SPEAK: SUNSET DANCES and Being Grateful

By Lizz Roman

September 1, 2019, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Dancer stands on a window sill and arches backwards to touch the window frame

Photo by Daniller Photography

Making dance has always been a mixture of disciplined artistry and gratefulness. As in any practice or skill, there are levels or stages we move through; student, performer, teacher, choreographer, mentor, producer, administrator, but no two of us have the same career. Dance as a career is a big commitment. It costs money to train and to keep our skills sharp, we need to train. To make the money to train or practice, we gotta work and if you don’t have a paying dance job, you have to figure out how to work and dance. A dance career can be as rewarding and beautiful as it is frustrating. In essence, we need to dance, so we need other people who need to create, teach or practice dance who need us to dance for or with them. So with every class, performance, or rehearsal I try and practice gratefulness. What I am most grateful for, is all of you who are on a similar journey and how we collectively make up this thing we call the “dance community.”

I primarily make site dances. The dance is the sum of the journey we take through a site, creating a visual history of our physical journey through that space that becomes a dance. It is driven mainly by the architecture of the space. I am working with a small community of dancers, musicians, a filmmaker and lighting artist on a collaborative project SUNSET DANCES II. The first installation of SUNSET DANCES, Architectural Meditations, was performed in 2017. This September, the second installation, like the first will take place in my home. When I first decided to create a dance for my home, I wasn’t sure I’d find anyone to work with me. The dreaded Sunset district of the city, where sad people wander through the fog. For me, the Sunset/Ocean Beach neighborhood in San Francisco is beautiful. I am grateful to live so close to the ocean. The Sunset has a microclimate all its own, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. In the course of one three hour rehearsal, dancers would go from sunglasses and sunscreen to wearing coats and hats. So, I am most grateful to the artists who made that trek out to my place for every rehearsal. Thank you.

Seen from the top of the stairs, there is one dancer supporting another at the bottom of stairs
Photo by Daniller Photography

As we begin the final rehearsals, I am daily reminded of how much I love collaborating with other artists. Without them, I have no art. If I forget this, which I might in a stressful moment, I am guided back by witnessing what we have created. If my confidence wanes, I remind myself that I’m leading a creative community of artists. I’ve only had five opportunities to work the same site twice in my 25 years of making site specific dances. I really enjoy the challenge of seeing the site with fresh eyes so it helps to think of Lizz Roman & Dancers as a pick up company, so I don’t hold on too tight to my collaborators. Artists have lives outside your project, so it’s just more practical to recognize this. To be honest, it’s just how it is, so I try to practice being grateful when I get to work with new collaborators. I’ve learned to embrace the change that comes with each project. SUNSET DANCES II is full of repeat collaborators and includes past collaborators coming back in new ways as well as first-time collaborators. For this, I am super grateful. It’s the beginning of something, the adjustment you make to work with new people, requires seeing what everyone brings to the table, as a new opportunity to explore your site.

In this new site-dance, I welcome back my son Jerome, a musician who has worked with two of my main music collaborators; WATERSAW (2012-2018) and Alex Kelly and Clyde Sheets (2004-2010). Thanks for all the beautiful, inspiring music you created for my dances. For SUNSET DANCES II, Jerome is leading a band composed of new collaborators, Malcolm Lee (percussion) and Tamsin Black (vocals). The joy of creating art with my son is pretty special. He really loved SUNSET DANCES I, so he was excited to join the project and has brought an entirely different sound. His band mate Malcolm brings a joyful energy and beautiful drumming that’s extremely infectious. Tamsin is the daughter of a favorite collaborator, Chris Black. Chris’s current bio on my website is short and sweet, which says she’s been dancing for me for 25 years. She has, and I am grateful to her for taking this journey with me. And then there’s always a little bit of sadness with each project as it’s often the last time I will work with some of my collaborators. This time around I am saying goodbye to an artist who opened up my work with an entirely new skill set and a kick ass attitude. Sonya Smith, I just love you. Sonya is leaving the Bay Area to run her own Circus School in Ashland, Oregon. What an incredibly generous artist/individual you are. Thank you. As for the rest of my dancer/collaborators, Jaime Nakama, Gizeh Muniz, Colin Epstein, Jenny McAllister, Becky Leviton-Robinson, and Clarissa Ko. Thank you for making art with me.

Then there’s filmmaker Pete Litwinowicz, who when I asked him to join me for SUNSET DANCES I, wasn’t sure he could make a film for my dance. Relieved, I replied, “Whew, that’s good, as I actually want you to make a film that is part of my dance”. That’s where our journey began and this time around, we’re enjoying the collaboration on a whole new level. And there’s Clyde Sheets, one of those collaborators who is an accomplished artist himself, lighting designer, musician and all around, knows a lot about it, artist. In 2012 Clyde left the Bay Area to return to his home state Michigan. He has landed well, currently gracing Interlochen Arts Academy with his greatness. Clyde comes back to the Bay Area for a handful of local artists who like me, love the mix of skills and confidence he brings to each project. So once again, he will come back and light my dance.

Finally, thanks to Jerry, my partner for the past 32 years. As I finish this dance, I am grateful to you for every building you’ve cleaned and organized, every prop/structure and bench you’ve built, every tree and shrub you’ve cut back, every show you’ve ushered and for everything else you do that I did not mention.

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of In Dance.

Lizz Roman and her company have been making dances in San Francisco and the Bay Area since 1995. LR&D are best known for their trademark expansive dances that spring, roll and fly through buildings, resulting in IZZIE awards for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography in 2018 for SUNSET DANCES (2017), in 2013 for DEEPER Architectural Meditation at CounterPULSE (2012) and Izzie nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Performance-Company for SUNSET DANCES (2017) and CELLGROUND (2005). The company has developed innovative site-specific techniques to work in unique and commonplace locations with a variety of multi-media collaborators and scenic elements. In 1998, Roman and filmmaker Kevin Cunningham received the SF WEEKLY Black Box Award for Cross Genre Performance for IN HER DREAMS. In 2013, Roman was commissioned by Trolley Dances SF and performed FIFTY FIVE SIX as part of their 10 year anniversary season.