Author Archive | Heather Desaulniers

Wandering into New Terrain: Amy Seiwert’s Imagery – SKETCH 7

two dancers facing one another sprinkling dark matter mid-air

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery / photo by David DeSilva

Haunting D minor chords echo and repeat, evoking a sustained, steady, poignant walk. A descending scalic motif emerges, signaling the lowering of the sun and the onset of nightfall. Soon, the music modulates to the related major, F, and there is accompanying change of mood—a little more hopeful, more optimistic. A significant crescendo at the midpoint ushers in a sense of urgency. And in the final minute of the musical selection, another tonal area is explored, a different key entirely. Hinting at a new path maybe, a new discovery or perhaps a new realization.

These were just a few of my observations after listening to Gute Nacht, a five-minute duet for piano and voice, and the first song from Winterreise (D.911, Op. 89), by Franz Schubert. Composed near the end of Schubert’s life, Winterreise, translated as Winter Journey, takes the form of a song cycle, a compositional structure centuries old. While scholars are keen to point out that the song cycle is not a ‘one size fits all’ entity, a general search of the term yields a number of similar definitions, most describing it as a series of separate pieces woven together as one longer work. A few go a step further adding that selections in a song cycle often have some relational thread. Winterreise fits both criteria. First, it is made up of two dozen individual songs. And second, it has connective tissue. Twenty-four poems (in German) by Wilhelm Müller serve as the source material. Müller’s poetry tells of a journey, through space and time, of one who is experiencing loss, is contemplating the fragility of human existence and is struggling with the porousness between joy and sorrow. Schubert composed Winterreise in such a way to mirror and reveal these themes. The score of solo piano and a single male vocal line equally contributes to the mood and setting; the emotions and the narrative oozing from the music. I definitely could hear them as I experienced part one of Winterreise.

Dancer in plie holds dancer with outstretched limbs

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery / photo by David DeSilva

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery also finds themselves on a journey right now, traversing new territory for the upcoming SKETCH 7: Wandering. A convergence of contemporary ballet and Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle, Wandering marks a creative departure for Artistic Director Amy Seiwert, who has typically been pulled more towards the abstract side of dancemaking. Instead, Wandering sojourns into narrative choreography. Daring to take bold chances – a core tenet of Imagery’s annual SKETCH series.

“SKETCH is about risk and trying to move outside comfort zones,” explains Seiwert. Since its inception in 2011, each iteration of SKETCH has been built around a theme—a particular choreographic challenge posed to the participating dance artists. With their artistic puzzle in hand, the SKETCH artists then set out to craft new work, incubating ideas and pushing their compositional practice. Past years have delved into collaborative processes, the relationship between movement and text as well as the choreographic interpretation of music and sound. The trend continues with 2017’s SKETCH program. For the seventh iteration of this artistic laboratory, Seiwert is challenging herself to create an evening-length narrative work.

“I’ve never done a full evening work or a full narrative work,” Seiwert relays, “I’ve always had a fascination with how to speak choreographically, with ballet language and where I could take it, but I never felt a big pull to be a story-teller.” That is until recently, when Seiwert began to notice a shift, “of late, I have felt a need for narrative stories and a desire to say something more linear.” Schubert’s emotive, plot-based score seemed an ideal musical collaborator. Seiwert first encountered excerpts of the music back in 2015, when she and KT Nelson were building Starting Over at the End for SKETCH 5, “I fell in love with the songs and the sense of mystery they can hold; exploring an entire song cycle felt like a natural next step.” And then there was also the space inherent in the song cycle form that appealed to Seiwert, the room for another creative voice, “I think there is something fantastic about the song cycle with the piano and the voice–when you create to highly orchestrated music, it’s so huge and can leave you wondering where, how or does the dance fit in. In this, there is so much space for the dance.”

Seiwert dove into this artistic experiment and began work on Wandering, an apt title considering both the text of Schubert’s song cycle and that she is venturing out in this new direction. A number of different aspects have been part of the early process: digging into the storytelling form in dance, researching/seeing narrative work, studying the Winterreise song cycle and considering how to get a message across with movement. “This is definitely where I am less comfortable and it feels like a massive undertaking,” admits Seiwert, “but I want to try this different aspect and see if I can generate a narrative thread that engages the viewer for an entire evening.”

Choreographically, Wandering furthers Seiwert’s lifelong exploration of ballet language, “I am constantly looking for unexpected ways to use what we know, and see what the body can do when we look past a habitual kinetic response.” At the same time, the narrative-based phrase material is in deep conversation with Schubert’s emotionally charged score. Seiwert is excited to see that relationship intensify as the construction of Wandering continues, “Winterreise starts with rejection and a loss of place, the protagonist is out and lost and wandering in the world.” Some of the choreographic motifs that the company is currently working on in rehearsal reflect a similar sense of searching and seeking, for something or someone. Hands reach longingly outward into space; big extensions unfold in the legs and arms, in lifts and balances; running and walking motifs are investigated on the floor and in the air.

The seventy-minute contemporary ballet will be danced by a cast of eight and features two Acts. “I appreciate time to step away from a performance and come back after a brief rest,” Seiwert says, “so I was curious to think about whether there could be a break or intermission in the evening, and after listening to the music, there felt like an obvious moment of pause.” Collaborating with Seiwert for the project are costume designer Susan Roemer and visual designer Brian Jones, whose work for Wandering is supported by a Dancers’ Group Lighting Artists in Dance Award.

Wandering also has an interesting bi-coastal element to it. The dance will see its San Francisco premiere (and world premiere) on July 21st at the Cowell Theater in Fort Mason, and then the following week, will head to New York City for the Joyce Theater’s 2017 Ballet Festival. The Joyce Theater Foundation has been instrumental in the development of Wandering, providing financial backing for studio space and artistic personnel. “We [are] one of two creative residencies that the Joyce offers each year, which means that the stress of ‘can we afford to do this’ has been lifted and I’m able to complete the creative vision that I set out in the first place,” adds Seiwert.

Part one of that vision has definitely been realized, as Wandering has taken Seiwert outside of her usual creative space and into a new choreographic realm, “I’ve had to trust myself to go there with my risks and be bold enough in my choices so as to try and make a connection with the audience – that’s the scary part.” Scary indeed, but also ripe with possibility. And very soon, it will be time to see what Wandering brings, what those possibilities and revelations might be. Time to launch part two of the experiment—presenting the ballet in front of an audience. Seiwert’s main metric is that the piece elicits a reaction. “This work has been in the pipeline for over a year and a half, but I’ve been able to see parallels in the poem – loss of love, loss of home, the feeling of being unmoored – that speak very much to now,” Seiwert shares, “I hope that the audience feels something, that Wandering resonates with them and generates an emotional response; indifference is the biggest failure.”

Building Sisterhood Through Movement

women stand around teepee holding hands

Nava Dance Collective, photo by Laura Soriano

A cooperative with multiple contributors. An array of artistic perspectives and voices. A desire for an alternative, more egalitarian structure. A common passion for sharing the transformative potential of dance and performance. A spirit of togetherness and kinship. Any idea what I am trying to describe?

The ‘dance collective.’

Now, the thoughts offered above are by no means meant to be a complete definition. Actually, trying to define a term like ‘dance collective’ is challenging. The dance collective isn’t a static or fixed entity. There is no one model for what a dance collective should look like nor one formula determining how it should function. Every new iteration constructs its own vision and carves its own path. Just look to a few past and present examples of dance collectives and notice the range and breadth among them.

In the 1960s, collectivity met with post-modernism at Judson Dance Theater, and, in the 1970s with improvisation at Grand Union. In that same decade at Dartmouth College, innovators forged a new project with collective collaboration as a central tenet—that spirit, that impulse, continues to drive Pilobolus today. In New
York, Troy Schumacher’s BalletCollective and Columbia Ballet Collaborative (out of Columbia University) are
present day examples of collectivity in ballet. Numerous contemporary dance collectives call the San Francisco Bay Area home—from the longstanding and established, like ODC, to newer, emerging endeavors like LV Dance Collective, SALTA, Mid to West Dance Collective and Stranger Lover Dreamer. And then, there is a sisterhood of creative souls exploring international world dance in performance, empowering women through movement and unlocking dance as a healing art. This is Nava Dance Collective.

A relatively new presence, Nava Dance Collective came onto the scene three years ago under the guidance and direction of lifelong dancer and choreographer Miriam Peretz. Specializing in a number of different movement genres including contemporary dance and dances of the Silk Road (Central Asian dance), Peretz has had and continues to enjoy a rich and varied professional career. Previously, she was a member of notable world dance companies like Ballet Afsaneh, Wan-Chao Dance Company and Inbal Ethnic Dance Theater. Today, Peretz tours nationally and internationally as a solo dance artist. Her newest collaboration Madre – The Ladino Project just had its world premiere in January at the Freight & Salvage in the East Bay and later this year she will be touring to Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia, Greece, and Israel.

Alongside performing, Peretz is a much sought after teacher and dance practitioner, instructing in numerous cities around the world. Here in Berkeley, she has been active at the 8th Street Studio and is currently on the faculty of Mahea Uchiyama Center for International Dance, which coincidentally, is the studio where she began her dance studies as a teenager. It was in these classes at the Center for International Dance where the idea for Nava Dance Collective began percolating. “During our dance sessions, deep levels of connection and sisterhood were organically growing and blossoming between all of the women,” Peretz recalls, “a community of support and care was forming both on and off the dance floor–it was turning into something bigger for all of us, something beyond technique, rehearsal and performance.” And so Peretz took the next step and began the process of founding Nava Dance Collective.

Which, of course, led to important and penetrating questions. What kind of dance collective would this new group be? What values and principles would it embody? How best to honor and foster the specialness that they were encountering together in the studio and in performance?

Women in white dance in tree grove

Nava Dance Collective, photo by Robert Bengston

First and foremost was and is a holistic approach to dance. “So often, there is a gap between the performative aspect of dance and the healing, therapeutic nature of dance; with Nava, as with any of my dance sessions, I strive to always offer something for the body, the heart and the mind,” says Peretz. To that end, Nava Dance Collective places an emphasis on dance’s duality. Certainly as a technical performance art but equally as a means to facilitate healing, be it physical healing, emotional healing or spiritual healing. A safe place for women where the whole being can be nurtured. “Our hope was and is to create something impactful with dance as an all-encompassing practice,” Peretz shares, “an intentional space to hone our craft, refine our character, experience personal healing through movement and work on soul traits like compassion, humility and generosity.”

In addition, Nava seeks layers of diversity. The collective is multi-generational, multi- cultural and international, with members in Spain, Italy, Israel and California. While Peretz acknowledges that having a dance collective spread across the globe can be challenging, it also affords a unique opportunity to “connect a larger community web for dance and promote cross-cultural exchange.” In terms of physical vocabulary, Nava’s scope is similarly vast, ranging from traditional Central Asian dance to devotional, ritual dance theater to what Peretz calls ethno- contemporary movement, “contemporary language and approaches infused with world dance forms.” Even the collective’s name reflects their commitment to diversity, “I wanted a name that would mirror inclusivity, bridging cultures and traditions – in Farsi/Turkish, Nava means melody or tune; in Hindi, new and innovative; in Hebrew, it is a common name for girls, meaning pleasant; and it is one of the traditional Persian music modes,” relays Peretz.

With this foundation in hand, Nava Dance Collective was ready to get going. And these first few years have been busy for the group with several different endeavors, including The Bustan Project – Garden of Roses. Peretz describes this piece as “a weaving of classical, contemporary and devotional interpretations of Persian Dance, with live music and poetry; it is an ode to motherhood, a call for women to remember their strength, and is dedicated to the beautiful and strong women of Iran.” After presenting the work throughout Israel, Spain and Italy, Nava recently brought The Bustan Project to the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco for its Bay Area debut and will be taking it to various California locations later this spring.

At the same time, Nava is actively expanding their repertoire, prepping and building additional choreographic material. One of these works, Transcendence-Charkh e Falak (turning of the cosmos) will be premiering as part of the Rotunda Dance Series, presented by Dancers’ Group and World Arts West. On Friday, March 24th at noon in San Francisco City Hall (admission is free), audiences will have the opportunity to see the first showing of Nava Dance Collective’s newest ensemble dance. “Transcendence honors Nowruz, a celebration of the Spring equinox observed across the Middle East and Central Asia,” explains Peretz. “It also honors the ancient Zoroastrian sun deity, Mithra, and marks the sun’s passage across the celestial equator, equalizing night and day, the alignment of the cosmos and the constant turning towards center.” For this premiere performance, Nava is also thrilled to welcome some special guests – Abbos Kosimov (master Doira player from Uzbekistan), Amir Etemadzadeh (Persian percussion) and dance artist Aliah Najmabadi.

Nava Dance Collective, photo by Shulamit Bushinsky

If 2017 is any indication, Nava Dance Collective is on a fast moving trajectory, full speed ahead. They are excited to see what the future holds, what may come next and what legacy they might help to establish. With an eye towards profound narrative themes like the power of sisterhood and healing from trauma, continuing to create new performance projects is definitely part of the picture, as is making space for others to choreograph and construct dances. But the longer-term, high level goal for Peretz with the collective is outreach: “we hope that Nava dancers will be able to go into communities that maybe don’t have the resources to attend dance classes or performances, because the larger vision of Nava Dance Collective is to be able to offer the healing power of dance to a greater population of women.”

To learn more about Nava Dance Collective, visit miriamdance.com

Building Rainbow Logic: Arm in Arm with Remy Charlip

Eye Zen Presents

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Have you ever heard the term ‘polymath’? Recently I took an informal poll of twelve close friends and asked if they could define it. Some couldn’t. Some thought it must be connected to arithmetic or equations. Only a few were familiar with the word, correctly defining it as ‘someone who is skilled in many fields.’

In the performing arts, we encounter polymaths all the time—choreographers who are also arts administrators, sound engineers and photographers; performers who excel at dance, music and storytelling. Versatility comes with the territory. But there are a select few who take the term to a whole other level. Remy Charlip (1929-2012) was one of these quintessential polymaths, an artist with far reaching talent and diverse creative pursuits. He was a writer, theater practitioner, set designer, poet, children’s book illustrator, costume designer and visual artist. He was a gifted dancer and choreographer – a founding member of Merce Cunningham Dance Company, a multidisciplinary contributor to Judson Dance Theater and director of his own troupe, the Remy Charlip Dance Company. He was a pioneer of innovative compositional methods, like his ‘Air Mail Dances,’ where he mailed original illustrations and images to movement artists as the inspiration and foundation for new work. And he was a queer Jewish man who spent much of his life and career in a time that is very different than today.

This November, Eye Zen Presents turns its attention to this extraordinary individual with the premiere of Rainbow Logic: Arm in Arm with Remy Charlip, the fourth installation in their current series on LGBTQ lineage. Conceived by Founder/Artistic Director Seth Eisen and produced in association with CounterPulse and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Rainbow Logic delves deeply into Charlip’s personal and professional story, and in doing so, continues Eye Zen’s long-standing commitment to exploring LGBTQ lineage and sharing it with today’s audiences.

“This is our tenth year making work about queer history and ancestry, celebrating the passion and consciousness of queer artists,” notes Eisen. Charlip is one of these descendants, a transcendent LGBTQ ancestor who made a rich artistic contribution, “Remy was a master at turning ordinary, simple things into something magical; a queer artist who could intuitively bridge worlds, balance masculine/feminine energies and bring a queer sensibility to whatever he was doing.” In thinking about the canon of queer ancestry, Eisen is also especially drawn to the obscure – the less familiar narratives; the remote biographies. For him, Charlip also fits this intention. “I feel like he was a little in the shadow of some of his more famous peers,” Eisen says, “and so, I’m hopeful that Rainbow Logic can help pass his legacy onto the next generation.”

Eisen is perhaps the ideal candidate to usher this particular story to the stage. He knew Charlip well; the two had a longtime connection, first meeting at Naropa University back in 1990. During Eisen’s freshman year, he enrolled in a class that Charlip was teaching and recalls “immediately falling in love with his embodied, interdisciplinary approach as well as his fluidity – how he dressed, how he held class, how he was in the world.” Over the next three decades, they became friends, colleagues and even neighbors after Charlip relocated from New York to San Francisco. Sadly, Charlip was the victim of a stroke in 2005, and in the face of that tragedy, Eisen transitioned into the role of caregiver. It was in the final years of Charlip’s life (he passed away in 2012) that Eisen encountered the artist’s own archive collection as he was packing up some of his personal effects. “This archive of Remy’s life’s work was more expansive than I could have ever imagined and I knew that someone needed to do something with it, it needed to be shared,” explains Eisen. With the help of an archivist, he became intensely involved with organizing and cataloging Charlip’s voluminous anthology. And in that process, the seed for what was to become Rainbow Logic was being planted.

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

With the idea for a piece about Charlip percolating, Eisen went into an extensive time of research and information gathering. He spent more than a year combing through Charlip’s archives along with supplementary source material. He interviewed close to three-dozen family members, lovers and collaborators in order to build an oral history. He held a series of performative artist talks to investigate different pathways in which to enter the work. How do you approach such a titanic life and career? How do you pay tribute to Charlip’s eighty-three years in a single performance work? What gets left out? What stays? Where is the line between Charlip’s voice and the voice of the new work? With these and other questions in mind, Eisen headed into a series of artist residencies—at Joshua Tree, Montalvo Arts Center, the Dresher Ensemble Artist Residency and most recently, CounterPulse—to begin construction on Rainbow Logic. And while deep in this creative process, Eisen was simultaneously assembling an all-star team of collaborators to bring this endeavor to life: performers Emily Butter fly, Colin Creveling and Paul Loper, composer Miguel Frasconi, scenic designer Terrance Graven, visual designers Diego Gomez and Rich Hutchison, lighting designer Jim Cave, video designer Ian Winters, costume designer Keriann Egeland and choreographer James Graham.

Graham came on board with the project early on, joining Eisen for the Joshua Tree residency, “Remy was a dancer/choreographer in his own right, so it follows that movement would be significant in Rainbow Logic,” Graham shares. As the two began experimenting with ideas, motifs and narrative material, Graham began contemplating artistic questions similar to those that Eisen was grappling with. How would the choreography inform and serve Rainbow Logic? Would reconstruction and restaging be part of the picture? Or would all the movement be entirely original? “We needed to respect Remy as the heart of the work, but also balance that with the reality that we are making something in the now, something new,” relays Graham, “what felt successful was to try and suss out Remy’s essence, keeping him in the room and touching base with him, while simultaneously creating new movement and dance.” What emerged through this exploration were phrases that inspect gesture and physical states of being; cultural ritualistic dances filled with emotional extremes and personal narratives; and sequences inspired by ‘Air Mail Dances,’ Charlip’s compositional technique.

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

This choreography blends together with text, puppetry, scenework, a toy theater (which Eisen likens to a theater maquette), object arranging, video, props, costume, and an original score in what Eisen describes as, “a transdisciplinary work about inventiveness, intuition and creativity told in a two-part narrative arc.” With a polymath like Charlip as its subject, it made sense to employ a vast array of theatrical devices and artistic components. And Eisen is specific about using the word transdisciplinary to describe how they are woven together, “all of the various elements and strategies in Rainbow Logic are layered, crossing and interacting with each other.” And it is through them that the narrative is unpacked. “First we introduce Remy as a young, queer, Jewish boy born into poverty, who early on discovers a love for art and dance, and then we fast forward to the latter part of his life,” describes Eisen, “the heart of the piece is the conversation between these two selves; what happens when the younger self and the much older self are in a position to engage with each other.”

As the premiere nears and Rainbow Logic enters its final phase of rehearsals, the excitement and anticipation is stirring for everyone at Eye Zen Presents. Eisen is keen for audiences to experience the life and work of this remarkable polymath, “I hope Rainbow Logic sparks curiosity about Remy, a man who perfected the art of being an artist and who teaches us that every moment has creative potential.”


Rainbow Logic: Arm in Arm with Remy CharlipWeaving dance, text, puppetry, video and music, Rainbow Logic celebrates Remy Charlip’s exceptional life in dance, theater and children’s literature. Fri-Sat, Nov 4-5, 11-12, & 18-19, 8p & Sun, Nov 6, 13, & 20, 7p, $20-35.

Bridge Project 2016: Ten Artists Respond to Trisha Brown’s Locus

Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo courtesy of TBDC

Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo courtesy of TBDC

Bridges are a big part of the Bay Area’s landscape. From the spectacular vistas of the Golden Gate to the new Bay Bridge and many more, bridges link this region together. They span; they join; they facilitate the journey from one place to another. Here and everywhere, bridges are about connection and connecting.

Hope Mohr Dance’s aptly named Bridge Project lives fully in this spirit of connection. Conceived by Artistic Director Hope Mohr, the Bridge Project builds an intentional space for artistic connection; an incubator to encourage and foster creative exchange. Since its debut in 2010, each Bridge Project has invited different artists to participate in a unique combination of lectures, workshops, panels, classes and performances, all centered on a particular theme.

While every Bridge Project is distinct, a number of common objectives inform them all. First is the convergence of the past and present. “Lineage and legacy are a through-line for me, and I want to bring notable, iconic dance artists, especially women, to enter into dialogue with the current contemporary dance community,” shares Mohr. To that end, past Bridge Projects have welcomed post-modern powerhouses like Simone Forti, Anna Halprin and Deborah Hay to work with today’s emerging and established choreographic voices. For Mohr, geography is another major consideration, “I feel strongly that Bay Area artmaking be put in a national context and that the community here be in conversation with artists that work in different parts of the country.” And so, Mohr looks outward for inspiration, engaging dance practitioners from other regions, like East Coast-based artists Molissa Fenley and Susan Rethorst (2010 and 2013 Bridge Project, respectively).

Rarity also plays an important part in the Bridge Project, as does education. “I want to present work that wouldn’t otherwise be presented, like non-proscenium work, work from artists that have been flying under the radar or artists that aren’t typically presented by bigger organizations,” Mohr notes, “and I see engagement, through workshops and classes, to be as relevant as the performances themselves, functioning as an educational and historic frame to enter into and experience the work.” Connecting eras, connecting locations, increasing awareness and sharing information — this is Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project.

In October, this groundbreaking curatorial program turns its attention to Locus, a 1975 dance choreographed by Trisha Brown, originally created as a quartet and ultimately performed as a solo (under a new title — Locus Solo). And in turning to this dance, the Bridge Project adds yet another level of connection — a connection between disciplines. For 2016’s edition, which is produced in association with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), ten artists from six different fields have been commissioned to respond to the original Locus. Under the expert guidance of Trisha Brown Dance Company’s (TBDC) Associate Artistic Director Diane Madden, dancers, performance artists, choreographers, visual artists, musicians and literary artists will learn Locus and then craft their own work in response. As well, Hope Mohr Dance (HMD) will host a two-day public workshop, and from its participants, Madden will select four individuals to learn and perform Locus Solo. On October 14th and 15th, the ten responses will come together with the four soloists (two of whom will dance Locus Solo on Friday and two on Saturday) in an evening concert at YBCA’s Forum space. By including Locus Solo alongside the ten multidisciplinary premieres, these performances make it possible to simultaneously witness restaging and responding. “I think there is an important difference between restaging historical works and responding to them; here, I am intentionally creating a container in which both approaches can exist side-by-side,” explains Mohr.

Locus is ideal for the Bridge Project equation. It was choreographed by a post-modern pioneer (lineage), brings New York’s Trisha Brown Dance Company into discussion with Bay Area artists (geography), can be broadly applied (along with the open workshop and performances, there will be a public talk) and it is indeed rare. According to TBDC’s Performance Chronology, the last time Locus was performed on the West Coast was back in 1977 at UC Berkeley.

Madden describes Locus as “the epitome of Brown’s masterful layered choreography and playful dynamic movement; as one watches the precise lyrical momentum of this dance, a fascinating spatial logic, lying just beneath its fluid surface, emerges.” Mohr agrees, adding that Locus is “a distillation of Brown’s movement vocabulary; a sculptural expression of how the body relates to space and the environment.” Over the past forty years, the dance has evolved and taken on different forms, yet every version has one thing in common. They all follow the same fundamental blueprint: Locus’ detailed written score. “With Locus, Brown wanted to take herself out of the decision-making process and so she devised a score, mapping her movement spatially, making it possible to teach the dance and transfer it to other bodies,” relays Madden. Brown’s score provides the directions and parameters for Locus. It designates the geometric and architectural dimensions of an invisible cube within which the dance takes place. It lays out twenty-seven points of articulation in space (twenty-six for each letter of the alphabet and one acting as a space bar). It outlines tasks, cues and movement phrases. And Locus’ score also affirms Brown’s commitment to cross-pollinating artistic practices and fields, “Locus is multi-disciplinary,” details Mohr, “its score holds a text-based autobiographical statement, a strong visual art aspect and clear, accessible choreography.”

With the multi-genre nature of the source material, “it made sense to commission artists to respond to the dance from a variety of disciplines,” says Mohr. And she wanted that multi-disciplinary character to also be present in the selection process. Rather than choosing all ten contributors herself, Mohr reached out for insight, “we democratized the nominating procedure so that the pool of commissioned artists came from a broad swath of the Bay Area artistic community.” Here are the phenomenal artists selected to respond to Brown’s Locus: Xandra Ibarra (performance art / nominated by Keith Hennessy), Affinity Project (theater / nominated by Erika Chong Shuch), Cheryl Leonard (new music / nominated by Pamela Z), Amy Foote (new music / nominated by Adam Fong), Peiling Kao (choreography / nominated by Dohee Lee), Gerald Casel (choreography / nominated by HMD), Tracy Taylor Grubbs (visual arts / nominated by HMD), Frances Richard (poetry / nominated by HMD), Gregory Dawson (choreography / nominated by YBCA) and Larry Arrington (choreography / nominated by HMD).

Madden is excited to get into the studio with this eclectic group and delve into Locus, “we will be looking deeply at this composition, with a desire to understand it and Brown’s work more fully; my wish is that there is something in Locus that speaks to each of [the participating artists], whether it is the choreography, the bare physicality or something else entirely, something that I would never see or think of.” And yet, Madden knows that these studio sessions will not be typical. For starters, dancers and non-dancers alike will be entering into this repertory, and so Madden’s pedagogy will be about adapting and pulling information from a variety of angles, “I want everyone to have a physical experience of the choreography, in whatever way they can; I want to bring each person to the dance and the dance to each person, so that they can take that understanding into their own medium.” In addition, Madden notes that this is the first time that Locus is being taught with the intention and purpose of inspiring original responses. Which provokes some penetrating artistic questions. What does it mean to respond to a dance? How does one approach such a challenge? How is the important line between Brown’s creative property and each artists’ own work maintained? Both Mohr and Madden are keen for everyone involved to investigate and consider these complex ideas during this Bridge Project residency and beyond.

Over the next few weeks, this ambitious, grand experiment will unfold. And experimentation is inherently risky; no one can predict what the outcome will be. But taking a bold chance also brings the possibility for transformation — innovative discoveries, unexpected revelations, new connections. Mohr is eager to see what arises, “for artists, I hope that the Bridge Project enriches their practice; for audiences, that it gives them a unique chance to encounter dance history and see how it still resonates today; and for the arts community, that it keeps impactful, iconic works relevant and on people’s radar.”

The Next Chapter of Live Performance at SFMOMA: A Conversation with Megan Brian and Frank Smigiel

An open space bathed in bright white. White walls and window shades; an industrial white light grid. An expansive, double height room where the ceiling feels far away. Smooth maple floors give a bit of natural color and contrast. Through a window, lush greenery is visible. Clear glass at the top invites a gaze from outside. There is no designated stage or seating. No pre-set parameters. This is a site that, with each unique project, will become something different. A clean canvas, primed with potential.

Housed on the fourth floor of the SFMOMA, the Gina and Stuart Peterson White Box is where viewers will encounter live theatrical art at the recently re-opened museum. Soon, this space will be bustling with creative passion; abounding with cutting-edge commissions; surging with a multitude of artistic fields and genres. A new venue for new programming—this is the future of live performance at SFMOMA.

SFMOMA White Box, rendering by MIR/Snohetta

SFMOMA White Box, rendering by MIR/Snohetta

Looking ahead is exhilarating. But it also reminds us to look back; to remember what came before. And live performance has a long history at SFMOMA. It is a reflection of the institution’s commitment to innovation and audience engagement as well as its desire to challenge norms within the artistic community. SFMOMA Associate Curator for Performance and Film Frank Smigiel traces this thread back to Founding Director Grace McCann Morley’s progressive views on museums and their relationship to the public. “[McCann Morley] believed that a museum shouldn’t be a static conservator of treasures, but an extension of art in people’s lives,” he conveys, “and so, from the beginning SFMOMA has never been wedded to a ‘stewardship of objects only’ model, it had broader ideas on art and its eye on the audience.”

When it comes to live performance, SFMOMA has leaned into this pioneering spirit. Over the past eight decades, patrons have been exposed to a diverse range of movement arts—from circus exhibitions in the early days to avant-garde performance in the 1960s-1970s, including the choreographic partnership of Eiko and Koma. Radical movement-based and physical-theater happenings spiked in the early 2000s, by multi-disciplinary artists like Matthew Barney. And just this past April, Alonzo King LINES Ballet performed Faith in the Roman Steps at SFMOMA’s Art Bash, a gala event that unveiled the newly expanded building in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Choreographed by King, the world premiere contemporary dance unfolded on and around the stunning architectural staircase in the new museum’s Roberts Family Gallery. “At SFMOMA, there is a legacy around being at the frontier of artforms, and that endures with mediums like performance,” notes Megan Brian, Assistant Director for Education and Public Practice at SFMOMA.

SFMOMA’s current Performance and Film team are eager to propel this rich dialogue into the future. “Performance and Film was resurrected in 2007, with an aim to think more deeply and broadly about the living, collaborative nature of both lm and performance,” Brian explains. With that objective in mind, there are big plans for the next chapter of live performance at SFMOMA.

Like a tree structure, Performance and Film at SFMOMA is divided into separate branches for each discipline. Then, within the curatorial area of Performance, Smigiel outlines another subdivision, “this arm holds two different programs—Performance In Progress and Performance All Ages—with three artists commissioned to design new works in each track.”

True to its title, Performance In Progress is all about the process of creation. Each of the three artists will have their own mini-residency in the Fall—a time to conceive, shape, and construct his or her work. And then in March, there will be a combined final program, where they will come together to premiere their finished commissions. For 2016, Performance In Progress welcomes Jacolby Satterwhite, Naomi Rincón-Gallardo and Oakland-based Desirée Holman. “While all three are working on distinct projects, there are thematic fibers linking them,” says Smigiel, “each of these artists explore multiple disciplines in performance and they are all working with eccentric ideas of the future—how visions of the future can be used to sort out problems of the present.” In terms of movement and choreography, expect many voices and approaches from Performance In Progress. In this particular group, Smigiel describes an array of physicality, “processional models—parading and moving through landscapes—are strong for these artists, as is a more inclusive notion of the performative body; movement that is vernacular and egalitarian, movement generated and performed by non-trained dancers.”

As its name suggests, Performance All Ages is for everyone, from the youngest museum patron to those who are more ‘young at heart.’ This year, Lucky Dragons, Cloud Eye Control and LA-based musician Chris Kallmyer will be crafting original work in this track. Like Performance In Progress, each of these projects is unique, and yet there is connective tissue weaving them together. All are focused on immersive art experiences; where the space between the performer and viewer becomes porous, where the audience becomes an active contributor. “These three multi-genre artists are investigating and experimenting with the convergence of participation and public performance,” shares Smigiel, “to that end, each Performance All Ages residency will last for an entire month and will include workshops, drop-in activities and a special museum ‘takeover.’”

Brian and Smigiel are excited to see these live performances emerge over the next year. In addition to the commissions themselves, they are also eager to see how audiences engage with the material. How the programming lends itself to different lenses of viewership. How planned viewing and random chance exist in both strands. “Performance In Progress is more destination-based—an audience will arrive for a showing at a particular time in a specific place,” details Brian, “but of course, as folks are visiting the museum, they may also discover the live performance completely by accident.” The same can be said for Performance All Ages. There will be those who come especially to attend or participate in one of the events, as well as viewers who happen upon the action. For Smigiel, this attention to and consideration of viewership circles directly back to McCann Morley’s intent for patron engagement at SFMOMA.

Clearly, the past three years at SFMOMA have been a time of construction, a season of planning for what is to be. And now it is time to launch. The museum is open to the public; Performance and Film’s 2016-2017 programming is set; the White Box space is prepped. Smigiel hopes that this next chapter of live performance at SFMOMA will “provide opportunities for local and non-local artists to collaborate with the Bay Area arts community, continue to foreground a vital exchange with the audience and encourage a deep dive into the art.”

Visit sfmoma.org for information on all ongoing and upcoming programs, exhibits and performances, including live performance, at the new SFMOMA.

Questioning Assumptions, Challenging Expectations: A Conversation with Lucia August

Writing about today’s dance scene, I notice that I use certain phrases pretty often. Things like ‘questioning assumptions’ or ‘challenging expectations’. Sometimes these words are a response to innovative physical vocabulary; sometimes to a structural departure. A piece’s subject matter may strike, confront or even shock. A dance may use collaborative elements in an experimental way. Maybe the site is atypical. Or the relationship between performer and viewer is being investigated. Whatever the case, much of twenty-first century performance (at least what I’ve been seeing lately) is committed to being original, different and unconventional.

So how does this outside the box thinking apply to age and body type in dance performance? Do we see the same variety and diversity when it comes to a dancer’s age and size? Are these barriers slower to be broken down? And if so, why?

Choreographer and dancer Lucia August is tackling these questions head on, dispelling stereotypes around age and body type in performance. Over sixty years old and with a non-traditional dancer’s body, August has gone all in, living her dream of creating and performing in the contemporary dance field. To understand her vision, just look to the platform phrase she has chosen for her solo work – “Everybody Can Dance.”

August began formal dance training at a very young age and in it, found what she describes as “a sense of freedom and joy, as well as a deep connection to myself and my body.” Creative movement, ballet, modern, jazz and composition were all subjects of intense study throughout childhood and adolescence. But as she reached her late teens, messages (both subtle and pointed) started coming her way, communicating that a career in a professional company was not in the cards. “If anyone had asked me then what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said ‘a dancer,’ but my body type seemed to be an obstacle on that path” shares August, “it got to me and I stopped dancing for a while.” In the decades that followed, August’s relationship with dance would be informed by a strange dualism – pure love for movement alongside painful negativity. Not surprising, this led to a repetitive pattern. Periods of taking class and limited performing would be interspersed with extended time away from the studio.

Then in the early 2000’s, a number of events changed August’s trajectory. The first catalyst was when she attended a performance by a touring company made up entirely of large dancers. During the show, there was a moment of realization, “I should be up there, and I can be up there, why I am not?” Soon after, she found a thriving organization in the Bay Area dedicated to dance for all bodies, Marina Wolf Ahmad’s Big Moves. Through them, she met Eric Kupers, co-director of Dandelion Dancetheater, whose work was also grounded in the philosophy that all can dance – all ages, all sizes, all abilities. After witnessing that diverseness firsthand in Dandelion’s The Undressed Project, August returned to performance at the age of fifty, and danced with Dandelion from 2003 to 2010. This was a time of positive artistic collaborations, where differences in age and body type weren’t impediments, they were welcomed and celebrated.

Photo by Lynne Fried

Photo by Lynne Fried

During this rich period, August began sensing a new creative pull. A desire to delve into yet another aspect of dance and performance. “I became interested in the prospect of solo work that spoke from the body, my body,” she explains, “telling stories through movement; stories on a variety of themes, stories about freeing the self from ingrained notions and overcoming negative beliefs.” August leaned into this new chapter of composition, making it her primary focus, and it remains so to this day. Since 2010, she has presented nine world premieres, including several submissions in the long-running Works in the Works program and a solo show in the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

From fall 2015 through this spring, August also went through SAFEhouse Arts’ Resident Artist Workshop (RAW), a choreographic incubator designed to support emerging dancemakers. Under the guidance of SAFEhouse Executive Director Joe Landini, RAW provides its artists with rehearsal space, technical resources, publicity, mentoring, teaching gigs and a chance to show newly developed work. RAW began in 2007 at The Garage and has been a beacon in San Francisco’s contemporary dance community ever since. Just this year alone, approximately sixty groups took part in the RAW program.

For a number of RAW participants, the opportunities extend even beyond the residency itself. Some are selected each year to be part of SAFEhouse’s annual summer performance festival (SPF), a multi-day, multi-program showcase of contemporary performance. This year’s festival, in its ninth edition, runs from July 6th to the 10th at ODC Theater and features sixteen different contributors (soloists and groups). Lucia August/Everybody Can Dance is one of the RAW artists to be offered a spot for SPF9.

August brings standingOUTstanding to SPF9, a program of three distinct solo dances: They Never Really Leave, Parallel Lives and Consistent Paradox. All three have movement, all three have text and all three have a narrative component, though each piece is a unique journey.

Crafted during the RAW residency, They Never Really Leave is the newest dance on the standingOUTstanding program, having had its world premiere at SAFEhouse in January of this year. An autobiographical solo, They Never Really Leave is steeped in raw emotion. A passionate relationship burns between two young women. Suddenly and mysteriously, one of them is gone. Forty years later, relics from their time together are discovered. These are the penetrating events driving a work that August calls “an act of closure but also an opening.” In this intensely personal piece, August dances onstage with her imaginary, silent partner – absent but present, lost but found.

Joining They Never Really Leave on the program are two solos that August took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Parallel Lives and Consistent Paradox. Parallel Lives follows another true story – August’s own life journey. In this vulnerable, exposed solo, she reveals and tracks the various pathways that she has traversed during her lifetime. The dance shows how time and direction are linked; how routes can run in parallel or in opposition, and reveals the places where they may converge. Featuring music composed by Kupers, August’s mentor from Dandelion Dancetheater, Consistent Paradox ventures into a different narrative world – a fictional one. August introduces a man with a secret; someone hiding from reality, masking his true self and constructing a fac?ade. While not based on true events, these themes are real, relatable and can speak broadly. “It’s very exciting for me to revisit these dances, give them a second life and share them with a new audience,” relays August.

As SPF9 draws nearer, August is eager to see in what ways standingOUTstanding may resonate with viewers. How will they connect to the material? Will they notice their own story at play? Perhaps they will find joy and pleasure in the movement itself.

But on a deeper level, she hopes viewers will tap into the statement she is making about conscious and subconscious presumption; “a dancer can express her truth through movement with whatever size body she may be inhabiting at any given time.” Questioning assumptions; challenging expectations; opposing restrictions and celebrating inclusiveness. These are the principles at work in Lucia August/Everybody Can Dance, “my wish is for people to take away an appreciation for movement that is sourced from a non-traditional dancer’s body, re-evaluate what constitutes beautiful and compelling dance and step away from limited thinking about what is an appropriate aged and sized dancer.”

For more information about these performances and the entire SPF festival lineup, please visit safehousearts.org

Sharing the Artistic Journey

Erin, Eric and Kat in in a bath tub

Photo by Kegan Marling

LET’S CONSIDER today’s contemporary dance performance in terms of what is ‘shared.’ Phrase material often comes from a shared process between choreographers and dancers. A collaboration requires shared contributions from different fields. Performances themselves are an opportunity to share an artistic experience with an audience. Then, there are shared evenings. Companies and artists joining together, to co-present a program with different choreographic voices. When a shared program is done well, it’s possible that these individual voices may speak even louder.

For two weekends this December, EmSpace Dance and detour dance are teaming up for one such endeavor at NOHspace in the Mission (SF). This double bill introduces a world premiere from each group: EmSpace Dance’s Whether to Weather, conceived/directed by Erin Mei-Ling Stuart and detour dance’s Beckon, co-created by Kat Cole and Eric Garcia. While Stuart, Cole and Garcia have worked together in the past, this is the first time they are partnering as co-presenters of a shared program. The project is filled with the spirit of newness – new cooperation, new logistic possibilities, new artistic avenues and of course, brand new dance.

Sharing a program definitely has benefits. By working together, groups can split financial demands, dole out organizational duties and maybe even reach a larger audience base. This pragmatism was certainly part of EmSpace and detour’s decision to team up. “From a practical perspective, I’m always looking to do shows in a way that is sustainable for my company,” says Stuart. A joint show can open doors and put options on the table that otherwise might not be feasible. In the case of EmSpace and detour, Cole has seen that “being together has allowed us to take production risks, like doing a longer run.” Sharing a bill is a smart move. It’s no surprise that it is a common model with emerging and established dance artists alike.

But pragmatic concerns were only one part of this co-venture. EmSpace and detour were also interested in the creative puzzle that is ‘the shared program.’ How do you maintain the artistic integrity and distinctness of each piece while still crafting a cohesive evening? How can the entire program, as a whole, translate to audiences and not feel like a random juxtaposition of work? Early on, EmSpace and detour found that the pairing of Whether to Weather and Beckon had some interesting things to say in response to these artistic questions. Each dance was following its own path while broad through lines (in form and in content) were also emerging. And these through lines were becoming connective tissue for the show.

“Esthetically, it [the program] is Dance Theater, but we are representing two versions of what Dance Theater can be,” explains Garcia, “and relationships have been surfacing as a common theme, but again from different directions.” A shared program, speaking of independence and interdependence. “Though the work is different with different viewpoints, there is something kindred about its blend of dance and theater, abstraction and pedestrian movement,” describes Stuart, “and the whole evening explores how we relate to people as romantic partners or potential romantic partners, whether long-term, short-term or even, unwanted.”

detour’s Beckon tackles the latter case–the unwanted relationship. With such a big concept, Cole and Garcia decided to mine their own lived experience, and focus on two phenomena, catcalling and cruising. They asked the hard and vulnerable questions. How do you feel when you receive unsolicited attention? Have you ever perpetrated unwelcome advances towards another? How is it different when a queer person of color is catcalled or cruised? While very personal, these situations are also shared by so many in their daily lives. As detour continued to examine this tricky subject matter, a larger narrative began to crystallize. In Garcia’s words, at its core, Beckon is about the complicated world of desire, “it looks at how race, sexuality and gender relate to the power dynamics of desire, whether wanted or unwanted, savory or unsavory.” Four story threads bring this narrative to life, told through an abstract interdisciplinary mix of text, vocals, soundscores, characters and non-linear vignettes. And the movement and choreography is a diverse tapestry, mixing pedestrian gestures, primal, aggressive impulses and balanced, tender supports.

For Cole and Garcia, Beckon is not only a new performance piece, it also signals a new chapter in detour dance’s greater journey, a move away from the more light-hearted and quirky. While Beckon still has some of these elements, Garcia shares the significant shift that this dance has forged, “in doing this piece, we have re-focused the model of our company towards our identity as queer people of color, and it feels right to be making art with this intention.” detour is poised, ready and excited for what this new artistic season may bring. “This [Beckon] is the start of finding what that will look like; the bridge to that new space,” adds Cole.

Stuart is also navigating a new artistic path with EmSpace’s Whether to Weather, experimenting with structure, form and discipline. Two world premieres, both revealing new creative directions. Yet another example of how December’s program is steeped in shared-ness.

When Stuart began this work, she made a conscious choice to move outside her creative comfort zone, “often I work in abstract vignette-based forms and I wanted to challenge myself with a different approach.” So for Whether to Weather, Stuart wanted a set structure to work in, a narrative container to fill up, “I collaborated with a playwright [Brian Thorstenson] to create interlinked stories, two romantic relationships with consistent characters and a narrative arc.” The first storyline reveals a long-term ride of connection and disconnection, while the second captures passion and companionship in the shorter term. And as the title suggests, changing images of climate and season frame the various periods in each relationship. Stuart opted to communicate one of the stories with theater and dialogue and the other, through dance.

With choreography and theater playing these equal parts, EmSpace’s Whether to Weather is what Stuart refers to as a “dance play,” with the theater aspects being “the most ‘theater’ thing that I’ve done – actors playing characters, speaking dialogue written by a playwright” and the dance portions “even more dance-y than usual, with modern release movement and a lot of partnering.”

Both fields hold great importance for EmSpace Dance and for Stuart. Over the past five years, she has noticed that as a choreographer/dance director, there’s been a shift, a move further and further into the theater arena. Whether to Weather has provided a platform for her to expand skill, exercise vision and share in both disciplines simultaneously.

After spending the past year developing these two dances, EmSpace and detour are prepping for the final leg of this shared artistic journey. With the December show just around the corner, Cole and Garcia hope that audiences enjoy the interdisciplinary flavor in Beckon. But at a deeper level, their wish is that the work may provoke a moment of self-reflection, where the viewer can personally identify with and recognize themselves in the narrative themes. Likewise, Stuart hopes that viewers find pleasure in Whether to Weather’s movement and words. She is eager to see how the piece connects with people’s emotions and what kind of thinking/feeling response it might draw, “how we relate is complicated and watching something about a relationship helps us to exercise our empathy – this shared evening hints at that.”

FINDING FLAMENCO: A Crash Course

I RECENTLY WENT on an artistic scavenger hunt. Or maybe it was more of a fact-finding mission.

The goal – learn about flamenco dance in the Bay Area.

The timeline – three weeks.

The challenge – I knew very little about flamenco and had absolutely no familiarity with the flamenco scene in this particular region.

My only experience with flamenco was over twenty years ago. I was taking a summer dance intensive that featured a different elective class each week, as a supplement to the core ballet and contemporary curriculum. One week it was flamenco. I remember wearing character shoes and a long rehearsal skirt. I have a vague recollection of footwork patterns: ‘go?lpe, taco?n, taco?n, taco?n; planta, taco?n, taco?n, taco?n’. But those fading memories from long ago were really all I had to go on.

As a novice, I decided I should start with a research plan. I already had a regional focus. But flamenco dance in the Bay Area still seemed like a massive topic. Its local history, culture and lineage were likely centuries old. And flamenco in certain areas, like the South Bay, could almost warrant an entire article on its own. In three weeks, I wasn’t going to be able to cover everything. So I set some further parameters to narrow my scope of inquiry. I would explore current flamenco practice (2015) in San Francisco and the Bay Area (primarily the East Bay) through ongo- ing events, special performances and classes/ workshops. Here is what I discovered.

05 Andrés Marín in Ad Libitum. Photo by Klaus Handner

Photo by Klaus Handner

 

First stop was a visit to NorCal Flamenco (norcalflamenco.com). An online hub for flamenco in Northern California, this website provides an ideal jumping-off point – a well-curated set of calendar listings, links to individuals, organizations and dance companies, even blog posts. While exploring the site, you really start to get a sense of local flamenco as an electric jewel in the Bay Area dance’s crown. A vibrant, thriving and extensive community of choreographers, practitioners, dancers, musicians and enthusiasts.

Right away, I started to see an abundance of ongoing flamenco events. Yaelisa and her company, Caminos Flamencos, bring Cafe? Flamenco to Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda once every two months. Mision Flamenca goes on at Bissap Baobab in San Francisco the second Saturday of each month. Carolina Lugo and Carole? Acun?a’s Ballet Flamenco perform weekly at Pen?a Pachamama in SF’s North Beach. And then there is The Flamenco Room, every Sunday evening at Thirsty Bear, a popular Spanish tapas/brewpub South of the Financial District in SF. A few weeks back, I went to check out one of their two evening performances.

Thirsty Bear looked very different than any other time I had been there. A stage occupied the center of the restaurant with tables arranged right along the perimeter. With the audience seated amidst the action, there was an immediate sense of accessibility and intimacy. A feeling of being immersed in the moment as opposed to simply being an onlooker. Just after 7:30pm, two dancers and two musicians took the stage and we were off on a journey of movement and music. I couldn’t tell if there was a narrative through line, nor was I familiar with the steps, yet I was struck by both the atmosphere and the dance itself. The movement and sound had an egalitarian relationship, interacting together to paint the scene. The performers communicated deep artistry, genuine joy and intense passion. The varied choreography included fast and slow sequences, intricate port de bras and epaulement, lightning quick turns and profound dramatic emotion. What an amazing initiation to live flamenco for this newcomer.

Ongoing events like The Flamenco Room are a wonderful way to experience and access flamenco in this area. But there is even more out there! Annual festivals and special performances are also part of the regional landscape. Each year, Founder/Artistic Director Nina Mene?ndez and producer Bay Area Flamenco coordinate The Bay Area Flamenco Festival. And 2015 marks the festival’s tenth anniversary! Over the past twelve months, Mene?ndez and her team have brought an eclectic mix of classes, films and concerts to the community in recognition of this impressive milestone.

November is also a big month for exclusive flamenco performances in the Bay Area with limited engagements from both local and touring companies. Flamenco has a long been part of Cal Performances’ World Stage programming explains Associate Director Rob Bailis, “we at Cal Performances make an annual commitment to flamenco as a form because of the incredibly rich community of international flamenco artists who live among us and because the Bay Area is a place where audiences of flamenco are used to the very best.” This November, they are thrilled to continue this tradition, welcoming Compan?ia Flamenca Jose? Porcel to Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley for a two-performance run (the evening of the 13th and the afternoon of the 14th). Touring from Spain, this world-class troupe brings Flamenco Fire, a program of choreography and music that promises to wow the senses. “When one thinks of the great dancers performing today in any form, Jose? Porcel is a standout,” relays Bailis, “this season, Porcel returns to our stage and again takes his place among the pantheon of Flamenco masters that have come before him.”

The following weekend, San Francisco-based Theatre Flamenco celebrates its 49th season with the North American premiere of Andre?s Mari?n’s Ad Libitum: Or how I freed myself from my chains, a full-length production that will run for three perfor- mances (November 20-22) at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater. “As Theatre Flamenco continues to provide one of the West Coast’s leading stages for flamenco performance, it is a special honor to present Andre?s Mari?n, one of the most original artists working in flamenco today,” notes Artistic Director Carola Zertuche, “[dancer] Cristina Hall and I are proud to share the stage not only with him but also with the musicians: Jose? Valencia, Salvador Gutie?rrez and Daniel Suarez.”

Perhaps you want to be moved beyond viewership and are looking for flamenco instruction in the Bay Area. Rest assured, your options are substantial. In fact, classes and workshops were, by far, the largest category of flamenco resources that I found. From introductory to advanced, you can study with first-rate instructors all over the Bay Area, many of whom also offer outside performance opportunities. While not a complete list of Bay Area flamenco classes, the sampling below gives a good idea of what is out there in terms of local flamenco training.

Virginia Iglesias

Photo by Christine Fu

At LINES Dance Center, flamenco is part of the regular weekly schedule with multiple classes taught by Virginia Iglesias, Founder of Virginia Iglesias Flamenco Academy of Dance and Artistic Director of Virginia Iglesias Flamenco Dance Company (additional classes are also taught at Alameda and Palo Alto locations). If workshops are more your scene, eight-week sessions for beginning, intermediate and advanced students are available at La Solea Dance Studio with Carola Zertuche (Artistic Director of Theatre Flamenco) or City Dance School with La Tania (Founder of La Tania Baile Flamenco School and Company). Yaelisa, Artistic Director of Caminos Flamencos, gives workshops of varying lengths in Oakland, Berkeley and the North Bay. And for a slightly longer course of study, ODC’s school is currently offering a twelve-week flamenco intensive with Master Teacher Danica Sena, as part of their 2015 Global Dance Passport. Jill Lounibos, who manages the Global Dance Passport program, shares that it “gives students the opportunity to delve deeper into the nuances of a global dance style and culminates in a bi-annual showcase from a diverse range of prominent Bay Area artists and teachers.” The student performances for this session will be held on December 12th and 13th.

At the end of any research experiment, it is customary to evaluate outcomes. Did I learn about the Bay Area’s current flamenco scene? Yes. I now know places where one can check out the region’s talented flamenco artists. I know about upcoming flamenco performances this fall. I am also familiar with some of the main players. And I know of many studios where one can study this dynamic art form. I gained knowledge of the basics; an introduction to a rich and wide ranging performance discipline. If my research experiment had been a course, I think it would have been titled, Bay Area Flamenco 101. So now that I have the pre- requisite under my belt, a more advanced immersive study might be an interesting next step.

 

CounterPulse’s Next Ten

TEN YEARS IS A LONG TIME. Since 2005, I got married, finished graduate research, moved across the country twice and adopted a puppy. And those are just some of the ‘major’ events. Taking stock of the past decade and imagining the next decade makes one thing abundantly clear. So much can change in the span of ten years.

A beacon in San Francisco’s avant-garde performing arts community, CounterPulse is keenly aware of what can happen in a decade. Ten years ago, CounterPulse was in its infancy, the result of a partnership between 848 Community Space and the Bay Area Center for Art and Technology. Merging these two ‘parent’ organizations meant a fresh combination of infrastructure and resources that could “set the stage to support artists in more profound and professional ways,” recounts CounterPulse’s current Artistic Director Julie Phelps. To that end, in 2005, CounterPulse took up residence at 1310 Mission Street and embarked on their maiden voyage. And it has been an epic ten-year journey in San Francisco’s SOMA District. But destinations change and itineraries shift. Today, CounterPulse finds itself heading in a different direction, to a new permanent home at 80 Turk Street in the Tenderloin. This is a unique moment for CounterPulse – saying goodbye to one era while simultaneously greeting a brand new chapter.

Phelps shares that the past decade at CounterPulse has been all about building an artist-centered environment – “incubating experimental and emerging work, creating a space to foster imagination and offering more direct artist services.” Classes were developed, CounterPulse-curated events were designed, and an eclectic mix of local, national and international artists graced the stage. In addition, the Artist Residency Commissioning program (ARC) was established “to support socially relevant work and community building by movement-based artists” adds Phelps. A significant undertaking, ARC has been incredibly successful, shifting and evolving over the years along with the changing artistic climate, and broadening to include a number of different tracks like Performing Diaspora and the more recent Art/Tech Combustible Residency. It is a testament to the work and workers of the last decade that all of these different programs continue to play an integral role at CounterPulse today.

Ten years in, Phelps affirms that CounterPulse is still committed to this artist-centered vision. Seeking that vision makes continual development, growth and responsiveness essential. While CounterPulse’s progressive trajectory is certainly linked to innovative programming (as illustrated above), it is also very much tied to space.

Space is a hot topic and a hot commodity in the Bay Area – living space; working space; performance space. In this ever-competitive market, obtaining the right location gets harder and harder everyday. Aware of this reality and knowing their current lease on Mission Street was coming to an end, CounterPulse began a time of discernment and planning about three years ago. With the help of a consultant, they engaged in a Facilities Strategic Plan to consider as Phelps describes, “how our facility wraps around our vision and moves it forward”. All options were on the table, including the possibility of staying in their existing location. During this process, they made a lucky connection with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), a newly formed (and desperately needed) organization seeking to assist arts non-profits with their space/facility requirements. Phelps explains that CounterPulse and CAST were well aligned – CounterPulse was currently examining and evaluating their future space needs and CAST was planning to acquire space and then work with community-focused/community-centered arts organizations in a lease-to-own model. The structure at 80 Turk Street was one of CAST’s options and so CounterPulse went to check it out. Phelps was struck on two fronts: the space on Turk Street not only supported CounterPulse’s dreams for expansion, but partnering with CAST could actually make moving to a new location a viable possibility. CounterPulse deliberated and decided to proceed with the 80 Turk Project. Their future new home was no longer a hypothetical. CounterPulse was forged by a partnership in 2005, and now a partnership with CAST would help launch its next phase.

Even with all the right pieces falling into place, a venture like the 80 Turk Project is certainly not without challenges and risks. Phelps can say for certain that CounterPulse’s biggest gamble was (and is) financial. For their initial contribution to the project, CounterPulse needed to raise one million dollars. This was going to be no small feat. But they took the challenge in stride and kicked into fundraising mode. Phelps is thrilled that CounterPulse was able to reach the goal, drawing more support for the 80 Turk Project than they had ever previously raised in a single campaign.

While Phelps acknowledges that the financial risk is real and at times “anxietyprovoking,” the possibilities that 80 Turk affords are “wildly exciting.” Amenities include dressing rooms, rehearsal space, a proper lobby with a gallery, a brand new sound system and an extensive lighting grid. Performers and patrons will even have their own dedicated restrooms (which given their current space is a huge improvement)! Phelps hopes that these various elements (and more) will lead to “higher quality productions” and contribute to “the pleasurable-ness of working in the space; a beautiful, comfortable and inspiring facility.” But the 80 Turk Project also has a much greater significance. It isn’t only about CounterPulse’s new decade; it is about the next ten years and the ten years after that. Phelps and the entire CounterPulse family are mindful that “we are building something bigger than ourselves – creating a landmark that will always stay in the hands of arts and culture.”

80 Turk is on target to open in October and CounterPulse has planned a phenomenal 2015-2016 season to mark this momentous occasion. The fall is filled with provocative and engaging work: Hope Mohr Dance’s annual Bridge Project, titled Rewriting Dance, and Nina Haft’s King Tide both go up in November. Then in December, CounterPulse will partner with their future neighbors, the SFMOMA (who open their own new space in the Spring of 2016) to host the North American premiere of Eisa Jocson’s Host. There will also be a new edition of the Artist Residency Commissioning program – a shared evening of original work by Liz Tenuto and Affinity Project that will run for two consecutive weekends. Tenuto will premiere This Year is Different: An Absurdist Musical About Self-Help and Affinity Project will debut When you read a novel it all seems trite and obvious, but when you’re in love yourself you see that no one knows anything and we all have to settle things for ourselves. While neither piece was commissioned to specifically reflect CounterPulse’s current transition, Phelps notes that themes of metamorphosis and change have organically evolved in each. Surely a fitting program for the new space.

“I hope the new CounterPulse continues to be an artistic, social, and political force for breaking boundaries, bringing us together, letting us hear each other with ever greater clarity, and pushing and supporting the whole bay area to have increasingly deeper, more inclusive and more far-reaching dialogue about what our future will be. The times demand it.”
— MARY ARMENTROUT, DIRECTOR,
MARY ARMENTROUT DANCE THEATER

“There are so many thrilling aspects of the 80 Turk Project but what sticks out to me is how rich it is in possibility…creating new, meaningful relationships, nurturing the relationships we’ve already made…”
— LILY NIKZAD, COUNTERPULSE OPERATIONS MANAGER

“I think the new building represents a new model for arts facilities and I hope it’s embraced and successful.”
— JOE LANDINI, DIRECTOR SAFEHOUSE ARTS

“CounterPulse is the only performance space on the West Coast to prioritize working with artists who are social minded and community driven. This mission coupled with the location of their new theater in the Tenderloin allows them to be a bridge between the new development and the existing challenges in the mid-market area of San Francisco.”
-LIZ TENUTO, CHOREOGRAPHER AND DIRECTOR,
DANCE AND A HALF

“Our new home will be chalk-full of transformative performances; new movements; gathering spaces for communities of all kinds; and grassroots-social-impact art-making overflowing into the streets of our beloved city. Come on art! Come on Tenderloin!”
— JAMES FLEMING, COUNTERPULSE PROGRAMS ASSOCIATE

“CounterPulse’s move positions them at the geographic heart of the dialog about the future of San Francisco (money, tech, art, the homeless population – these questions are heightened by their new location). I hope they continue to be a place to see edgy experimental art that gives voice to some of the weirdness that I love about the city.”
— KATHARINE HAWTHORNE, DANCER & CHOREOGRAPHER

“I hope that, more than anything, YOU come and see us in our new home. Won’t be much fun without you”
— JEANNE PFEFFER, COUNTERPULSE DEVELOPMENT MANAGER

For information on CounterPulse and their upcoming 2015-2016 season, please visit counterpulse.org and to learn more about Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) visit cast-sf.org

 

The Diversity of Authorship: In Conversation with Hope Mohr

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE AUTHOR?

How many times have you been asked this classic ‘get to know you’ question? Perhaps it was on a first date, at a new job, in a social setting or for some online profile. Does the term ‘author’ automatically make you think of someone in the literary field?

Authors actually exist everywhere. All over the creative landscape, not just in the literary arts. Choreographers are authors too, writers of physicality, movement and live performance; each new dance piece involving a distinct authorship process. Vision; intent; structure; narrative; design. These are things that an author may consider while writing; things that a choreographer may consider while choreographing. These are components of authorship.

Hope Mohr Dance’s upcoming season at ODC Theater is a journey in authorship. For this eighth Spring engagement, the company will premiere Stay by Artistic Director Hope Mohr and The Material of Attention, a collaboration between Mohr and Christian Burns. Stay is a set dance made by a single choreographer while The Material of Attention is an improvised work directed by a collaborative team. Two world premieres; two authorship models; one stimulating program. Mohr is challenging herself, the participating artists and the viewer to think about and experience authorship in new ways.

Mohr describes Stay as her response to the work of Francis Bacon, a twentieth century painter and visual artist. Her connection to Bacon actually involves another influential artist—poet, classicist and critic, Anne Carson. In co-directing Carson’s Antigonick this Spring at Shotgun Players in Berkeley, Mohr spent significant time with Carson’s body of writing. Carson’s book, Nay Rather, cites a series of interviews in which Bacon discusses his resistance to narrative. “Bacon tried to undermine the human tendency to create story,” explains Mohr, “he subverted narrative in his work through what he called ‘free marks,’—throwing paint at a canvas.” While Mohr was drawn to Bacon’s resistance to narrative, she was also curious about the emotionally reactive nature of Bacon’s paintings: “at first I had an aversion to his work because it contains tough subject matter and unsettling imagery, but when I came back to it, I noticed its compositional richness and I wanted to have an aesthetic response.” Stay is that response, exploring how emotion can twist in a non-narrative space.

Two dances lean in front of blue wall

Photo by Margo Moritz

This word response is an important distinction here. Stay is not really inspired by nor is it a representation of Bacon’s paintings; it is Mohr’s response to Bacon’s work. Having said that, there are specific aspects of Bacon’s paintings that come into play, particularly in David Szlasa’s set, video and lighting design. “In Bacon’s paintings, figures are sometime isolated in a box or set on the side observing the action; in Stay, a series of saturated blue flats and live feed cameras (embedded in the walls) create a sense of being in a room and watching at the same time. Bacon also used arrows for emphasis and large hand-held arrows are present in Stay to direct the viewer’s gaze,” relays Mohr.

The second world premiere on Hope Mohr Dance’s Spring program is Mohr and Burns’ The Material of Attention. Being a collaborative, improvised dance makes The Material of Attention about as different as you can get, authorship-wise, from Stay.

The Material of Attention has a long history behind it. About three years ago, Mohr and Burns began meeting in the studio, once a week, with the sole purpose of improvising and working together in process. Mohr shares that over this lengthy period of exploration, the two have built their own improvisation practice that values “specificity in choices, commitment to actions, clarity and awareness” and questions “how does process become performance; how does a studio practice become performance?” As the practice continued to develop and their collaboration deepened, Mohr and Burns became interested in how they might step outside and articulate the practice to a group of dancers. And with that inquiry, they set out to devise a performed improvised piece, what is now called The Material of Attention.

The Material of Attention is a bold artistic experiment with two interrelated parts. First is the translation piece. Before even thinking about performance, Mohr and Burns had to figure out how to communicate their improvisation practice to other dancers, “we really focused on sharing the [practice’s] driving values of being very clear and responsive when you move, so that the group could understand what improvisation success feels like.” To that end, rehearsals for The Material of Attention begin with an hour-long warm-up where each participant can tune in–to their own bodies, to the group, to the space. Mohr goes on to say that these rehearsals feel more like training sessions that “go back and forth between moving and talking about moving, which has forced me to articulate in language something that is ineffable and mysterious.”

Simultaneously, Mohr and Burns had to balance the improvisation practice with their performance goals, “we want to create a work that considers the audience, has the live quality of something being made in the moment, and feels as intentional and skillful as composed work.” A mix of spontaneity, care, rigor and being present in the moment. That is a tall order calling for both courage and commitment. And the entire team was on board. Mohr is thrilled with how all the artists involved in The Material of Attention have been leaning and living into this experience: “improvising in front of people is risky and vulnerable, and these dancers are doing it and bringing everyone else along for the ride.”

Collaboration with Burns has given Mohr the chance to dive into a new kind of authorship: “with an improvised work, the nature of authorship is different: you’re not setting the steps; instead, you are laying the groundwork for action.” Mohr and Burns have offered the dancers some of their own physical vocabulary to utilize during improvisation. But this shared physicality is intended as a resource, not a command. Authorship in an improvisational environment requires embracing of the unknown and relinquishing control. Because of its collaborative, improvised nature, The Material of Attention truly has eight authors—Mohr, Burns and the six dancers in the piece.

With one improvised work and one work containing uncomfortable images, Mohr knows that this program will challenge audiences: “I hope to create a space where it’s ok for audiences not to know what the dance means; to give audiences permission to surrender to ambiguity; to trust themselves even when there are no narrative signposts.”

So, the next time someone asks you who your favorite author is, take a moment to think differently about the question. Maybe your favorite author is from the literary field—an essayist, a novelist, a poet. But maybe they are from a different discipline— a playwright, a screenwriter, a sculptor or maybe a choreographer.


Hope Mohr Dance’s 8th Sprin Season: Stay and The Material of Attention, May 28-30, ODC Theater, SF 

44 Gough St, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA 94103
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