especially when so many of us claim Antigone’s story as our own. What is gained? What is lost? Why does it (still) matter? 

2nd Show of 2017 – Slow to Write

Lucinda Childs, “Available Light,” February 3rd.

This post is very, post.

It’s been a busy February. Since seeing “Available Light,” I’ve also been to a play, the ballet, and a flamenco performance piece. So there is more writing to come.

There are several aspects of “Available Light” by Lucinda Childs worth noting and worth reflecting on, but part of what I think makes this one writable for me is how much I enjoyed the planned and unplanned conversations that unfolded throughout the evening. As many of my previous posts reveal, my reflections often are part of conversations that still linger and those I have yet to have. My response to “Available Light” is no different; it is imbued by conversations I’ve had since seeing the show on February 4th. Here are a few brief reflections:

  • There is beauty in repetition, which compels a different kind of focus that directs attention to the cracks and gaps between movements and dancers.
  • The music composed for the piece sounded of waves and other earthly utterings.
  • The piece held together; it seemed like a conversation of movement, sound, and light.
  • I didn’t understand the title until I heard Childs and John Adams, the composer, talking after the performance.

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While I enjoyed the performance I still left the show wondering why bring this piece back. It’s rarely been seen since 1983. It’s not as though Available Light is a timeless piece; its aesthetic age is evident. And as Childs made clear, the dance apolitical and without “a message.” What does Available Light matter to now? Is it’s beauty enough of an answer?

First Show of 2017 – How to Write?

Meg Stuart, “An evening of solo works,” January 20th

A good friend pointed out that maybe after 2 years, I don’t have to write about every dance I see anymore. He pushed this point a bit further: “maybe you’ve gotten what you need out of that practice.”

He might be right, but I still strongly believe that this writing practice enables me to participate in the dance community in a way that (I feel) is meaningful, thoughtful, responsive. So do I write only about the dances that inspire or challenge me in some way? Do I write only when asked?

Another thought as I type is to write every week or so either about a dance I’ve seen or something about dance. I’m not sure I can keep up, but it would be a different kind of practice and writing.

As I ease into the possibility of writing more (and less), I offer a brief response to Meg Stuart’s show, “An evening of solo works,” at Counterpulse Jan. 20th. I went with a few friends; they knew more about Stuart’s work. We all agreed that “Blanket Lady” (2012) was the most compelling dance of the five performed. The music, costume, and choreography came together in such an interesting way. I wanted to see the entire piece (maybe I did). That said, what I enjoyed the most about the evening was being in the company of friends, talking dance and resistance.

Heading into the New Year – 2017

I wrote a little review of the dance I saw in 2016. It’s not really a formal review, but more so a reflection on my writing.

Oddly, I already have tickets for a few shows. Here they are in chronological order:

Jan. 20 Meg Stuart, “An Evening of Solo Works” at Counterpulse

Feb. 03 Lucinda Childs Dance Company, “Available Light” at Zellerbach Hall

Feb. 21 San Francisco Ballet, “Frankenstein” at War Memorial Opera House

May 07 Rioult Dance, “Bach Dances” at Zellerbach Playhouse

May 18 Kyle Abraham, “Dearest Home” at YBCA Forum

5 performances to watch, and many more waiting to be seen.  I can’t wait.

December 16th, “future friend/ships”

 

By Keith Hennessy and Jassem Hindi, with lighting designer Dennis Döscher

Last post of 2016 

I arrived at Counterpulse early and picked up the December issue of indance. On the last page was an article penned by Hennessy and Hindi about future friend/ships.  They started with this quote:

“Irony is about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true. Irony is about humor and serious play. It is also a rhetorical strategy and a political method.

– Donna Haraway, First test space monkey

In their article, Hennessy and Hindi identify their research practice as “ironical” and aim for the dance to “host otherness.” As hosts, Hennessey and Hindi welcomed us on stage before we took our seats and the lights dimmed. As we walked around the stage, we were asked to look at the photos (“a partial tarot deck”) scattered around and sample food they offered on trays. This opening did resonate with the theme of hospitality that they claim “is the name of [their] game.” Later in the piece, they also invited the audience to view the tarot cards again as Hennessey and Hindi passed them through the audience. It left like we were in someone’s living room (the fabric curtain and costumes added to this effect).Another thread that became clear from the “performance/installation/science fiction salon” was the idea of Arab Futurism. A quick google search didn’t reveal much on this emerging genre (?) in contemporary art.

With all this mind, my response attempts to sort out what all this might mean in the context of what occurred (and what I noticed) on stage. In order to do so, I found myself reading through the performance zine and digging into literature about irony.

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When my friend sat down next to me, I turned to her and said, “this is a dance about language.” Reflecting back, I still think this claim captures this piece as whole for me. It is easy to point out the tangible textual elements of the performance such as the use of spoken word and its written manifesto. This piece is also about making, tinkering, and fashioning. In addition to the text, Hennessy and Hindi “made” sound and props, which seemed to fit with their directive to imagine and transform the future. The future made visible in “future friend/ships” is not yet sorted out – the tarot deck isn’t complete, the drones didn’t really work that well, and the dance movement unrefined. When Hennessy and Hindi danced their bodies moved as if they forgotten how to “dance.” They tried out steps (I noticed grande jeté en tournants and temps levé sauté), arms dangled, and bodies dropped to the floor. This movement suggested a kind of scratching-your-head-thinking, which for me is the work of language, which can be thought as a form of making or even invention. All of this might serve to remind us that making the future requires some forgetting, a forgetting that stretches out and strives for possibility.

The ironic nature of “future friend/ships” eludes me, and I wonder if the logic of irony – its movement of strategic reversal can be danced. Hennessy and Hindi might answer yes. I, however, am still wondering, which seems an appropriate way to conclude 2016.

December 10th, The Velveteen Rabbit

Choreography by KT Nelson

This was a sweet and magical night. I took my daughter and she gasped when the Velveteen Rabbit jumped on the stage. I spent most of the show watching her watch.  So for me, this dance mattered because it mattered to my daughter. I was reminded that sometimes the best performances are about how they create experiences that linger. This was definitely one of them.

 

 

November 4th, Le grand spectacle de l’effort et de l’artifice

Choreography and Direction by Christy Funsch

I love watching dance that makes me think. I love watching dance that enables conversation about concepts and politics. I love watching dance that surprises me. The evening’s five pieces did just that.

Funsch’s new work explores the blurriness between effort and artifice in an odd, but compelling program. The different sections (Prelude, Part I; Artifice; Path; AfterPath; Part II, Effort) constituted an elegant string of ideas about effort and artifice as practices, as ways of constructing and perceiving the world. The clarity of the movement – the dancing and the choreography – was further realized by the improvised sound, music, and lighting.  Together these elements came together to further demonstrate how effort and artifice can sometimes be tricky.

For me, what really brought this nuance out was Funsch’s use of actors on the stage. Two women were set-up in the back, sitting at a conference table. During Prelude, they were actively watching the two dancers (Funsch and Nol Simonse) and taking notes as if they were judging the dancers. Like the judges during a dance and ice skating competition. During Part I: Artifice, the two actors sat still, not taking notes and looking straight forward. They left the stage for Path and AfterPath, returning to the table for Part II: Effort. In this section, they faced each other and did so the entire time. The interplay between the movement, sound, and acting clearly demonstrated that we don’t always see the artifice as artifice or effort as effort – who are we to judge.

Funsch performed Daniel Nagrin’s 1965 solo Path and is the first woman granted permission to do so. Funsch noted that while working on Path “[she] wondered about creating a container for it that could highlight what to [her] is its celebration of ongoingness.” I sat and watched in silence (there was no sound, no music) as Funsch held a long wooden beam and moved diagonally across the stage. The movement sequence was simple, a kind of modified jazz square, that was repeated until she reached the corner. I felt a sense of wonder as I watched Funsch with determined focus hold the space (and the wooden beam) and our attention. Was this “pure” effort? Did the piece articulate some kind of truth about the nature of work? What about artifice? The evening ended with an insightful Q & A with all the artists that could have been longer.

I left the theater thankful for an experience that got me thinking about how we see and experience effort and artifice in a post-truth world.