Choreography: Nol Simonse with Christy Funsch
A Conversation with Sima Belmar
ML: I must admit that you piqued my interest by your description of the dance on Facebook: “Relational unison. Rising up from demi plié so so slowly. Reindeer.” So I convinced a friend to go with me Sunday night and was not disappointed – I laughed, I wondered, I breathed. Nol was Nol and Christy was Christy and together they were so very delightful. The ease of movement and elongated phrasing was satisfying to watch. I really felt invited into a conversation.
SB: I’m so glad! When Nol and Christy danced the same phrase together, they had this way of looking at each other and expressing different feelings about what they were doing that made me think of relational unison (nod to Bourriaud). I hadn’t seen Christy dance in well over a decade and I was absolutely captivated by her performance. So clear and strong and humble all at once, as if her Christyness were going along for the ride, her ego in retreat, looking in from some distance at the wonder of choreography.
ML: I saw Christy dance last November and was struck by her dancing. A year later, I am still captivated by how she moves. When Nol and Christy danced the same phrase I was struck by the “same but different” quality of their movements – even in sameness there is difference and in difference we can find sameness. I noticed this kind of interplay throughout the piece and appreciated the honesty that sat behind it: we are not all the same, but we can try to understand how our differences might allow for connection or even change. I really enjoyed when Nol tried to copy Christy’s heaving breathing pattern. He couldn’t quite do it right; Christy noticed with a careful gaze, touched him with her finger and Nol melted to ground with a yelp. It was funny and touching to watch the exchange of emotion.
SB: I felt a visceral response of understanding or recognition when, in a couple of instances, Nol touched Christy in ways that she seemed to dislike. A blush of distaste flickered across her face. I’ve never been great at contact in dance, not just contact improv, but any kind of contact. It makes me flinch. Christy’s flinches were choreographed in ways that resonated with me. She’s such a subtle performer, balancing Nol’s more blatant theatricality.
ML: Maybe that is what made this piece so relatable. Its choreography as a reflection of dancers as dancers. The night I went I am pretty sure the audience was mostly dancers and choreographers. What does that mean to the relate-ability of the piece? Would this piece be felt in the same way with an audience of non-dancers?
SB: I’m not sure. I’ve given up on worrying about whether a dance will be relatable to non-dancers. I go into performances with my dance nerd hat on every time. I’m looking very closely at the movement. I’m trying some of it out in my mind, feeling through the technical aspects and trying to understand why something abstract and small, the twitch of a finger, the low-flying sweep of radically extended leg, moves me so profoundly. Nol and Christy made me attend to their movements and to the craft of choreography so that even when I zoned out a bit, like when the brick-laying section went on longer than I could be present for, I was eager to return to their world. Every movement mattered, kinesthetic poetry.
ML: Sometimes I get a little caught up in the audience question – sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn’t. Putting aside the audience questions (which is really more a larger question about the dance scene in the Bay Area), “The Beauty & Ruin of Friends and Bodies” was touching and funny. I realized that it had been a while since I laughed out loud while watching dance. I think we all need to laugh more these days.
Thanks for talking with me Sima!
Kate Weare Company
“Marksman” premiered at the Joyce Theater in November 2016 and features an original score by Curtis Robert Macdonald and set design by Clifford Ross. Its ideas began, however, in a 2015 piece titled “Unstruck.” As the title suggests, “Marksman” exhibited a meticulous focus and energy; the precision of movements reflected the skilled quality of a marksman. The dancers always hit their marks and their eyes kept steady gazes. Within this technical precision, the dancers respond and react to each other with simple gestures, group lifts, and articulate patterns. The organic nature of the movements seem to represent a social dynamic, yet the music and set seem to suggest a natural world that could be described as otherworldly, earthy, or watery. Where are they? It was fun to work on this question through out the 50 minute piece.
In the program notes (and elsewhere), Weare explains that part of the impetus for “Marksman” was her own experience in giving birth: “But after giving birth I felt my willfulness transform. I understood, finally, that I am an instrument of nature and not in control of it.”
This point, about willfulness, is key to how I understand “Marksman” as a giving way of willfulness to others. In a world that seems consumed by “likes” and “retweets,” are we losing sight of how we physically connect and respond to others (at work, on the bus, in lines)? How can dance remind us that we might need to do a little bit of “giving up” in order to be in community with others?
In Mind, Self, and Society, George Mead stated the following:
No hard-and-fast line can be drawn between our own selves and the selves of others, since out own selves exist and enter as such into our experience only in so far as the selves of others exist and enter as such into our experience also.”
Given hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, the terrorist bombing in Mogadishu and ongoing fires in Northern California, the lesson of willfulness in relation to others seems pertinent. We not only need each other, but also develop with each other. Sometimes that needing requires that we not only respond to others, but also be more open to where those responses might take us. Maybe we need a little less control and a little more attention to the visceral energies that pass between us while at work, on the bus, or in lines.
Choreography by Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group
As is often the case, I didn’t know much about the piece before sitting down to the show. The stage was wide open and littered with silver tinsel; a red suitcase sat among it.
The title obviously placed the dance in the context Moses’s story. The title also hints that there is more than one Moses, more than one version of the story. At the beginning, Wilson enters the stage and smiles a the audience for a while. He almost seems to chuckle. He then proceeds to put all of the tinsel into the red suitcase (I was truly surprised that it all fit) and then rolls the luggage off stage. I’m still not sure what meant – a kind of labor? A clearing or cleansing of the space? Would Wilson smile at us again? These were not the last of my questions.
As the dance progressed, I became struck by the endurance of the dancing and the commitment of repetition within the choreography. They seemed to be working through a set of ideas or questions. It almost seemed as if there could be no “end” to the piece. The music (both taped and live) placed the Moses story within another context of African struggles and the African diaspora. These layers of context added to the depth of the piece. Yet, I wasn’t sure what that depth was. This question still lingered even after the talk with Wilson and the performers after the show. The program suggests that the piece is “a powerful investigation of the nature of leadership – who leads? who follows? – in contemporary culture.”
Who was this piece for? The dancers? Wilson? Any audience member? I didn’t feel spoken to. I wonder what it might be like to have a talk before the show as part of the experience of watching.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?