ODC Theater

October 5th, “extreme lyric I”

A week after seeing Hope Mohr’s newest piece, extreme lyric I, I sit down to write a response and realize I am late to the game; David E. Moreno on Culture Vulture and Dasha Bulatova on Repeat Performances have already published reviews. I admit to reading them along with Marie Tollon’s interview with Mohr. Even so, I am still sorting through the hour-long piece. Still sifting through its fragments of text, movement, and sound.

A week later, what remains? What do I remember? I remember walking into the theater without looking at the program. The performance was already in progress, the audience sitting in a square on the stage. Four dancers covered in plastic moved behind a mostly transparent curtained square. Projected on the curtain’s walls, Sappho’s fragments (in English and Greek) textualized the performance space – 31, 94, 130, 147.

I knew the piece was based on Anne Carson’s 2003 translations of Sappho, Sappho, the 7th-century Greek poet, exists primarily by the fragments of her work. In the program, Mohr and writer Maxe Crandall wrote: “In this work, we move around and through what we take to be her feminist and queer forms of erotic independence and radical embodiment.”  The erotic resonated clearly for me, but radical embodiment less so. Do I need these reference points? 

My notes are fragments; some are illegible while others remain mysteries.

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I recall the sounds of bodies moving under lightweight plastic that gave the impression of sculptures while the voices and movement of Mohr and Crandall referenced a Greek chorus. Words passed and passing between the dancers and speakers. At one point, Crandall and Mohr laid down on their sides in the middle of the square and said we need “a different kind of protest where we lie down and moan.” They made declarations: “Sappho’s body is leaking,” “Sappho is obsessed,” and “Sappho is just out of reach.” The soundscape composed by Theodore J. H. Hulsker amplifies the space, creating a moody and muddy atmosphere contributing to a world where bodies are other-worldly but also sensual, almost siren-like, beckoning and naming their “I”s not as identifiers but as possibilities.

I don’t recall specific movements, but recall conversations in the lobby afterward that the dancing was, as always, precise, committed, and strong. I was glad when the curtains dropped and the dancers emerged from their plastic shrouds, passing into a more physical space.

The longer it takes to write this, the harder it is to collect a whole picture. But I don’t think that matters too much. What lingers is a sense that even fragments have something to say even if that something is fleeting or a wondering. For me, I might wander to a bookstore for Anne Carson’s book on Sappho. Or maybe I’ll read the one on my shelf about Eros. This is how extreme lyric I will linger for me; in the possibility of words and the mystery of fragments.

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Paramodernities: A Series of Dance Experiments, Netta Yerushalmy ODC Theater, Feb. 23rd

Installment #2 – A Conversation with Julian Carter Continued

“Paramodernities #4: An Inter-Body Event” A Response to Merce Cunningham’s Rainforest, Sounddance, Points in Space, Beach Birds (1968-1991)

M: Eventually, I want to talk about how modernity is articulated through all three of the Paramodernities we saw. It’s interesting that we can’t make the segments of the dance line up in our conversation about them. Everything we consider seems to take us forward, or back.

J:  Right. I like how this nonlinear quality in our response amplifies Yerushalmy’s complex construction of time. I also like your observation that history is a locational technology. It’s part of what I find both interesting and disjunctive about Yerushalmy’s beginning with Nijinsky: unlike Cunningham or Ailey–the other dance-makers she took apart for San Francisco audiences–Nijinsky’s movement isn’t part of routine training anymore, which is why she had to go to reconstructed work to get its components. The early twentieth-century modernist avant-garde habitus is the dance equivalent of an archaic dialect. From our moment it’s easy to confuse its archaism with its simple pastness. But in its moment this aesthetic was simultaneously “modern” and also intentionally “primitive.” Rite of Spring was in its time shocking in part because it refused to maintain a safely superior distance from an imagined cultural past in which white Europeans were not yet “civilized.” I thought about the Orientalist racial fantasies embedded in the sheer awkward angularity of Nijinsky’s choreography and wondered why the lecture text didn’t draw on postcolonial theory at all since it could imaginably help us think about the connection between dance and the specifically racial underpinnings of the nation-state and its imperial metastasizations. I see what you mean when you suggest that some of the theoretical themes of “Paramodernities #1” might have resurfaced in DeFrantz’s lecture in “Paramodernities #5” One way this happened in his explicit introduction of racism as the condition within which both dance and theory are made. But we’ll get back to that later.

At the end of “Paramodernity #1” Yerushalmy came downstage center and whipped out about 10 vertical jumps landing in that knock-kneed pigeon-toed stance: wonderful and terrifying, her evident athletic capacity no guarantee that her ligaments would put up with that abuse. The last word on the modern was recklessness. Maybe it was also despairing, and maybe that’s hindsight. In 1913 we didn’t know World War was coming. One, let alone two. In any case, the contemporary dancers of “Paramodernity #4” appeared from upstage while she sprang into the air. Their bodies seemed very much of our current moment. About the same height and equally elongated, the chief visual difference between them was that he wore a greenish shirt and hers was red; and she wore her hair natural, which made her silhouette resemble an upside-down exclamation mark. When did Yerushalmy’s more compact body leave the stage? Three readers came from the center of the house to thread their way between the dancers, taking the straightest line across the marly to sit against the back wall the way one might hang out in the studio watching a rehearsal.I felt as though I was somehow in or behind the mirror toward which the dancers were performing.

M: I felt a jump into “Paramodernity #4” – all of a sudden we were transported into 1960’s Cunningham-land. I wonder what the piece would have been like with music (at the end the dancers noted its absence due to some technical glitch). Their movements were very clear references or copies of Cunningham’s movement vocabulary, which they called their “dictionary.” I like this idea and wonder if encyclopedia might even be a better term. I’m recalling an essay by  Charles Van Dore, “The Idea of an Encyclopedia” (1962), which advocates for a rethinking of the American encyclopedia that is “dull” and unimaginative in its purpose. Van Dore proposes that encyclopedias “should create a synthesis where none is thought to be possible. It should carve a new order out of the chaos that has swept away the old. It should think of itself as an important – perhaps even the most important – tool for the reconstruction of a world that has meaning.” I am drawn to thinking about how “Paramodernity #4” created a “new” version and vision of Cunningham and what it teaches or instructs us about modern thinking. Aside from Cunningham’s place in dance history, what do his dances say about how to speak?

I’ve always felt that in a different version of my dance career I could have been a Cunningham dancer. There is something timeless about his movement for me, something that my body physically is drawn to.

J: I haven’t had that feeling– but it is interesting that from such different places we each had a sense of being solicited to join the performance. I also liked the movement dictionary–and I see what you mean about the encyclopedic element to Yerushalmy’s project. When the dancers demonstrated their dictionary they simultaneously described its classification system: here are the movements that bend to the left, and here are the movements that travel backward. I found it oddly charming that they kept executing new “entries” after they stopped naming them.

The other thing I responded to about “Paramodernity #4”  is its formal elegance, both spatial and conceptual. I appreciated how Claudia LaRocco paid tribute to Cunningham’s explorations of chance: she brought two other people onstage with her to read materials she hadn’t heard until they performed them next to her (a different pair performed their equally fresh and surprising texts the next night). The writers – both in their entry and in their little row at the back of the stage – seemed to me to do some of the work of a corps, strung out in a comparatively static row that provided a kind of counterpart to the continuous kinetic work the two soloists were doing.

M: “Paramodernity #4” had a meditative quality to it but seemed a little long, as if I could almost close my eyes for a minute and not miss anything. It is interesting to think of the speakers/writers as a kind of corps de ballet. The Ancient Greek chorus moved, spoke, and sang to help move the drama along. Why did words matter to creating “Paramodernity #4”? I’m not exactly sure what Yerushalmy was trying to do, yet I thought maybe the addition of the writers/speakers was an attempt at closing distance. One way I’ve thought about Cunningham choreography is how is large and distant it feels and looks: the reach of bodies in space, the vacant stage, large backdrops (e.g. in Pond’s Way). Even the dancers maintain steady and long gazes. So maybe the speech in the piece is an attempt at breaking up that Cunningham distance. At the end, the dancers came downstage to talk to the audience, prompting us to ask questions while they moved, which further broke this distance — we learned about how the movements felt and what the dancers were thinking. While all this speech enlivened the piece quite a bit, I’m not sure how much it added conceptually. Cunningham choreography, to me, always speaks for itself.

J: The meditative element you describe reminds me of an essay called “We Are All Very Anxious” that proposed the characteristic affect of the “postwar” US–when Cunningham was making the dances Yerushalmy worked with– was boredom. I don’t mean that as any kind of dig. When I’m teaching people how to go to live performance I explain that letting yourself drift is one of your available options, and noticing when and how that happens is part of the experience of audiencing, full of information both about the art and about you as the substance in which it lands. I tell them that the performance is what happens between artist and audience. That is why it’s usually theorized as ephemeral. Yet performance can also contain some traces of its own past, some information about the world in which the piece was made and the contours of past ephemeralities. That is, the way I drifted in response to  “Paramodernity #4” might reflect something about the specifically midcentury modernity to which it responds. When Cunningham’s movement speaks for itself, one of the things Yerushalmy has it say is that the present is all there is: and it stretches to fill every moment. This might be part of why at the end of the piece the dancers came downstage–to the same place that Yerushalmy did her knock-kneed jump sequence in fact–and repeated one phrase about 30 times while chatting with the audience.

I want to circle back to LaRocco’s opening observation that everybody calls Merce Merce, like calling Cher Cher. I found this distracting both because I don’t (I call him Cunningham, or Merce Cunningham–I know it’s old-fashioned of me but there’s something about presuming a right to social intimacy with strangers that rubs my feminist sensibilities wrong) and because we never revisited the themes of pop celebrity and feminine glamor that the comparison raised. Was LaRocco suggesting something about Cunningham’s gender? If so, was that a displaced acknowledging of his gayness? The suggestion flashed by and was gone, resurfacing only in the dancers’ later acknowledgment that Merce preserved standard gender roles for lifts and supports, while they undid these through the simple device of having the person we were supposed to receive as a woman learn the parts Cunningham choreographed for people we see as men. As though we can now, from our postmodern state of constant war, look back at the compositions of “postwar” modernity and make compensatory adjustments to Cunningham’s choreographic closet. As though his gayness weren’t an open secret then too. As though he needs us to recuperate his decision-making, the things he didn’t leave open to chance: who lifts, and who is lifted.

M: We haven’t touched on the questions Yerushalmy projected on the screen. These asked us to consider repetition, legitimacy, modernity, and racism. One of these–“Are the modernities of the body always white?”–was the starting point for “Paramodernities #3: the Aterlives of Slavery” A Response to Alvin Ailey’s Revelations.

Paramodernities: A Series of Dance Experiments, Netta Yerushalmy ODC Theater, Feb. 23rd

Installment #1 – A Conversation with Julian Carter

Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project brought Netta Yerushalmy’s Paramodernities to San Francisco. Yerushalmy describes this work as a “meditation on modernism.” These dance experiments are generated through “systematically deconstructing landmark modern dance choreographies” that are “performed alongside contributions by scholars from different fields in the humanities, who situate these iconic works within the larger project of modernity.” Paramodernities explores foundational tenets of modern discourse – such as sovereignty, race, feminism, and nihilism – and includes public discussions as integral parts of each installment.

I was lucky to watch this dance alongside Julian Carter, who graciously accepted an invitation to have a “diablog post” with me. Because we have a lot to say about Paramodernities, this will be a series of 3 installments on each of the three dance experiments.

“Paramodernities #1: The Work of Dance in the Age of Sacred” A Response to Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1913)

J: “Paramodernities #1” opened with a scenario you might find in any number of contemporary art spaces: a youngish man, sitting at a white AV table slightly to one side of a large white screen a few feet away. Over the speakers, we heard him say “I am sitting on a stage operating a cassette tape recorder. These are my words, but this is not my voice.” Then he stopped the tape, rewound it, and pushed play again–four times.

This repetition points to nonspontaneity and repetition are and nonlinear temporality as core themes of this work. When Netta Yerushalmy entered she was almost unobtrusive, energetically coiled into herself, hopping and shuffling in highly deliberate but uncommunicative patterns: a huge stomping circle, a triplet of small vertical jumps, a sideways scuttle with the head tilted to one side and framed by the forearms. After she’d been dancing for a minute the recorded voice told us “Netta will dance movements she did not invent.” She was moving more or less in place, parallel with the theorist-sound guy-person, between the table and the screen; here she repeated a short movement sequence while he described her compositional process, in which she extracts vocabulary from dances and reassembles its elements. Something about this sequence seemed like a microcosm of the piece. Yerushalmy kept returning to her in-between place – neither authentic nor innovative, neither organic nor technologically avant-garde, neither reverent nor skeptical about the past. Right from the beginning, Netta enacted a version of modernity that simultaneously mobilizes and questions many of its core premises and assumptions.

Netta Yerushalmy. Paramodernities, ODC Theater, San Francisco, 23 February, 2018. Photo: Michelle LaVige

Some such distancing may inhere in the performance of vintage choreography. These movements (Le Sacre du Printemps, or The Rite of Spring) were composed 105 years ago, and they manifest a relation to the modern that isn’t part of any living dancer’s active cultural repertoire. But where reconstructed dances typically devote themselves to accuracy, this one is more interested in its non-approximate identical intimacy with remobilization of its source material. While Netta carved herself into shapes like those Nijinsky used to make, the projected images of Descartes with Queen Christina gave way to engravings of Leviathan and we were treated to a lecture on the overlapping history of ballet and the modern nation-state. Was the scholarly performance part of the mimicry of the modern, where mimicry is understood as repetition-with-a-difference? If so, I could have used a little more weight on the difference side. Nijinsky’s transformation of ballet in Sacre shows us that the geometry of rationalized space can be radically reimagined, and all dancers know that space can’t be separated from time; so why leave the smooth path of Western political and intellectual history uninterrogated? I was disappointed that the textual aspects of the performance treated the linear sequence of European political and intellectual history as immune to creative recombination; I’m ready for some formal innovation there. Given the rigorous examination of multiple temporalities in the rest of the performance, it seemed sad to ask the past to keep on bearing the sober burden of the Real.

One additional observation before I hand this over to you: keeping the house lights up the whole time was an interesting choice. I wonder whether that’s part of why we didn’t cuddle up the way we usually do while we watch dance together? There’s something about sitting in the dark that makes such intimacy seem easier. With the house lights up, I’m more alert in the work of audiencing and less likely to retreat into dreaminess or to let myself drift here and there. My boyfriend said it made him feel like he was with the performance more than at the performance.

M: The lights for me were also an interesting choice – as if we were looked at as much as we were looking at the performers or as if we were in a lecture hall instead of a theater. It made sense given Yerushalmy’s framing of these pieces as “dance experiments.” They might not “belong” in a darkened theater. During the talk-back, Yerushalmy acknowledged using Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction of Rite of Spring to develop her movement vocabulary. She seemed a little shy about this admission; I wonder why. Is it because there is no “true” Rite of Spring to deconstruct and rework? Even the Joffrey Ballet version, which was impressively researched, involved speculation and estimation.

To me, “Paramodernities #1” seemed to reflect back to us, show us, that history (dance or otherwise) is a practice of thinking about where we are. The use of an old slide projector and cassette player was smart — it played with the possibility that the past is not fully past and that the old can be made anew. I was struck by the repeating nature of Yerushalmy’s posture. The carriage of her body was rigid; it seemed hard for her to bend in certain ways. Her arms flexed sharply at the elbows toward her abdomen and her legs bent inward, making her knees knock and her feet pigeon-toed. This posture created a restricted and strained quality in her movement; how much could she actually move? While she danced around the space, sometimes flat-footed and other times in a turned-in relevé, she kept repeating the same vocabulary in different directions. After a while the phrases began to suggest (even embody) Stravinsky’s music. It was as though Yerushalmy’s movements were serving as a kind of score. The history of Nijinsky’s dance is unavoidably tied to the history of the score so it’s interesting that “Paramodernities #1” didn’t need the music. I found the lecture that overlapped with Yerushalmy’s dancing to be a little fragmented. Were some of those historical and conceptual threads picked up later in Thomas DeFrantz’s lecture, or in the speaker/writers that Yerushalmy incorporated into Paramodernities #4″ somehow? Does it matter? 

October 5th, “Marksman” at ODC Theater

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.

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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.  

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?

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.