ODC Theater

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.

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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.

File_000 (27)

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?

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.

June 10th, “Manifesting (World Premiere) and Stay (2015)”

Choreography by Hope Mohr

Almost Caught Up

The first weeks in June were busy, but I’m almost caught up now.  I saw Hope Mohr Dance three times last year.  Mohr is a sharp a choreographer curator, and director.  I am definitely looking forward to her work in the 2016 Bridge Project at Yerba Buena Center for Arts in the Fall.  

Mohr is not afraid to think nor is she afraid to show the audience how she thinks.  In many ways, Manifesting, is about thinking, about the process of thinking.  It is also a dance about speech, of calling out and being called. Mohr states that Manifesting, “inspired by artist manifestos, flows from [her] curiosity about the interplay between desires and rules in the creative process.” So it is also a dance about moving between woulds (desires) and shoulds (rules).  Manifest, an adjective, suggests something that is clear or obvious whereas manifest, a verb, suggests the display or show of something.  A manifesto, a noun, is a public declaration of change that arises out of a tension between creative impulses and restrictive norms.

What, then, is manifesting?  What kind of action? What kind of process?

I liked walking into the theater and seeing the stage look different with conference tables, low lighting, and telephones.  It looked more like an office than a stage.  I got a giggle from the costumes as it reminded me of an old joke: what is red, white, and black all over?  (answer: a newspaper).  The written word is referenced not only in the costumes but also in the dance as Mohr incorporates spoken word and singing.  It seems then that manifesting as it is articulated in the dance has something to do with the actualization of words.  The refrain, “please speak louder” amplified this notion for me.  Because I am writing this from many weeks past my watching the details of the choreography are a bit fuzzy and then I wonder if this has to do with the abundance of words in the piece.

I didn’t take too many notes of Stay and when I saw it last year, I didn’t write about the details of the piece.  I remember liking its sexiness and sophisticated movement, and this time, I felt a little less of this.  Why repeat this dance? Why did it’s repetition matter?  I wonder if it has something to do with the need to fill time.  Why not just show Manifesting?  I ask these questions because I talked with a few people afterwards (at the theater and on the bus), and they seemed a little weary.  Did Mohr ask too much from her audience?  Maybe and maybe not.  Even so, I’m still a fan.   

June 3rd & 4th “Walking Distance Festival”

Choreography by Many

Writing Out of Sequence

I’m a little out of sequence posting this response – lots of dance at the beginning of June.  I’ve watched and written this festival for 3 years.  This year, The program consisted of two different experiences: an evening of theater dance and an afternoon of site-specific dance.  

In her program notes, Marie Tollon (ODC’s Writer-in-Residence) framed the Friday night’s program as “Identity as a Constellation,” which aptly captured the thematic connection between the two performers, Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu and Christopher K. Morgan.  Both share a connection to Hawaiian tradition in contemporary contexts.  In their dances, these connections were forged in direct ways, explicitly leading the audience to consider communal and individual journeys by dancing and talking.  In this context, the talking by Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu director, Patrick Makuākane in between the dances.  I learned a lot about the hula dance tradition and was interested in how Makuākane uses the language of hula to participate in political conversations.  For example, Makuākane choreographed The Birth Certificate Hula in 2012 in response to the “controversy” over Obama’s birth certificate.  Yes, even hula can be rhetorical.

After Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu I walked from the ODC dance commons to the ODC By Way to watch Pohaku.  The two companies met in the street and performed a ritual – it seemed fitting.  Pohaku, choreographed and danced by Morgan also included talking.  Morgan and danced and narrated this dance theater piece that brings “together storytelling, hula, modern dance, classical music, and projection design to explore compelling universal themes in the story of Hawaii’s native people, including land loss and fractured identity.”  I didn’t think much about this piece.  So I tried to seek out a little more information and watched this short video about the piece.  I found much more interesting than the dance itself. I wonder what makes a dance more interesting to watch in the process of making than to watch in performance.     

Saturday afternoon the festival included for the first time a set of site-specific dances all over the mission.  Titled, “Mission Street Dances,” the audience was led to six different locations to see dances by Smith/Wymore, David Herrera Performance Company, 13th Floor, ODC/Dance, Dance Brigade, and Kim Epifano’s Epiphany Productions.  I enjoyed much of what I watched including the streets.  The small duets by ODC/Dance dotted the route between the six dances that were mostly staged outside in a park, parking lot, storefront, alley, and side of a building.  There was talking, singing, dancing, and more.  I really didn’t have a favorite dance, but I did enjoy the afternoon of walking and watching, and I enjoyed seeing dances that I had never seen such as Dance Brigade and 13th Floor.  The pulse of the street was felt in both expected and unexpected ways.  

October 29th, “Fact/SF JuMP”

Choreography by Charles Slender-White and Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg

I went to see Still Life No. 3 (Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg).  A surprise! I think it was intended to be so:

“This is the third work in a developing series of dances exploring gesture, speed, scale, and unison.  There is no hidden meaning, symbols, or storyline, but if you see any of those things, we like that, too.”

The “music” was live sound recordings from the corner of 17th St. and Shotwell, and the dancers mostly faced away from the audience.  It was smart.  There was wit.  I kept trying to figure out what the “still life” was – the street? urban life?   Are we all too still even in the midst of city motion?  I enjoyed the starkness and the tinkering within it.  I wish I could see Still Life #2.

(I also sat through Spread Thin by Charles Slender-White. For the record, it’s always ok to leave at intermission)

September 25th, “Earth/Body/Home”

Choreography by Amara Tabor-Smith 

Dancing on the street – talking with Christy Bollingbroke- kneeling in the lobby watching/observing/listening.  A familiar form (Tabor-Smith had a similar beginning at the Walking Distance Festival in 2013).  Then there was a speech or rather some talking and quoting, a preface of sorts.  It seemed a little much at the time. I did write down some words in my notebook (in no particular order):

mourning

birth

migration – immigration

place no place

what remains?

home

There really wasn’t time to read the program.

It felt like a ritual, but not.

It felt like a dance performance, but not.

The program notes started with: “The ritual which you will participate in…”  But I didn’t feel like a participant in a ritual: I wasn’t asked.  I felt like an audience member that was bearing witness to something I didn’t know much about; it was odd.  What if I refuse to participate?  What then?  I was almost so consumed by this oddness that I mostly forgot the dancing, the movement of bodies on the stage.  What were they doing? What were they saying?  How did they move?  Maybe it doesn’t matter. I wanted it to matter.

July 9th, “Bestiarium”

Choreographed by  Paige Starling Sorvillo and Violeta Luna with sound by Evelyn Ficarra

“It must be hot in those masks” (yes, I did say that during the Q & A).

It took some convincing, but I ended up really liking “Beastiarium (or a conversation on Empire and Multitude),” a “new work in progress.”  The movement from animal headed bodies (unicorn and rat) to naked humans was thoughtful and layered.  The excess and multitude on display in the dance was palpable, I felt it.  The dancers moved like animals, and like humans – they resided very much in between forms, identities,  genders, and attitudes.  It was odd, but an odd that was trying to say something about the present human condition that is both funny and disturbing.

June 5th and 6th, “Walking Distance Festival”

 

Programs A & C

I saw four different dances, and here are my very gut reactions to each one.

Program A

Double Exposure, RAWDance

The best I’ve seen of them and some segments were quite interesting.  I’ll go see the larger work, but I am still not sold on them choreographically or as dancers.  Why do they only choreograph for themselves?  As N said, “They seem a little too self-congratulatory.”

Pupil Suite, Gallim Dance

I’m just going to say it: I was kind of offended (and shocked that N had the same response).  There as a part of the dance that crossed a line.  I’m sure I opened my mouth in surprise, or scrunched up my nose – did I really just see that?  It’s hard to describe, but the movement seemed to be mocking to a degree of maybe not being aware of its potential offensiveness.  Didn’t anyone tell them?  Am I being too sensitive? Overall, I liked their aesthetic and the first two sections were fantastic.  I’m a little confused.

Program C

Dwelling, GERALDCASINGDANCE

Some responses:

K: “that was the longest 30 minutes of my life”

N: “that was so disappointing”

Probably the most interesting part was when one of them quoted Heidegger.  The rest was an utter bore.

The Dance that Documents Itself, Jess Curtis/Gravity

I don’t mind naked bodies on stage, but I need it to mean something.  The rest did seem to get at larger issues of digital documentation, subjectivity, etc.  I appreciated the moment when Jess stepped out to address the current state of San Francisco’s economy and housing crisis.  He recognized that some things just can’t be “danced” and need speech; dance isn’t always the best way to communicate.  I was a little surprised that Christy Bollingbroke mentioned that this piece is a “set-up” for the ODC Theater programming for the next season.  I am curious to see how that plays out and what it means.