Author Archive | Claudia Bauer

Dance of death: FACT/SF’s festive and funereal 10th anniversary

Elation, frustration, wonder, befuddlement – one experiences a full spectrum of thoughts and feelings at a FACT/SF performance. Founded by Charles Slender-White in 2008, the company’s oeuvre spans more than 30 works, from 2010’s intimate, intensely theatrical Consumption Series to 2016’s (dis)integration, an immersive dance/lecture exploring displacement and Roma heritage, and 2017’s wondrous Platform, a meticulously twinned duet for Slender-White and Liane Burns. For its 10th anniversary, FACT/SF will premiere the immersive ensemble work death at CounterPulse.

FACT/SF’s horizons are far-reaching. The company has done tours and residencies in Russia and Eastern Europe – after death, they head off for Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia – and Slender-White created the commissioning program JuMP (Just Make a Piece), the West Coast touring endeavor PORT (Peer Organized Regional Touring) and this August’s Summer Dance Festival.

Founding company member Catherine Newman and Slender-White met in 2003 at U.C. Berkeley, where he double-majored in English literature and dance and performance studies, and she studied dance while earning her PhD in mechanical engineering. We sat down in his CounterPulse office, and they reflected on a decade of ups, downs and dances.

Two dancers sitting in chairs one standing on top, all wearing white "A-Line" Shirts and white briefs, looking at red balloon across the room

FACT/SF in What She Taught Me photo by Tawnee Kendall

Claudia Bauer: The first piece of yours I saw was The Consumption Series at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, in 2010. Since then, whatever you do, I’m curious. I don’t always like it, but I’m always curious. More often than not, I love it.

Charles Slender-White: I love all my little dance babies, but The Consumption Series was so wild. That was such a wild space to work in. They were like, “Here’s the keys. You want to paint the floor? You want to figure out how to use the freight elevator? Go for it.” It was such a wonderful sense of possibility. And we were all a lot younger, and that critical lens that tells you something might not be a great choice wasn’t developed yet. It allowed us to make a lot of choices that, if I had to make that piece now –

Catherine Newman: It would be much different.

CSW: I’m not going to say more conservative, but probably a little less wild.

CB: Because you’re on to different things? Or because you know now what you didn’t know then?

CSW: The questions that we were asking in The Consumption Series, I’m not as curious about those things. I wasn’t concerned with the through-line; I didn’t really care. I cared about an energetic arc. Parts of it were much more imagistic than the work that we’ve made since then. Like the first 7 minutes was us dancing around with buckets on our heads. We couldn’t see anything, and we each had to turn off a light and then go into the freight elevator. If someone got lost and couldn’t find their light, then the other three in the elevator just had to wait.

CB: Did that happen?

CSW: Yeah!

CN: What comes from that piece was this really significant patience that we developed with each other. Like, “I did not mean to go 180 in the wrong direction, but the options are: I give up and take the bucket off my head, or I do my best to figure it out.” That really established a foundation of trust and a way of working that has propagated itself through the 10 years.

CSW: In those early, early years, we were figuring out how to not just create the space for that to happen: we are going to feel that anxiety inside, and we are going to feel like our colleagues should hurry the fuck up because the piece needs to move on, and we are just going to sit in that discomfort until it gets resolved. And we’re going to trust that the audience is capable of sitting with us.

CN: One of the things that I’m really proud of is our unique audience. Not just because they’re really committed to us, but they’re also really diverse, and that means a lot to me. What it feels like to me is that our audience gets to bring their whole self to the show. That makes me happy.

CB: The integrity of the creation process is what interests you.

CSW: It’s always a bit strange when we start a process, because people want to know what it is, how long it’s going to be. Even with death – is it optimistic, is it pessimistic, do we die and go to heaven? And when I tell people I don’t know the answer, it’s often disappointing to the person I’m talking to. By the time we get something onstage, there’s often a point of view that materializes.

CN: It’s true that a point of view comes out, but it never feels to me like “this dance is on death.” It’s like, “Here’s some portion of how I feel about things, right now, at this stage in my life.”

CB: FACT/SF works are mentally and physically intense – the dancers’ focus and energy make it exhilarating to watch.

CSW: There’s this really nice cumulative effect that happens when you have been seeing the same dancer onstage for the whole piece, you’re seeing their costume get all wrangled and weird, and sweat and heavy breathing. Making the labor visible is interesting to me.

dancer has chin on chair in grey room with body forms

FACT/SF in Remains photo by Gema Galina

CB: So how have you made it through the inevitable frustrations of running a company for 10 years?

CSW: I’ve never been bored with the work. I have not sat down to write a budget, or gone to rehearsals, or been writing a card to a donor, or buying plane tickets for a tour, all of the many things that the job entails – they’ve never once been boring. They’ve been frustrating, they’ve been exhausting, they’ve been disheartening, but not boring. I think that’s related to this persistent and insistent curiosity, and letting the curiosity drive the process, rather than the expectation.

CB: And not wanting to get a real job.

CSW: It’s because I’m so work-averse. I’m too lazy to get a job. [laughter] And then there is the whole FACT/SF family – whenever I’m starting to feel like ugh, what’s the point, I’ll get an email or a phone call or a text message, and I’ll think, oh, the work has value. There is also this field-development component that I find almost as satisfying as the art-making. When we decided to do JuMP, or PORT, or my consulting work – all of those things are coming out of my deep love for dance and dancers and dance-making, and a real sense of frustration about why things don’t work better. It feels empowering.

CN: It’s never been about sticking with it; that’s never been a question for me. I have a total trust with Charlie, in terms of his rigor and his way of working. I sincerely learn a lot about myself, the way my body moves, things that I end up implementing and taking into my other work and my life, from every project.

CB: You’ve performed in Russia, Bulgaria, Seattle, Portland, LA. How has that come about?

CSW: All of the tours have resulted from casual conversations with real people as I’ve encountered them. It’s following up on conversations that start after class, or over a beer, or someone emails you. PORT came about because [former ODC Theater Director] Christy Bolingbroke introduced me and the LA Contemporary Dance Company directors at APAP [Association of Performing Arts Professionals], and we just kept talking. It’s finding where the needs of the local partner meet or match the needs that we have to create an opportunity that’s mutually beneficial.

CB: What about when things go wrong?

CSW: All of the no’s are difficult to absorb. But the clearer I am about what I’m working on and why, they can still be disappointing without being tragic. We’ve had enough years when things went pretty sideways and we still managed to put on a season of work.

CB: So let’s talk about death.

CSW: It’s the fourth piece in this series of curiosities. We made one last year called Remains, then one in 2018 called Life, and I did a little solo called Memoria… The curiosity for me is not about the process of dying, or the anxiety that people might have around mortality; it’s more around the role that grief plays in a living person’s life. Another upper from FACT/SF. We’re known for our easy-going, lighthearted dances. [laughter]. Next year we need to make a clown dance or something.

CB: How does grief manifest in the choreography?

CN: I have no doubt that everyone in that room has their own real feelings about death and grief, and in a weird way, I have this understanding that we’re all in some way bringing that to the work, even though we won’t explicitly talk about our experiences.

CSW: Memory is something that comes up a lot with grief. What can it be to think about a choreographic phrase that changes over time? How do you make choreographic changes visible to an audience – are you really asking them to learn a phrase in their minds to notice the difference? I think part of it will be really beautiful; I think part of it will be hard to tolerate. I think all dances are about death in some way. Not all the dances –

CN: Yours!

CSW: [laughter] Either individual versus society, or it’s death, and often both. But I think that I didn’t have the confidence to name that until now.

CB: Is that confidence the result of working for ten years?

CSW: I could not have foreseen, and I had not ever heard from another choreographer, that you can use your dances as a way to learn more about making dances. The work of 10 years is starting to seem like, “Oh, I didn’t think about this as a long-term, durational education project in addition to a dance-making thing.” I’ve figured out a way to continue to play with form and composition. Maybe that’s why I’m not bored.

Moving in Space: Considering the Spring Season

In thinking about the upcoming season, the theme that came to mind was space. We don’t have enough of it around here, for living or dancing. And the powers that be seem hell-bent on controlling specific spaces: bathrooms, body cavities, voting booths.

Spaces matter a lot, both literally and metaphorically. So dancing in spaces matters a lot. Gathering to watch dances in spaces matters, too: The communal ritual of sitting down (or standing or moving, as the case may be) together to receive another person’s offering of art, of joy, of love or resistance or vulnerability, is profound.

The next few months bring many opportunities to enter new spaces and revisit familiar ones, whether that means seeing dance in an unfamiliar venue or opening your mind to another person’s culture or emotional world, as they express it through dance. Does their work take on unexpected shades of meaning in a particular performance space? Is everything site specific in its own way? What does it mean for secular modern dance to take place in a cathedral, or abstract performance art in a bar, or ethnic dance in the Opera House? We may not find the answers this season, or perhaps we’ll arrive at opposing conclusions, but pondering the questions is a good start.

This list captures some of the season’s diversity in place, time and concept, but is admittedly incomplete—please understand that In Dance has only so much space. Dates, times and ticket prices are subject to updates.

FRESH Festival: A month of workshops, community events and Friday-Saturday performances: Jan. 5-6: ALTERNATIVA, Tara Brandel and NAKA Dance Theater; Jan. 12-13: Rachael Dichter + Allie Hankins, Keith Hennessy and Sara Shelton Mann; Jan. 19-20: Larry Arrington, Kinetech Arts and Brontez Purnell; Jan. 26-27: Christine Bonansea, Violeta Luna and Abby Crain, Layton Lachman and Mara Poliak. 8pm. Joe Goode Annex, SF. $25-$35. freshfestival.org

Winter Dance Salon: Cozy up to new works by Hayley Bowman, Julie Crothers, Ann DiFruscia, Carol Kueffer, Alivia Schaffer and Chingchi Yu. Sat, Jan. 13, 6pm & 8pm. Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley. $15. shawl-anderson.org

SF Movement Arts Festival: With artists and companies performing in 12 stations from the high altar to the side chapels, you just have to trust your higher power to lead you on the right path between Marika Brussel, LV Dance Collective, Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company and 50+ more. Fri, Jan. 19; pre-show starts just after 6pm, performances at 7pm. Grace Cathedral, SF. $24. sfmaf.org

KAMBARA + DANCERS: Welcome Yayoi Kambara’s fledgling company in a debut triple bill including IKKAI: Once, a reflection on Japanese-American internment and recent travel bans. Fri-Sat, Jan. 19-20, 8pm. ODC Theater, SF. $10-$35. kambaraplus.org

Kathak dancer

Noorani Dance / photo by Naveen Nelapudi

Noorani Dance & EnActe: Britain’s forced division of Pakistan and India in 1947 displaced 15 million people, led to two million deaths and created a rift between Hindu and Muslim communities. The Parting revisits the tragedy, and reunites diverse cultures, in theater, music and South Asian dance. Fri-Sat, Jan. 19-20, 8pm; Sun, Jan. 21, 2pm. Z Space. $26.25-$100. In the South Bay on Fri, Mar. 23, 8pm, and Sat, Mar. 24, 6pm. Hammer Theater, SJ. $10-$100. enacte.org

SF Performances’ PIVOT Series: It’s SoCal vs. NorCal with Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project performing on Tue, Jan. 23, and Joe Goode Performance Group showing a work in progress on Sat, Jan. 27. 8:30pm. A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, SF. $25-$40. sfperformances.org

SOULSKIN LAB: An evening of short works by Khala Brannigan, Tanya Chianese, Jamielynn Duggan, Emily Hansel, Erika Hassan, Courtney Hope, Alyssa Eve Mitchel and Leyna Swoboda. Sat, Jan. 27, 7:30pm. CounterPulse, SF. $20. soulskindance.org

8x8x8: You drink, they dance, things get crazy. Randee Paufve’s 11th annual-ish performance party includes Nol Simonse, dana e. fitchett, Aviva Rose-Williams, Evie Ladin and Bandelion. 21 and over. Tickets at the door only; go early because it always sells out. Thu, Jan. 25, 8pm. Uptown Nightclub, Oakland. $8. paufvedance.org

Kristin Damrow & Company: Looking past Charles and Ray Eames’ midcentury-modern furniture designs, EAMES digs into the timeless issue of sexual politics of home, work and the marriage of equally brilliant minds who were treated unequally. Thu-Sat, Jan. 25-27, 8pm. ODC Theater, SF. $30. kdc-eames.com

Three South Indian Dancers reaching towards audience

Nava Dance Theatre / photo by Shashak Deshpande

When Eyes Speak: South Asian Choreography Festival: Two programs of Indian classical dance, curated by Preethi Ramaprasad: Friday includes a lecture/demo and performances by Vidhya Subramanian and Taniya and Puneet Panda; Saturday features Sri Thina Subramaniam and Nadhi Thekkek and Nava Dance Theatre. Fri-Sat, Jan. 26-27, 6pm. SAFEhouse, SF. $15-$20. safehousearts.org

13th Floor Dance Theater: Sent on a dangerous mission by the government, seven travelers plot a rebellion in Space Pilots in Spaaace. Fri, Feb. 2 & 9, 8pm; Sat, Feb. 3 & 10, 5pm & 8pm. Joe Goode Annex, SF. $15-$40. 13thfloortheater.org

Spectrum Dance Theater: Legendary choreographer Donald Byrd collaborated with playwright Anna Deveare Smith to create A Rap on Race, based on a discussion between anthropologist Margaret Mead and novelist James Baldwin (portrayed by Byrd). Their conversation took place 50 years ago, and has never been more relevant. Fri, Feb. 9, 8 p.m.; Sat, Feb. 10, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Oakland Metro Operahouse, Oakland. $63-$68. calperformances.org

Nancy Karp + Dancers: Sonsherée Giles, Sebastian Grubb, Amy Lewis, Megan Lowe and Charles Slender-White perform On Beauty, a site-specific exploration of nature, diversity and creative process. Stop in Mondays through Jan. 30, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., for open rehearsals. Fri, Feb. 9, 8pm; Sat-Sun, Feb. 10-11, 6pm & 7:30pm. David Brower Center, Berkeley. $18-$35. nancykarp.org

Robert Moses’ Kin: RMK’s home season takes inclusion and access to heart in Bootstrap Tales: The score includes music by participants in the Bootstrap Project, Moses’ new outreach program that encourages SF foster youth to pursue the arts. Fri-Sun, Feb. 23-25, 8pm. YBCA Theater, SF. $19-$55. robertmoseskin.org

Two dancers falling

Wang Ramirez / photo by Frank Szafinski

Company Wang Ramirez: In Borderline, Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez blend hip hop with Tanztheater and use aerials to create illusions and visual metaphors. Glossy, for sure—they’ve performed with Madonna, Akram Khan and Rocío Molina—but unvarnished, too. Sat, Feb. 24, 8pm; Sun, Feb. 25, 3pm. Zellerbach Hall, U.C. Berkeley. $25-$68. calperformances.org

Black Choreographers Festival: New works abound in the annual festival curated by Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Elaine Ellis, who showcase the African Diaspora’s traditions and innovations with classes, events and performances: Feb. 17-18 at Dance Mission Theater, SF; Feb. 24-25 at SAFEhouse, SF; Mar. 3-4 at Laney College Theater, Oakland; 7:30pm. $10-$20. bcfhereandnow.com

Company Wayne McGregor: The Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer does some of his most interesting work on his own company: Autobiography incorporates McGregor’s own genomic sequence and music by Jlin, a steelworker-turned-footwork-composer from Gary, Indiana. Thu-Sat, Mar. 8-10, 7:30pm. YBCA Theater, SF. $40-$65. sfperformances.org

Person lying under a sheet of paper

PunkkiCo / photo by Raisa Punkki

punkkiCo: Expect sensory immersion during Raisa Punkki’s Controle, a collaboration in movement, sound, dancer-controlled light and shadow, costume and art, including live painting by Alice Malia in response to the vibe onstage. Thu-Sat, Mar. 15-17; details TBA. ODC Theater, SF. punkkico.com

Christy Funsch: For her 15th anniversary season, Funsch reached back a century to the California Dancing Girls, an early all-women troupe in SF, to create Mother, Sister, Daughter, Marvel with Chris Black, Aura Fischbeck, Nina Haft and seven other women dancers over 40. On Thu, Mar. 15, Muriel Maffre leads a discussion at the Museum of Performance and Design. Thu-Sat, Apr. 5-7, 8pm. ODC Theater, SF. $20-$35. funschdance.org

San Francisco Ballet: The world will descend on San Francisco for the highly anticipated Unbound: A Festival of New Works; the commissions from 12 choreographers will delight, surprise and, in some cases, polarize. Take your pick of four programs: (A) Alonzo King, Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck; (B) Myles Thatcher, Cathy Marston, David Dawson; (C) Stanton Welch, Trey McIntyre, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; (D) Edwaard Liang, Dwight Rhoden, Arthur Pita. Apr. 20-May 5. War Memorial Opera House, SF. $28-$362. sfballet.org

AXIS Dance Company: Oakland’s physically integrated pioneers have earned international renown over the past 30 years, but are only now making their SF debut. The triple bill combines stellar pieces by new artistic director Marc Brew and Amy Seiwert, and a premiere from former AXIS member Nadia Adame. Fri-Sun, May 4-6; details TBA. Z Space, SF. axisdance.org

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival: In its smashing Opera House debut last summer, EDF claimed that stage for dance forms long excluded from it. Expect an even bigger celebration this year, when the world-renowned festival returns to celebrate its 40th anniversary season. After an opening performance at City Hall on Fri, Jul. 6, EDF runs Fri-Sat, Jul. 14-15 and 21-22; details TBA. War Memorial Opera House, SF. worldartswest.org

The Body Politic: Baroque Dance Speaks Truth to Power in The Temple of Glory

Dance has never been more political than it is today, with artists creating work on themes of feminism, racism, inequality, violence and the fight for justice. The issues may be topical, but dance as a political act goes back centuries. Take Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Baroque opera-ballet, The Temple of Glory (Le temple de la Gloire), performed for France’s King Louis XV in 1745 at the Palace of Versailles.

“Voltaire, who was the librettist, was trying to use the medium of opera and ballet to present an argument for different kinds of leaders,” says Catherine Turocy, artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company and one of the world’s foremost experts on the performing arts of the period. Though called a “ballet,” The Temple of Glory uses Baroque dance technique, which predates ballet as we think of it today – there are no tutus or pointe shoes in sight.

It’s also a rare purely political ballet – neither is there a prince, princess nor love story. “It was written in 1745, and one of the things in our own Constitution that people were fighting for was this idea of the pursuit of happiness,” Turocy explains. “Voltaire is making suggestions about how society could be better.”

The Temple of Glory, as it was first presented at Versailles, has not been seen since. But the long-lost original score was recently rediscovered at UC Berkeley, and the reconstructed work will be performed in April at Zellerbach Hall. Co-produced by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, Cal Performances and Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, the magnificent production features 30 dances choreographed by Turocy and musical performance by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque. Turocy’s company dancers will be joined by Cal students and Bay Area professionals.

Baroque and other historical dance styles are not as far removed from today’s dance as they might seem. The parallels are many, from performative qualities to technical rigor to the conviction that the arts take us beyond our mere selves. In this interview, Turocy delves into the origins of The Temple of Glory and discusses Baroque’s relevance to modern dance and culture.


Claudia Bauer: Modern dancers and choreographers might be surprised at how relevant Baroque dance is to their work.
Catherine Turocy: I just got back from Cuba, where I had the opportunity of presenting the style to (former Royal Ballet star) Carlos Acosta’s new company, called Acosta Danza. I was curious to see how professional dancers who’d never seen this work before, what their reactions would be. I got this beautiful letter from him at the end. He says, “The joy with which our dancers have assumed your teaching will help us in our efforts to create a company that embraces the whole dance, without distinction of epochs and styles, in the search for a unique and beautiful result.”

CB: That must have been gratifying.
CT: A lot of times people ask me, Can professional dancers relate to this dance style today? And I think that the answer is yes. (Carlos) certainly sees a place for it, in terms of people studying it and understanding more about the resonating roots of historical dance that come through theatrical dance today, whether it’s ballet or modern dance. We also worked with the pantomime technique, which in a way relates both to modern and ballet.

CB: How does Baroque pantomime relate to modern dance?
CT: If you’re doing anything like Pina Bausch, or if you’re doing some of the older modern dances like The Moor’s Pavane, you take on a particular kind of dramatic, emotional character. So whenever you’re dealing with emotions and dramatic context, the kind of alphabet of gestures and postures, and the way the body moves from one extreme to another, is very delineated in the Baroque technique.

CB: Talk about the relevance of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and the body moving toward the heavens and the earth through dance. I hear artists reference this in terms of spiraling in the body, extending beyond your physical self, sending your energy out.
CT: The Vitruvian Man is the idea that the body is a microcosm of the cosmos. They had their understanding of their place in the world and their relationship to the world, and that was expressed in the arts through the body and the posturing. Man has this question that never goes away: Who am I? Why am I here? Where is my place? It was being answered through a shared aesthetic with all the arts.

CB: I’m thinking about how popular it is to create cross-genre collaborations, bringing musicians, artists and dancers together to commune, in a way, on a relevant social issue or cultural question.
CT: This was much more the expected way of examining different things, when you’re talking about 18th-century opera, like Le temple de la Gloire. This idea of the pursuit of happiness is in the final act, when King Trajan reaches the Temple of Glory. He’s crowned by Glory and he says, “Wait, this is not enough … I want to make this a world where one can have the freedom to pursue happiness.” It’s right out there.

CB: It’s painfully relevant at this moment in our history.
CT: Everyone has been saying that! (laughs) Trajan comes in with these five captive kings. He’s won the war, but instead of putting the kings in prison or degrading them, he lets them go. It’s the monarch who has a sense of humanity and compassion. He goes to an even further level. He says that the Temple of Happiness should be for every sex, every age and every station of life.

CB: Is “every sex” the actual translation from the French?
CT: Yes.

CB: That’s kind of amazing.
CT: Yes! In court life at that time, there was lots of cross-dressing. And Louis XIV’s brother (Philippe I, Duke of Orléans) was out of any kind of category.

CB: Non-binary.
CT: Yes.

CB: Is your choreography based on original notations?
CT: There’s two beautiful choreographies that were published, one in 1700 and one in 1704, in Paris, for Apollo. I thought I would use that as a basis of inspiration for the choreography for the first hero dance. There are no notations for the Muses, but there is some talk about the Dance of the Spheres, and there’s a lot of iconography with the Muses in (Tiepolo’s) wonderful ceiling paintings. I used the idea of the Muses from the period, and concepts of the patterning from the sphere to inform that dance. The second act is a little bit more exotic. Bacchus and his wife, Erigone, are the main singing characters; you’re going to see bacchantes and satyrs and some followers of Bacchus trying to win the Temple of Glory.

CB: Was the work meant as a message to Louis XV?
CT: There was a huge Battle of Fontenoy, that the French won. Louis XV was at the battle with his young son, the Duke of Noailles. It was in honor of winning this major international battle. The thing about the Muses that people forget is that they were the protectors of culture. If somebody is celebrating the end of a war, the Muses come out, because they’ve kept the arts and sciences going while this war and devastation is happening, and they celebrate the new peace.

CB: How was it received by the court?
CT: Apparently Louis XV wasn’t thrilled (laughs). Because Voltaire was telling him what kind of leader he should be. It was set up to take to the Paris Opera (in 1746), but Rameau, being in tune with what the public would buy, basically said to Voltaire, “We’ve got to rewrite this, because no one’s going to come to see a ballet without a love story.” So they rewrote Act I and Act III. I suppose people were thinking, “Okay, you’ve given us a political statement that’s tuned to what you want to say to the king, but we can’t possibly sell it.”

CB: People are really using performing art as a way to make political statements. I don’t think they realize that they’re within a long tradition of doing that.
CT: I think you’re absolutely correct. The court masque was definitely in politics, they weren’t just fun dances. Many of them had messages that were so far-reaching.

CB: Thank you, Catherine.
CT: Thank you.

Images as Inspiration

In 2013, choreographers Christy Funsch and Peiling Kao held a performance in the former Meridian Gallery on Powell Street, where they danced in response to new paintings by British postmodernist Abby Leigh. The intimacy of their solos and duets, performed in small rooms and in immediate proximity to the paintings, was emotionally profound and intellectually thrilling.

A year later, choreographic duo Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg began work on what would become the four-part Still Life series, which wraps up this month with the premiere of Still Life No. 4. Inspired by paintings in the de Young Museum’s permanent collection, Simpson and Stulberg use the works’ compositional underpinnings as cues for structure and movement style.

What is it about two-dimensional color and line that can inspire movement? What lasting effect can a danced relationship with visual art have on a choreographer’s process, or on their perception of dance as an art form? With these questions as their prompt, the choreographers met to exchange notes and ideas about working with visual art. The meeting proved more fruitful than any of us expected, and encompassed the experience of performing for a visual-arts audience and the expressive potential of abstraction. Special thanks to ODC for providing their conference room for this interview.


CLAUDIA BAUER: Where did you get the idea to make painting-based dances?

Jenny Stulberg: Lauren had just begun being a companion for a woman named Pauline Schwartz, who is 97 and was a docent for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for about 30 years. Mrs. Schwartz was teaching her all about still-life paintings. We decided to pick a painting and create a piece based on its compositional elements. The first one we did [No. 1] was Raphaelle Peale’s Blackberries (1813). As opposed to creating a piece where we were physicalizing a bowl of blackberries, we were taking compositional elements from it – the size, precision, light. [No. 2 and No. 3, created in 2015, were based on William Harnett’s 1885 After the Hunt and David Ligare’s 1994 Still Life with Grape Juice and Sandwiches, (Xenia); they have not revealed the painting behind No. 4.]

Lauren Simpson: She [Schwartz] would talk about texture, color, light, contrast, and how these still lifes were an opportunity for artists to paint “meaningless” items and experiment with formal elements. Jenny and I thought, these are elements we’d like to see more of in our dancing.

CB: How does that manifest in the choreography?

still life painting of sandwiches leaning against jug of juice

‘Still Life with Grape Juice and Sandwiches, (Xenia)’ by David Ligare, 1994; photo courtesy of art.famsf.org

LS: Some of it is intuitive. But the other part is the compositional rules in still life painting; everything is so deliberate. In Grape Juice there’s a corner, and in the middle is the grape juice and sandwiches. So we put the dancers in the upstage corner pretty much the entire time. We decided to stick with that as a compositional score, even though there’s a lot of temptation to do something else.

JS: Blackberries is about 12″ x 18″, and you have to get really close to see the detail. I’m pretty sure it was Lauren who said, let’s take this movement and shrink it. It’s become our signature movement style – small, quick, unified. I don’t think anything in No. 1 looks like blackberries, but we were thinking about the precision and the tininess.

CB: Those paintings were representational. But the Abby Leigh paintings were completely abstract.

Peiling Kao: They’re geometric lines, a chunk of color. The intention we wanted was about the space in the gallery itself: the space between the paintings, between the paintings and us, and between us and the audience. How do I feel about yellow and red, how do I feel about the lines and how do I feel about the space in front of or behind something?

dancer bends in gallery in front of red and yellow painting

Peiling Kao in Meridian Gallery with Abby Leigh’s “Lipstick”

Christy Funsch: I felt a real physical response to the shape of the works, but also of the space. In that tiny room, what’s possible for me to do? Is it possible for the audience to see the artwork and see me?

LS: Christy, it’s an interesting difference in that we don’t care if the audience ever sees the painting. It’s a foundation for the work, but we almost never show the painting itself. As far as gallery space is concerned, I’m drawn to the audience of the visual art world. I think there’s a different kind of rigor in that eld, and a different way of talking about artworks. It’s an opportunity to see dance in the same way we see a painting. On the one hand, that could be dehumanizing – paintings aren’t people. But I do like attempting to abstract dance as much as we can.

CF: I think visual-arts audiences have more comfort with abstraction than concert goers.

LS: I feel really at home in the visual arts world, because we can make abstracted movement and people are really accepting of it. We can entertain the idea that dance can just be about formal elements. It feels like it’s okay to do that, and somehow it’s not okay in the performing arts. I feel free to do this “meaningless” work; I’m trusting that meaning will happen.

PK: It’s a privilege to work in this way, where you feel like you have a painting or a composition that anchors you.

CF: I feel like there are a lot of ways that dance has been asked to “behave” – behave to the music, to the meaning, to content –

PK: – to the count. CF: Absolutely.

CB: A lot of dance is used to make a political point. These dances are wholly different from that.

JS: Not having a specific story or point we were trying to get across, the response I heard from audience members was so vast. By not telling people what to think, it allows them to go anywhere.

PK: If you can feel a moment and feel touched, or feel something you cannot even describe, I think that is enough.

JS: If I don’t tell them that there’s something to get, then I feel like I can’t fail. It’s so vulnerable to put forth what you’re feeling in the piece, and by not saying anything, to me it’s almost a way to hide behind it.

CF: I’ve made all kinds of work and I’ve told stories sometimes, and I really do have my own story for my work. But I feel like it’s my job to allow for multiple readings. There’s no shield, really. When you’re putting work out there, there it is. It’s never felt comfortable.

CB: How have these experiences influenced you as dance makers?

5 dancers lean seated onto left arm in unison

‘Still Life No. 3,’ photo by Kegan Marling

LS: There’s a couple of Richard Diebenkorn still lifes in the de Young; he did around 150 and got really good at it. So we got the idea, what if we just stuck with something and repeated it? That changed the nature of our work – instead of “make something new, make something new.” And there’s so much craft in the still lifes that I had not paid attention to in the way that we are now. That has changed the movement itself. Part of it is being small and subtle in the body; No. 3 had a lot of subtlety of the back.

JS: I have also been making dance films. What I love about film is the ability to shape the frame of the viewer very specifically. [In our choreography], we’ve been able to create frames and focal points for the viewers – like, we want you to just look at our fingers.

CF: I think it’s great you mentioned Diebenkorn, because his trajectory was from the figurative to the completely abstract, sometimes in the same work.

LS: Yeah. And in a gallery there’s this other dimension. We’re very used to the floor as dancers, but the wall is new, and it’s messing us up – in a good way. I want to be in a gallery, using this vertical surface.

CF: One thing I learned was how much the way things are put in a room directs your movement and experience of them. The space was designed so specifically to see those works – the way they were placed, how much space was around them. That was a moment of seeing space differently and knowing how big an effect it has on me. I did my piece in Santa Cruz, New York, Golden Gate Park and in the YBCA Forum. That was like an unspooling study in different contexts. For me, it’s an ongoing interest – looking at the work in different containers.

LS: Working with the still-life paintings has made me think about ephemerality and dancing. These artists are usually painting things that are rotting or decaying, like carcasses or fruit. They can’t paint fast enough before the stuff changes. They are working with ephemeral stuff and making it something static, and we’re turning a static thing into an ephemeral form. It’s nice to feel a part of those cycles.


Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations: Still Life No. 4. Thu-Sat Mar 31-Apr 2. ODC Theater, SF.

Sean Dorsey Reveals the Stories of a Missing Generation

WHEN WE LAST SPOKE with award-winning dance maker Sean Dorsey, in the March 2013 issue, he was about to launch a nationwide tour of his last show, The Secret History of Love. Based on several years of research, residencies, oral-history interviews, composition and choreography, Secret History was about the courage of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning people to live with pride and forge loving relationships against all the odds. It brought hope, insight and contemporary dance to thousands of people, and established Dorsey as an archivist of the LGBTQ experience.

After another two-year odyssey of research and development, Dorsey is about to mark the tenth anniversary of Sean Dorsey Dance with another historically-inspired work, The Missing Generation. To be performed by several of his longtime collaborators, Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones, Nol Simonse and Dorsey, Missing looks back at the first wave of the AIDS epidemic and bears witness to those who not only survived it, but also those that responded in other ways that led to the founding of organizations that provide needed resources and the activism on which today’s LGBTQ community stands.

Dorsey took a break from rehearsals to share his thoughts on the show and the meaningful community work that has sustained him through a decade of dance.

Claudia Bauer: Congratulations on your tenth anniversary.
Sean Dorsey: Thank you so much. It’s been a really amazing and interesting journey. I feel so, so blessed.

CB: Your works have become so theatrical and research-based. Was that your original vision?
SD: Of course, my deepest drive was to make dances that resonated with audiences and were meaningful to me. But an important part was that I didn’t see anybody like me, as a trans person, in dance, on stage or in theater here. That was a big part of my initial drive, and still is. I certainly hoped and planned to be making work ten years down the road, but the work now is a living creature, and it’s being reinterpreted and reinvigorated by our residencies and teaching.

CB: Yes, because along with performing, you do so much outreach. the enthusiastic response must reaffirm your work.
SD: I think it does. I continue to be astounded by the creativity and resiliency, audacity and revolutionary nature of our community. I have the opportunity to see the best in people and the best in humanity. I mean that in a really broad sense, because my audiences are both totally mainstream dance audiences and people deep in the heart of the LGBT community. This journey has allowed me to bring them together to sit or talk side by side. Again and again, we show up for each other and bring our best selves.

CB: You’ve taken on heavy, emotional topics on behalf of the LGBTQ community. It’s different from creating abstract movement for its own sake.
SD: It’s an intense artistic process, because my work is rooted in actual human experience. It is an extraordinary honor and very, very taxing at times. For The Missing Generation, I did residencies in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, a couple of cities in Maine, and Washington DC, researching the local history about the early epidemic. I also recorded twenty-five oral histories of two to four hours each, about people’s experiences through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, when AIDS first hit, and how we responded, and what we feel today. I think a lot about how to hold someone’s story, how to ask for it and how to receive it, and how to offer support on top of just listening. I heard from many people that the interview was the first time in twenty or thirty years anybody had let them speak openly about their experience, because it’s so painful and people just don’t want to hear about it.

CB: How do you cope with the emotional ripple effect?
SD: I’m still navigating that. I am blessed to have an amazing partner [musician Shawna Virago] of 13 years, and a close circle of friends who have been very supportive. I meditate and start my day at an altar space. And there are just days when I’m totally exhausted, and I need to just crash and have a bubble bath.

Sean holds microphone to interview Deedee

DeeDee Chamblee and Sean Dorsey
Photo courtesy of Sean Dorsey

CB: Bubble baths always help [laughter]. And then you go into the studio and make art about it.
SD: Working with my dancers is such a beautiful support. It’s such a loving collaborative atmosphere. The same is true with my composers. I spend many, many hours sitting with twenty-five oral histories and a foot-tall pile of transcripts to distill an idea for a section and find the right expression to pair with another one. At the end of an eight-hour day, I might have come up with another minute of the score. The sound score is really rich and multi-layered, and features many voices and stories from these oral histories and beautiful music that my composers have created. It’s a fusion of tech and story and movement that is grounded in the melody and the emotional trajectory of the story. It’s still a Sean Dorsey Dance show, so god knows there’s plenty of humor and theatricality [laughter], but there’s also some really hard stuff.

CB: Yes. how does that resonate artistically?
SD: It’s definitely not a literal reenactment of history; it’s not leaning on meaning. Sometimes the story of one of the survivors in so intense that it needs really minimal movement. Sometimes it needs extreme movement to the point of exhaustion. My job as an artist is to reveal to audiences the ways that each person’s experience is relatable. We all know what that feels like to be terrified and looking to lean on the community or a partner. We know what it’s like to feel rage in the face of injustice.

CB: Why is it important to look back to the first generation of survivors? and why now?
SD: There is a sense of urgency about capturing the history while we can. But also the urgency of intergenerational sharing, so that younger people today, who come of age in the era of AIDS cocktails and can’t imagine anything otherwise, can not only know the early history of the epidemic, but also understand that the reason that those cocktails are available now is because there were people who were literally facing the last days of their lives, who knew for a fact that they would die, but who devoted much of their remaining energy and time to being part of drug trials or street action and activism. Even while they were declining, they were taking care of friends who were going to go first. Our community showed up for each other in the most heroic and most human way. Everything that we benefit from now is a direct result of that early mutual care, activism, political strategizing.

CB: Who are some of the people you interviewed for Missing?
SD: Some of them have been living with HIV or AIDS for thirty-plus years. They are very early hospice workers, and people who lost a lover or three lovers or five lovers to AIDS. They were the first people to respond by building resources, like the nation’s first black, gay, HIV/AIDS organizations of any kind, or San Francisco’s first major healthcare response. It is really important for me in this project to bring forward transgender experiences of the early AIDS epidemic, especially trans women’s. Because as limited as our recorded history is of the time, trans women’s experiences of the early AIDS epidemic are completely absent from any mainstream or recorded AIDS narratives—yet they were totally decimated by the early AIDS epidemic. In fact, trans women still have some of the highest rates of new infection, and some of the least access to resources. As a transgender person and a trans activist, this is so important and close to my heart.

CB: It’s also about caring for each other. 
SD: Absolutely. I hope that coming together as an audience for this show will give people an opportunity to share some of that caring. It’s about removing this illusion of separateness and remembering that my struggle, my grief, my happiness are tied [to] your struggle, your grief, your happiness. This is the shared human experience.

CB: Once again, you’ll be touring the show with extensive outreach.
SD: Over the next couple of years we are going to visit 20 cities across the US, starting in San Francisco and then going to Bates Dance Festival and then Boston, Atlanta, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Maui. We’re also going to smaller communities like Whitewater, Wisconsin; when we took Secret History of Love there, we expected forty people and had six hundred people come from across Wisconsin. In all of these places, we’ll do teaching and master classes and movement-based story-sharing workshops, and I’ll record some of those to archive. We’re incredibly excited about the next two years…but first I have to finish the show!

The Missing Generation: May 14-17, Dance Mission Theater, SF, seandorseydance.com

Modern Mixology: Cocktails and Contemporary Dance Mingle in 8x8x8

“It’s in a bar?” asked my incredulous friend. “And you can drink?” That’s a common double-check when people hear about 8x8x8 for the first time. Relaxed and a little rowdy, the grassroots, DIY showcase has brought dancing and drinking together for over ten years, to intoxicating effect.

The brainchild of Paufve Dance’s Randee Paufve and Rebecca Johnson, 8x8x8 launched in 2003 at Oakland’s Stork Club with a little bit of planning and eight very game local choreographers (more on the significance of “eight” later). That first sold-out audience included friends, family, dance fans and Stork Club regulars who just happened to be at the bar when the dancing began.

After a few years at Berkeley’s Starry Plough, 8x8x8 settled, in 2011, at the Uptown Lounge, where it now accommodates even-larger sellout crowds. Paufve and Johnson still wing it, and it still works—8x8x8 just keeps getting more popular, and this year’s edition has 8pm and 10pm shows that include Amy Seiwert, Anne-Rene Petrarca and hip-hop by Stance Dance.

Shaken, stirred or straight up, 8x8x8 is simply the friendliest, most fun evening of dance around. It’s even fun to talk about, which quickly became apparent during this interview with Johnson and Paufve.

Woman is falling horizontally in front of a man standing in Pin Shape Form.

Amy Lewis / Photo by Lynne Fried

Claudia Bauer: It’s so counterintuitive—dance in a bar. What’s the story?
Randee Paufve: I wanted to create a program in an alternative venue and shine a focus on the East Bay as a center for dance. We were responding to the lack of suitable, affordable venues for dance in the East Bay. I was interested in small stages and in control over a show, over an environment, over work.

CB: Apparently you struck a chord.
RP: Something like 200 people showed up—the line was around the block. We had to figure out where to put them all! The emcee nearly lost his mind trying to get people to take their places and sit. It was one of the most exciting evenings of performance in my life.

CB: And the name…
RP: The name came about because I have absolutely no sense of space. I remember eyeballing the stage and saying, “Oh, that looks like 8×8”—it was actually more like 9×11. And it costs $8 to get in. My father still wants to know why we would name a dance show after the dimensions of a prison cell.

CB: At the Starry Plough you actually taped out an 8×8 square.
Rebecca Johnson: We experimented with it once. And then we decided that the abstraction of the concept was probably better than the audience being right up against the box!

CB: Has the venue situation improved since 2003?
RJ: NO [laughter]. There are studios that you can turn into venues, but when you’re in a space that always has live performance, it has a different energy. I think that’s why the first event was so successful. The energy was so intense. And the dance audience brought people who would not normally go, with the idea that “Hey, we’re going to this punk club.” It was rough, the floor was dirty.
RP: They waxed the floor for us. Usually it’s us scraping the gum off the floor.
RJ: We basically asked our dance audience to go way outside their comfort zone. Half of them were excited, and half of them were petrified. Dance is often site-specific and couched in this intellectual way. The first show had more of a rock-n-roll feeling to it. And we’ve always tried to maintain that.

CB: But right away you needed a bigger space.
RP: We put our feelers out, and the Starry Plough jumped on it. It was really interesting in that it has a bar clientele. Every time  we did it there, there were people at the bar for their Tuesday night drinks, and they’d be peeking out of the corners of their eyes at our rehearsal. When it came time for the show, I just started handing out programs. People were like “What is this?” We got a lot of audience that way.

CB: Do you think you’ll expand even more?
RP: It’s funny. Some people have talked to us about doing it more often, or formalizing it a little bit. Making it grow. I’ve really resisted that. I feel like this thing is really, really special as is, and it doesn’t need to be any more than it is. It has a special place in the Bay Area dance scene.

CB: What’s it like on the night of the show?
RP: We never know what’s going to happen! I’m in the sound booth, Rebecca’s on the floor, people are running the door, and there’s no communication between us all. It’s nuts. That’s what I mean by not trying to control anything. The choreographers are winging it too.

CB: Let’s talk more about control.
RP: Of course we have to have some rules, like dancers have to keep their clothes on [laughter]. I’m serious! It’s problematic in a bar. But basically we tell the choreographers what they’re getting themselves into as much as possible. We ask them to visit the space, but beyond that, we don’t know what they’re going to do until they get there. And the audience is going to go where they go. When choreographers ask how big the space is, I say, “Well, it’s usually about 9×17, but that depends on what the audience does.” It’s a trip. The choreographers have to be able to hang with that—and they do.

Fog Beast emcees for 8x8x8 performance

Emcees: Fog Beast / Photo by Jessica Swanson

CB: With the ticket price so low, what
is your financial commitment?
RP: We usually break even, but it’s always touch and go. We pay a little bit to the venue for some of the overhead.
RJ: We have to pay for the sound guy to come early. Usually his show would be at 10; our show starts at 8, and we meet him there at 4. We pay for printing the postcards and press materials, which is minimal.
RP: We used to split the door between the choreographers, and then I realized we couldn’t do that anymore. We don’t pay the choreographers anymore; we’re up front about that in the original email.

CB: Surely you apply some control in the planning stages?
RP: The way we do it would drive most organizational people nuts! About six months out, emails go back and forth between me and Rebecca about choreographers. We call the Uptown and try to get the date settled. I draw up a letter and start contacting people. We don’t do a contract; it’s all verbal.

CB: How do you choose the choreographers?
RP: We emphasize modern dance because that’s what we are and that’s what we most want to see, but we try to mix it up. I get emails a lot from people wanting to do it—a couple a month.
RJ: We’ve tried each time to bring in one or two different voices or styles, and that creates audience crossover, which is worth its weight in gold for everyone participating.

CB: This year you have an even wider mix than usual.
RP: We have MoToR, Amy Lewis, Stance Dance doing hiphop, Amy Seiwert, Anne-Rene Petrarca, Deborah Slater and Bandelion, who always close the show. And Fog Beast—they did a piece a few years ago that brought down the house; it was like a religious revival. They’re coming back to emcee as well.
RJ: Them emceeing…who knows what to expect? [laughter all around]

CB: Sounds like another can’t-miss show! But really, dance in a bar—why does it work?
RJ: I just think this kind of event has the capacity to flip that switch about modern-dance stereotypes. This thing we do is very beautiful and it’s very compelling, it can be very dark and very funny. Modern dance is like a poem; things smash up together that might not make logical sense. I want this event to give that opportunity to people who don’t normally see dance. Plus, it’s like a pre-decompression party before the holidays. One year I did the postcard with a picture of Marilyn Monroe with a turkey and a gun [laughter].

CB: Finally, what do the two of you get out of doing it?
RP: It’s always a little stressful, but the show is magical. At the end of the night it’s the best high of the year. This is one of our ways of giving back to the community and other choreographers
RJ: It’s a fun, celebratory experience. Something magical happens to the performers, and I swear it’s not the drinks [laughter]. It feels edgy, and that ends up feeling really good. There are not too many experiences like that.
RP: It’s a labor of love, and it’s a great party.

You can drink from the well yourself on Tuesday, November 18, at the Uptown Lounge (1928 Telegraph Ave, Oakland). Get there early, because 8x8x8 always sells out, there are no advance tickets and at just $8, it’s the best bargain in Bay Area dance.

A Promising New Partnership: José Manuel Carreño Takes the Lead at Ballet San Jose

Ballet partnerships are the stuff of legend: Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Baryishnikov and Natalia Makarova, José Manuel Carreño and Susan Jaffe…and Julie Kent…and Gillian Murphy. Carreño, one of the world’s most celebrated danseurs nobles for more than twenty years, now has a new partner: Ballet San Jose (BSJ), which he is squiring into a revitalized era as its artistic director.

Born in Havana and trained under the guidance of Alicia Alonso at Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Carreño burst onto the American scene in 1987, when he won the gold medal at the New York International Ballet Competition. After three years with the English National Ballet in London, he moved across town to join the Royal Ballet as a principal, and began collecting the classical canon’s premier roles, starting with Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty and Basilio in Don Quixote, which would become a signature.

Jose Manuel Carreño demonstrating in ballet class.

Ballet San Jose Artistic Director José Manuel Carreño
Photo by Alejandro Gomez

American Ballet Theatre (ABT) snapped him up in 1995, and with his charisma, athleticism and chivalrous partnering, he became a marquee name and an audience magnet. His rep expanded to Solor in La Bayadère, Albrecht in Giselle, the Diana and Acteon pas de deux, and roles in the then-nascent arena of contemporary dance—Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, Twyla Tharp’s Rabbit and Rogue, Stanton Welch’s Clear. The shorter list is what he didn’t dance. Carreño retired from ABT in 2011, and when the curtain fell on his final performance, as Siegfried in Swan Lake (partnering Kent as Odette and Murphy as Odile), the New York Times reported that audience members “screamed, threw flowers… and sobbed.”

Warm, soft-spoken and unassuming, Carreño, now 45, is as charismatic as ever. But he steps into his role at Ballet San Jose somewhat less sure-footedly than is his wont: his management experience is limited to running the Carreño Dance Festival, an annual summer intensive held in Sarasota, Florida, so he is learning everything—from running meetings to navigating union legalities—on the job.

When we spoke, in November 2013, he was also days away from hosting the company’s first event under his leadership: a star-studded fund-raising gala with performances by San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro; New York City Ballet’s Joaquin De Luz and Megan Fairchild; ABT’s Kent and Murphy as well as Misty Copeland and Marcelo Gomes; and Boston Ballet’s Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal…and that’s a partial roster. The tension showed on his usually relaxed face. “When I was dancing, I was thinking about just myself,” he said. “Now I am thinking about so many people—dancers, musicians, staff, production—and I have to be on top of that.”

Attended by donors, socialites and balletomanes alike, and well received by the press, the gala was by any measure a success. Nevertheless, it was only the first step toward Carreño’s ultimate goal, which could only be described as Herculean: reviving Ballet San Jose from a near-flatline state and elevating it to regional significance, national recognition and international presence.

Dennis Nahat founded the company as Cleveland San Jose Ballet, a dual-residency endeavor shared by the two cities (it formally became Ballet San Jose in 2006). The company thrived under Nahat’s direction, dancing both classical and contemporary work, including about 80 pieces choreographed by Nahat. But the dot-com bust hit the company hard, and its budget shriveled while internal tensions escalated. In 2003 then board chairman John Fry, founder of Fry’s Electronics, began providing life support with cash infusions (estimates of his total contributions range from $14 million to $20 million), while behind the scenes the conflict came to a head. Nahat was forced out in January 2011, and Fry departed the board at about the same time. Sharing the interim directorship, principal ballet master Raymond Rodriguez and artistic advisor Wes Chapman steered the company through the rocky waters of 2011 and 2012, and refreshed the rep with Bay Area premieres like Jorma Elo’s Glow-Stop, Jessica Lang’s Splendid Isolation III and Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto. A strategic relationship with ABT, which continues today, granted BSJ access to ABT’s rep, costumes and guidance; the BSJ School also adopted the ABT Curriculum.

Chapman and Rodriguez continued the BSJ’s tradition of presenting full-length classics, and it was their 2012 production of Don Quixote that brought Carreño to their attention. Hired to perform Basilio in place of an injured dancer, Carreño had such rapport with the dancers and staff that executive director Stephanie Ziesel and Rodriguez, now the company’s associate artistic director, approached him about becoming artistic director. Carreño often says that he likes a challenge, and that sense of adventure will serve him well: he likens his first months on the job to learning to drive in a car that’s already moving. At full speed. “My whole life, my whole career, has been defined by one word: discipline. I need it now even more than ever,” he said.

What Carreño lacks in traditional qualifications, he makes up for in intangibles that no experience can hone and no MBA can confer: a headline-grabbing name, a sterling reputation as a teacher and a performer, and seemingly universal good will. In one masterstroke, Ballet San Jose got an artistic director, coast-to-coast press and enviable connections. The mere announcement of Carreño’s appointment was like a shot of adrenaline: high-profile Silicon Valley names joined the board, donations skyrocketed and suddenly everyone wanted to know whether BSJ would deliver on its promising new start. And for all the pressures attendant on raised expectations and closer scrutiny, the company now has a realistic hope of achieving on a high level.
Carreño has danced on the world’s biggest stages, and he wants his company to do the same. “I had an amazing experience as a dancer,” he recalled. “It was an evolution. I was learning—I was busy, I was being challenged. That is what I want them to experience; the idea of, ‘My god, this is so good.’ Being in love with what you are doing.” He takes the careers of his thirty-six young dancers very seriously, and sees their success as intertwined with his own. “Let us just be together; let us drive this company up there.”

Ballet San Jose dancers taking class.

Members of Ballet San Jose
Photo by Alejandro Gomez

His initial influence on the roster includes promoting Ommi (Nutnaree) Pipit-Suksun from soloist to principal; promoting Damir Emric from corps to soloist, and boosting the corps with Grace-Anne Powers of La La La Human Steps, former ABT Studio Company dancer Alison Stroming and Cuban-trained men Ihosvany Rodriguez and Walter Garcia. (One dancer from last year was not renewed, and eight elected not to return.) “It is a very young company, and I feel everybody has the drive of learning, that hunger,” he said. Carreño puts a premium on that passion for growth, and he will reward it by working as hard, or harder, than any of the dancers to help them succeed.

“All this rep that I am bringing this year is so different. I think that is going to be amazing for them. What can be better for a dancer than to have that experiment, trying different things?” he mused. Following hallowed ballet tradition, he is bringing in three world-class coaches to hone their technique and performance quality: his personal coach, Loipa Araújo of the English National Ballet; former Balanchine dancer Willie Berman; and former Bolshoi dancer Azari Plisetsky, the brother of prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya.

Carreño’s three-year contract (generously underwritten by trustees Steve Luczo, CEO of Seagate Technologies, and his wife, Agatha—further evidence of the company’s reversal of fortune) officially started in September 2013, but as of June he was working his Rolodex to whip up the 2014 rep. His coup includes seven company premieres, with works and choreographers that are new to BSJ: Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, Dwight Rhoden’s Evermore, Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. The season also reflects a new Latin emphasis in works by the late Venezuelan Vicente Nebrada and Argentinean Jorge Amarante, plus tango-inspired pieces like Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera. Carreño has no choreographic ambitions, so he will commission new works as soon as time and budget allow.

His vision also extends to touring. “You can be really amazing, but if you want to be known, you have to travel,” he insisted. Without signed contracts, he was not able to divulge any details, but the International Ballet Festival of Havana is on his wish list, as are trips to Southern California and the East Coast. (Personally, he divides his residency between San Jose; New York, where his fiancée, ABT corps dancer Melanie Hamrick, lives; and summers in Sarasota with his festival.)

Only time will tell how far Carreño and Ballet San Jose will go together. All the pieces are in place, including the moral support of ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie and San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson, both guests of honor at November’s gala. When asked if the Bay Area has room for two high-profile ballet companies, Carreño replied, “For me, it is not either San Francisco or San Jose, it should be San Francisco and San Jose. It is amazing for the whole community.” As always, the soul of chivalry.

See Ballet San Jose this season:
PROGRAM 1: Neoclassical to Now
Fri-Sun, Feb 14–16: Serenade (George Balanchine, 1949), Glow-Stop (Jorma Elo, 2006), Minus 16 (Ohad Naharin, 1999)

PROGRAM 2: Popular Music, Transcendent Dancing
Fri-Sun, Mar 21–23: Nuestros Valses (Vicente Nebrada, 1976), Grapa Tango (Jorge Amarante, 2007), Infinity (Igal Perry, 2013), Evermore (Dwight Rhoden, 2013), Piazzolla Caldera (Paul Taylor, 1997)

PROGRAM 3: Masterworks of Movement and Theatre
Fri-Sun, May 9–11: Carmen (Roland Petit, 1949), In the Upper Room (Twyla Tharp, 1986)

Stretching the Limits: Managing Hypermobile Joints

Proper care of a hypermobile body can mean the difference between a fulfilling career and sidelined dreams.

We know it when we see it: the hyperextended line of an arabesque, the back arched fluidly over a partner’s arm, the ankle raised behind the head during a stretch. Such acrobatic flexibility seems perfectly normal to many dancers; for some, it’s a basic job requirement. But often dancers are unaware that the flexibility we prize isn’t normal—it signals the presence of joint hypermobility, a systemic connective-tissue condition with worrisome risks and lifelong implications. Fortunately, with awareness and active self-care, we can protect our hypermobile bodies, and dance longer and stronger.

The Flip-Side of Flexibility
Joint hypermobility is a relatively new area of research, and scientists and practitioners only recently began consolidating their knowledge. Consequently, descriptions of the condition vary and names for it range from “hypermobile joint disorder” to “benign hypermobility syndrome”; in keeping with common, if imprecise, parlance, this article uses “joint hypermobility syndrome” (JHS). Thought the science is in flux, what’s certain is that JHS affects slightly more women than men, tends to decline with age, and is benign only in that it has no effect on vital functions like breathing or metabolism. It affects people from all walks of life, but is such an asset to dancers that it is much more prevalent among them than in the general population. “Many [dancers] think hypermobility is a blessing,” says Dr. Selina Shah, a physician at St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s Centers for Sports Medicine in San Francisco and Walnut Creek. “But the word of caution is that it is not, necessarily.”

A dancer and competitive athlete herself, Dr. Shah is the company physician for Liss Fain Dance, San Francisco Ballet School and Diablo Ballet. She understands the catch-22 that JHS represents. “There is the ideal to have 180 degrees of turnout, to développé a leg to 180 degrees, whether it is front, side or arabesque position,” she says. “Dancers that are hypermobile often have a capability to do so, but…pushing those limits continuously without adequately strengthening can lead to injury.” Indeed, the trade-off for that effortless, ethereal flexibility is an increased risk of strains, sprains, tears, cartilage wear and chronic joint pain.

“[JHS] is basically an abnormality in the collagen fibers,” she explains. Because collagen is found in cartilage as well as in every muscle, tendon and ligament, JHS affects the entire body, including the jaw, shoulders, arches, vertebrae—any point of flexion, large or small. In extreme cases, the effects of JHS can be devastating. According to a 2011 study published in the British Medical Journal, complications may include hernias, organ prolapse, premature osteoarthritis and severe immobility (BMJ 2011; 342:c7167). And we thought we were just stretching.

Savvy Diagnosis, Strategic Management
Practitioners use a simple test called the Beighton score (see sidebar) to diagnose joint hypermobility. If a patient meets the criteria, Shah’s next step is a thorough evaluation to exclude other arthralgic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, or potentially life-threatening disorders that have joint hypermobility as a sign, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome.

It’s worth seeking out a practitioner who is familiar with hypermobility. Even experienced orthopedists can misdiagnose it, and some take the term “benign” literally and downplay the potential outcomes. While it’s true that some people with JHS will experience no negative symptoms, the heavy demands on a dancer’s body mean that the elevated risks of injury, repeated injuries at the same site and slowed healing can have far-reaching effects. “When you have a hypermobile dancer that continues to overstretch, they sometimes worsen the problem, leading to more weakness,” Shah observed, “and you combine that with overuse, with constantly pushing the limits of range of motion.” Proper care of a hypermobile body can mean the difference between a fulfilling career and sidelined dreams.

Once she makes diagnosis of JHS, absent of other diseases or conditions, Shah prescribes any needed dietary changes to ensure balanced nutrition, plus physical therapy, strengthening exercises…and lifetime maintenance. Unfortunately, JHS doesn’t go away with treatment; it can only be managed. Here again, practitioners who understand JHS, and are familiar with dancers’ special needs, can create a safer, more efficient recovery and maintenance plan.

Alameda physical therapist Dr. Suzanne Martin treats hypermobile patients using a range of modalities, from Pilates and Floor Barre to TheraBand and Yamuna balls. A dancer, teacher and choreographer, as well as a master Pilates instructor, she is the lead physical therapist with Smuin Ballet and has presented papers on hypermobility at International Association for Dance Medicine and Science conferences.

Dr. Martin emphasizes strengthening the core and deep skeletal muscles to create a stable foundation for all movement. “You want to learn how to hold your muscles while you’re stretching so that you’re not just pulling your joints apart,” she cautions. “If you can learn how to hold yourself inside yourself, then you get a more accurate muscular stretch.” Normal, non-lax joints are protected by their own relative stiffness, which prevents the extreme range of motion that hypermobile people can achieve. Properly supported stretching helps compensate for those bendy but inherently dangerous biomechanics.

She is also a proponent of compression tools like Yamuna balls and foam rollers to help loosen the fascia, a connective tissue that surrounds many body structures, including the muscles. “Lots of times the fascia will tighten up on a hypermobile person, because something has got to hold you together,” she says. “The more you jump, the more your fascia is going to tighten up against the impact, especially if your joints can’t hold you.” Rolling is especially helpful for gluteal muscles and hamstrings, while the compact Yamuna ball allows gentle but deep access to hip rotators.

Both doctors recommend weight training to further stabilize the joints. “You can continue to stay lean and have the dancer’s ideal physique without bulking,” Shah says, “and get that additional assistance that you can’t really get from Pilates.” When patients worry that lifting weights might reduce their range of motion, Dr. Shah reminds them that their predisposition to hypermobility means they can maintain that extreme flexibility and have strong joints. It’s up to every hypermobile person, as Dr. Martin puts it, to “know that this is my body type, this is a dancer body type, and come to terms with that. It’s not going to just go away if I don’t pay attention to it.”

The Beighton Score
Score one point for each yes answer, up to a total of 9 (one for each task or right/left side). A score of at least 4 is required for a preliminary diagnosis of hypermobility. See a medical professional for additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.
1.  Can you bend your pinky fingers backwards beyond 90 degrees?
2.  Do your elbows hyperextend when you straighten your arms?
3.  Do your knees hyperextend when you straighten your legs?
4.  Can you bend your thumbs down to touch your forearms?
5.  Can you place your palms on the ground when bending over with your legs straight?

JHS is a complex condition, and this article touches on the basics. Here are resources for learning more and getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

For further reading
Most reputable medical websites have useful basic information about JHS.
The Hypermobility Syndromes Association: hypermobility.org
British physician Dr. Rodney Grahame has written extensively on hypermobility; his books can be found on amazon.com.

Practitioners
Suzanne Martin, DPT: totalbodydevelopment.com
Dr. Selina Shah / Center for Sports Medicine: stfrancismemorial.org (San Francisco: 415-353-6400, Walnut Creek: 925-934-3536)

Wellness tools
floor-barre.org
thera-band.com
aamunabodyrolling.com

WAVES OF CHANGE: West Wave Dance Festival Returns With Joe Landini at the Helm

It was a sad day for Bay Area dance when the West Wave Dance Festival folded in 2012. The annual showcase began as Summerfest under the direction of Cathleen McCarthy and Joan Lazarus, who turned it into West Wave in 2003. Then, after twenty-two years of presenting some of the Bay Area’s most talented emerging and established dance artists, Lazarus left the Bay Area, and it seemed that West Wave was gone too. But the festival has risen again (really, for the brainchild of someone named Lazarus, it’s the only fitting outcome) under the enthusiastic leadership of Joe Landini, who spoke with Claudia Bauer about its new incarnation.

Claudia Bauer: How did this come about?
Joe Landini: Grants for the Arts [San Francisco’s arts and culture funding program] did not want the festival to fold. The city believes in it and approached us about keeping it going. It’s great that they had confidence in us. Part of the city’s reasoning was it’s the last independent dance festival in the Bay Area.

CB: Why is that important?
JL: Every space has its own agenda; every organization has its own agenda. The programming becomes so focused on that agenda that they lose the idea of being inclusive. That’s not a bad thing; it totally makes sense. But the beauty of West Wave is that it doesn’t have that agenda.

CB: So, what is West Wave’s agenda?
JL: The important thing was that we have a festival that represents the broadest spectrum of what San Francisco and Bay Area dance is. I wanted the Bay Area to have a festival that represented what’s happening on a national and international level in some way. The contemporary dance field is growing amazingly fast, and I wanted a festival that spoke to that. And on a local level, it was important to me that there are all these pockets of dance happening in San Francisco, so I made sure that they were represented.

CB: Three of the performances are curated by Krissy Keefer, Jesse Hewit and Amy Seiwert. How do they fit in to the agenda?
JL: One of the trends happening on the national and international level is the focus on developing contemporary dance in communities, and incorporating communities into dance. I think Krissy Keefer is an incredible representation of that, of going out into other communities and inviting them into her space to make work. You see the taiko community, hip-hop, Cuba Caribe, queer—you can see the efforts that Krissy has made to invite those communities into her space to make work.

Artists are having other kinds of conversations about dance, and exploring ideas of how dance can be sustainable. In San Francisco we have a long history of that. Sara Shelton Mann has been making that kind of work for thirty years, and now we see emerging choreographers like Jesse Hewit and Laura Arrington doing that. These kinds of conversations are happening in a lot of other places right now, so I wanted to make sure those artists were represented in the festival. That’s the reason we invited Jesse to curate one of the programs.

CB: And how about Amy Seiwert?
JL: Ballet has been really struggling to grow. There have been some successes in that community, and I think that Amy is really looking forward to what ballet has the capacity to be. I wanted to honor the work that Amy is doing. Also, Amy has a long relationship with West Wave, and I really wanted to make sure there was an acknowledgement of West Wave’s history.

CB: The October 5th show is not curated. How is it different from the others?
JL: The one thing Joan asked was that there would be some form of an open call. That was a really big part of West Wave in the past. But I didn’t want to do just a traditional open call, so I came up with the idea of doing commissions. It’s something I feel very passionate about, because in the Bay Area we don’t commission a lot of work. The Garage is able to offer rehearsal space, and West Wave is able to offer some modest stipends, so we decided to make the open call a commissioning program.

CB: How did you choose the people to commission?
JL: We didn’t really tell the artists what we wanted; we didn’t give them a form to fill out. We wanted it to be really DIY, and we wanted them to be very proactive. They had to post everything on Google Drive and give us links to their video. We had twenty one applicants. The West Wave advisory board evaluated the applications and scored them on a scale of 1 to 10. And what was really exciting was the four highest scores were all brand-new, emerging choreographers that almost none of us had heard of.

CB: Why didn’t you curate them yourself?
JL: It was really important that it not be perceived as a Garage event, and I would have probably curated Garage artists! To the detriment of my artists, probably, I didn’t feel a need to curate West Wave.

CB: And how is all of it working logistically?
JL: For the shows at Z Space, all of the companies are showing up at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. That’s it. We’re all getting there at 2, and we’ll build the show from 2 to 8. The one thing that we know for sure is that people are going to show up at 8 o’clock. It’s very DIY. There is no lighting designer; there will probably be no stage directors.

CB: What are you most excited about?
JL: I’m pretty stoked about going as a viewer! I mean, you give Krissy Keefer all the toys—I can’t wait to see what she does! I’m more excited as an audience member than as a producer.

CB: Where do you see West Wave going from here…or do you have any idea?
JL: I actually don’t! We’re going to evaluate how this year went. I’m sure there will be a lot of feedback [laughs]. I feel like this is a pretty good model; I like the idea of bringing curators in, and I like the idea of commissioning, so I hope all of that is received well. I’m really open to new ideas. And the city has pledged to support the festival next year, which makes me really happy. This field is changing so fast, and it’s important to embrace that. People are interested in seeing new ideas. Hopefully, as a working artist I bring some of that energy to the table.

CB: It’s like a big experiment, and you’re going to see what comes of it.
JL: I think it’s really important if we’re going to push the field forward.

Program 1: The Beat of 24th and Mission
Mon, Sep 16, 8pm, Z Space
Curated by Krissy Keefer, featuring Dance Mission’s resident artists, teachers and students: Dance Brigade, Grrrl Brigade, Allan Frias / Mind Over Matter, Anna Sullivan / Anna and the Annadroids, Sean Dorsey / Sean Dorsey Dance, Nicole Klaymoon’s Embodiment Project, Joti Singh / Duniya Drum and Dance, Susana Arenas / Arenas Dance Company, Ramon Ramos Alayo / Alayo Dance Company, Nol Simonse, Juan de la Rosa.

Program 2: Four Commissions
Sat, Oct 5, 8pm, ODC Commons
Anne-René Petraca investigates the idea of community and connection in the last of light, a quartet for four women. Anandha Ray fuses modern dance and Odissi Temple Dance in The Quimera Project, performed by Laura Rae Bernasconi. Choreographer Holly Shaw and composer/multi-instrumentalist Laura Inserra explore the idea of the renegade through contemporary flamenco in The Outlaw. Casey Lee Thorne and interactive lighting designer Mark Janes collaborate on The Shadow of a Doubt, a contemporary ballet inspired by Rumi.

Program 3: We Have This
Mon, Oct 21, 8pm, Z Space
Curator Jesse Hewit pairs diverse artists for one-on one encounters: Hewit himself and Sara Shelton Mann, Monique Jenkinson and Liz Tenuto, Keith Hennessy and Mica Sigourney, Jose Navarette and Amara Tabor-Smith, Laura Arrington and Brontez Purnell.

Program 4: Make.Believe
Mon, Oct 28, 8pm, Z Space
Amy Seiwert invites Bay Area dance makers Melissa Payne, Robert Dekkers, Maurya Kerr and Julia Adam to create new works based on fairy tales and myths.

Tickets for all performances are $15 advance / $20 at the door. For more information, visit westwavedance.org, zspace.org and odctheater.org.

Expect the Unexpected: Subverting the Ballet Paradigm with Amy Seiwert and SKETCH 3

“When I started making work, no one was paying any attention whatsoever,” Amy Seiwert recalls. After nineteen years spent dancing for Sacramento Ballet and Smuin Ballet, she launched her choreographic career in 1999. In retrospect, the first ten years, when “no one had any expectation on if I was good or bad,” was a time of freedom, joy and growth. “I got to take a lot of risks. I got to really try what worked, and what didn’t.” While no one was looking, without pressure to produce a salable product or connect dots set out for her by commissioning companies, Seiwert followed her muse and developed a unique contemporary voice.

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery Photo by David DeSilva

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery
Photo by David DeSilva

When people finally did take notice, those halcyon days came to an end. “As you get more successful, more people pay attention, which is awesome and terrible at the same time. Suddenly, any risk you take, everyone’s putting under a microscope.” We dream of achieving our definition of success, but we rarely anticipate the trade-offs. For ballet-based choreographers like Seiwert, ever-more-mainstream commissions mean that “it gets scarier and scarier to risk. And if we don’t risk, as choreographers, our role in furthering the art form will stagnate.”

A woman of great creative integrity, Seiwert responded by founding the SKETCH choreographic festival, now in its third year, designed to push the boundaries of ballet-based dance. Last year’s theme was women choreographers, who are vastly underrepresented in the ballet world, and garnered Izzie nominations for choreographer Gina Patterson and dancer Sarah Griffin. SKETCH has also been covered nationally by Pointe and Dance magazines—clearly Seiwert is on to something.

This year’s theme is “challenging expectations,” and the point, ironically enough, is to offer choreographers a safe place to take creative risks. Seiwert, Val Caniparoli and Marc Brew will contribute world premieres for Seiwert’s company, Imagery, to perform at ODC Theater July 25–28. “I encourage them to really take a personal risk,” Seiwert says of the choreographers she invites to participate. “And if it fails miserably, only 800 people saw it by the end of the weekend. It wasn’t on the Opera House stage; it wasn’t viewed by thousands of people.”

But why bother? Seiwert’s slate is full with nationwide commissions as well as her Smuin Ballet residency. When Caniparoli is not dancing with San Francisco Ballet, where he has been a company member for over 40 years, he travels the world creating new works and staging from his rep. UK-based Brew, who made the spectacular contemporary piece Full of Words for Oakland’s AXIS in 2011, has created work for the Australian Ballet, Scottish Dance Theatre and the Beijing Olympics. All have been nominated for, and won, numerous awards.

“I want to keep growing,” Caniparoli says, and growing creatively is not what choreographers get paid for. “Even though companies say, ‘No, no do what you want,’ you always know—there’s that pressure there. That’s why I said yes [to doing SKETCH], to go out of my comfort zone.” It is a sign of his own artistic integrity that he wants to shake off the traces. As Seiwert says, “This is Val Caniparoli doing something that he doesn’t know will work. Which could be awesome!”

Caniparoli is making the most of the opportunity. “I’m gonna do things that I’m afraid to try in some major companies. Who knows? I do very little floorwork, so maybe I can incorporate that into my choreography. Or even picking music…how do you get around something with words? How do you work that out in choreography? Do you ignore it? Do you use it?” For his score, he is considering a
John Tavener choral piece sung by Bjork…no stagnation here.

As for Brew, he was Seiwert’s inspiration for the theme. Trained as a classical ballet dancer in Australia, he continued his dance and choreographic career after becoming paralyzed in a car accident over fifteen years ago, at age twenty. “I feel like with SKETCH 3, we can start changing the preconception of how ballet is made,” Seiwert says. “Marc is a brilliant example of that. Full of Words—when I first saw that, I was blown away. It was so beautiful. As I realized that this was created by a man in a wheelchair—how did he get to this place in making it? It really shattered a paradigm for me on who gets to make what, and how, and why. Where else can this go?”

As a disabled artist, Brew knows that he inherently defies others’ expectations. He sees SKETCH as an opportunity to challenge his own. “A creative risk for me is to make myself go to the unfamiliar places of a different creative process,” he says. He’ll have to go there quickly: to accommodate overseas travel, he’s shortening his normal six-week process and allowing just two weeks to create his piece, which will be focused on partnering “through the use of attachments that create different structures of an ever-changing landscape…how once they are created, how do they disassemble?”

Brew is especially excited to work with Seiwert’s dancers, who were hand-picked for the project, among them Katherine Wells (Robert Moses’ KIN), Susan Roemer (Smuin Ballet), Sarah Griffin (Dance Theater of Harlem Ensemble) and Brandon “Private” Freeman (ODC/Dance). Unlike Seiwert and Caniparoli, Brew has not worked with any of them previously, so he will be sketching from scratch. But the dancers were chosen as much for their individuality as for their technical mastery, so they will be active players in the creative process—another way that SKETCH subverts the ballet paradigm.

“I’m really into dancers being thinking artists,” she says. “In the modern-dance community, that is absolutely always true. In old-school ballet, that wasn’t really cared about. If I go to a traditional ballet company, if I ask dancers to improvise and manipulate material, it will often be met with a lot of resistance. ‘This is just not the way it’s done.’” Seiwert cannot recall a single time, over her entire tenure as a dancer, when a choreographer asked her for creative input.

The audience is asked to come along for the ride, too. At works-in-process Q&As, they can give feedback and gain insight into the experience of the choreographers and the performers. “No one ever asked me what I thought,” Seiwert recalls of her dancing days. “To have the dancers add an intelligent voice to the conversation is fantastic.”

Seiwert describes last year’s Q&As as “really interesting,” an assessment that Caniparoli may or may not agree with. Despite his best effort to keep a low profile during a session about male dominance of the classical-ballet world, “all of a sudden I got drawn into the conversation. It was like, ‘Yeah, Val, why is that?’” He admits he is more anxious about speaking to the audience than he is of showing them a different side of his creativity. Nonetheless, he agrees with Seiwert that that a direct connection with the audience really matters. As she says, “Ballet can get a bad rap because it’s just about being entertaining. Our goal is to use our art form as a container for serious discourse. [Last year], it went into a whole worldview of how this affects the population in different ways and forms and shapes and sizes.”

Dancers’ Group is helping to bring more people into the discussion via the New Stages for Dance grant. Created to support artists in presenting work in new or larger venues, the grant made it easier for Seiwert to manage the financial risks as well as the creative ones. “What if we add another show and we don’t sell it?” was her biggest quandary, as SKETCH 3 has expanded to four evenings. “If we do this and it works, it puts us on firm footing to go forward. If we do this and it fails, will SKETCH 4 happen? The New Stages grant just gives us that cushion to take the risk—we’re back to that risk word, which is so important.”

The potential rewards for choreographers, dancers and audience alike are many. Brew wants to push the dancers to “physically uncomfortable places” and challenge their own beliefs about what they can do—and what they can’t. “I love to question their decisions and push them to unexpected places of unfamiliarity with moments of awkward beauty.” Caniparoli is going for the brass ring: “If I’m going to go out on a limb, I’m going to go a hundred percent,” he says.

As for Seiwert, she will reconnect with the joy of creativity on her own terms, free of any and all expectations. “As a choreographer, you’re making a gift and you give it to someone,” she says. “They will receive this gift however they want, and you have to give it with an open heart.”

SKETCH 3 will perform July 25-28 at ODC Theater, SF. Find more information at asimagery.org
Claudia Bauer is a freelance writer in the Bay Area.

44 Gough St, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 920-9181 phone
(415) 920-9173 fax