Full-Length Dance

June 10th, “Still Life No. 6,” Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg

“Still Life No. 6” premiered as part of Yerba Buena Gardens Festival ChoreoFest, an event of Bay Area contemporary dance curated by RAWdance. “Still Life No. 6” was 3rd on the program so I also saw pieces by RAWdance and dawsondancesf. Each piece was danced at a different location around Yerba Buena Gardens. I brought by 5-year old daughter and we enjoyed walking, and watching dance on sunny Saturday afternoon.

By the time we found a seat, “Still Life No. 6” had already started; Simpson and Stulberg sat on the edge of a raised block in the East Plaza of YBCA Gardens, a cellist was playing (Shanna Sordahl). Despite the typical distractions of being outside (and trying to be still) in a public space I could sense a mood; even my 5-year old could sense it as she sat watching intently for most of the 20 minute piece. As Simpson and Stulberg mentioned in a recent interview with me, this piece did stay within the same vocabulary and virtuosic style they’ve developed. The technical precision was stunning and yet there was so much more to see (and hear) about how and what we remember.

FullSizeRender (5)Because of the site specific nature of the piece and where I sat (on the ground at an angle), I really noticed the meticulous gestural movements of Simpson and Stulberg’s eyes and heads – blinking and gazing, nodding and bobbing. At times they seemed to be following something with their eyes, signaling “it’s ok”, or articulating “yes.” These modes of seeing (and speaking) seemed to acknowledge or respond to something just beyond the audience’s reach or line of sight. Simpson and Stulberg stayed on the block almost the entire time. Close to the end, they balanced on their hips right on the edges of the block. They hovered there for a while before “falling” off and running to the opposite wall where they tired to balance in handstands while reading out loud. I knew from their interview that these were obituaries published in the paper on the same day of the performance (June 10th). When they were done reading these, they moved off the wall and around the area, even moving between the audience, to read more obituaries. They even asked two audience members to join them in reading.

I strained to hear. At first it bothered me – was I missing out on something important? I even got up and tried to move closer. I paused. There is only so much we can see and hear in any given moment. So much of our lives are about straining – to hear, see, understand, comprehend, etc. We can turn up the volume, move closer, turn a page, ask a question, press rewind. But often we can’t. In these moments, what are missing? What does it matter? How much might it matter after the moment passes? “Still Life No. 6” asked us to pause and consider how we see and hear any given moment. Remembering, whether the steps of a dance or the details of a life already past, is part of how we are in the world. I left wondering that maybe we should pause more so that we pay closer attention to how we listen or see. 

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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?

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 and 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 or 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 what many are calling a post-truth world.

October 8th, “Readymade”

Choreographed by Tanya Chianese

I’ll start with a point of reference, a quote by David Batchelor (a Scottish artist and writer) that repeated near the beginning and end of Readymade:

…and, you know, I think the aim of a lot of artists is to get people to look more closely at that which you often overlook.”

The repeating of this quote gave me pause, and I wondered what Chianese wanted us to look at more closely. About mid-way through the hour-long piece something struck me. Could Chianese be asking us to remember that we are the “readymade”? What are we overlooking in ourselves?

As Chianese mentions in her program notes, “Readymade is not about Duchamp’s work, but instead, aims to invoke his iconic idea of the do-it-yourself power to reshape one’s own life by changing how we view things.” This impulse is evident in the titles to the 14 sections of the dance – “What If?”, “Stop and Smell the Roses”, and “You Only Live Once,” for example. I could sense this impulse in the opening of the dance. The movement of afile_000-25rms and bodies in between three wide “ribbons” across the length of the stage hinted at how the intertwining of parts could be a reshaping or refashioning of what we might otherwise overlook.

This impulse is also evident at the end when a dancer walks out on stage with a piece of tissue stuck to her foot. She bends down and picks it up, looking as if she might toss it over her shoulder, like a piece of trash. Instead, she sees something else in that piece of tissue and decides with a smile to send it into the sky by blowing on it softly.

The music that accompanies Readymade reflects this whimsical spirit and amplifies the playful yet thoughtful tone of the piece. What is also very clear and uncompromising is the choreography and its execution by the dancers of ka·nei·see | collective. The movement quality was robust both in temperament and reach. The dancers never gave up, committing fully to each change of mood and intensity. The dance almost never stopped, but at one point during a long diagonal sequence, the dancers let their weariness show. I enjoyed the subtle humor and yearned for more. It seems a worthwhile sentiment to explore right now as well as in the context of the dance’s message to pay attention to what we normally overlook in ourselves.  How can we with a bit of humor start to rethink ourselves and how we see the world we’ve made?

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Source: Rob Best

Honestly, I wasn’t sure of all this when I left the theater, but an encounter with a friend a few days later opened my eyes to what I might have overlooked in the dance. It was an important reminder to me that I am a much better watcher (and writer) when I am in the company of good conversation about dance.