The festival context for performance serves as a pressure cooker containing the flavors of several artists concentrated in time and space to offer intersections, associations and juxtapositions, which would otherwise be diffused if the works were to be experienced separately. Therefore, WDDF-SF mixes a stew of individual dances that altogether result in a certain flavor, specifically one of reclamation as it relates to the contemporary consciousness.
WDDF is largely Western, and appropriately so, occurring at the biggest dance campus on the West Coast, ODC. Five of the seven works are created and performed by California-based companies, making WDDF a distinctly investigative Left Coast voice of dance. In addition to the California-based groups in the festival, New York-based Kate Weare possesses Oakland roots and collaborated in 2013 with Brenda Way and KT Nelson on ODC Dance’s Triangulating Euclid. Through this collaboration and presence in WDDF Weare returns to a dance community, which shaped her development as an artist.
Another return to environment emerges in Scott Wells’ Parkour Deux. The work implements elements of parkour, a highly physical and acrobatic practice usually performed in urban landscapes as a means to reclaim what it means to be a human being. Parkour “Teaches us to touch the world and interact with it, instead of being sheltered by it” (Parkour North America). How relevant to experience a physical reclamation of urban space through parkour in performance at a time when the Occupy movement and urban playground live games (such as those in San Francisco’s week-long Come Out and Play festival) call upon citizens to reclaim the “third place” – that space which exists between home and work; the public sphere and civic realm, usually diminished to commuting, shopping and having a coffee.
In addition to reclaiming environment, emphasis on human connection urgently rises from the heart of this festival, demonstrated by the many duets in WDDF. The relationships of live bodies, including casebolt and smith, Rachael Lincoln and Leslie Seiter and the partnering sequences of KT Nelson’s Cut-Out Guy and Weare’s Drop Down, express the potency of connection, and the relief of communication. Live human exchanges – to be seen and heard by another – gain power and meaning in a world tinged with the sort of global loneliness resulting from increasingly digital lives.
Reclaiming voice, the festival contains a vein of self-reflexivity, moments in the performance when the performer can refer to him/herself from inside and provide commentary on the work. Lincoln/Seiter’s People Like Us and casebolt and smith in O(h), both employ the self-reflexive, speaking directly to the audience and address meaning making and the content of the dance from inside the performance. To hear a performer think out loud onstage offers a node of connection to deepen the relationship between the performer and the audience. It’s a direct address. The use of performance as critique, appearing in WDDF and beyond with the current work of contemporary performance artists such as Jack Ferver and Jeanine Durning, speaks to the human desire to make meaning.
Finally the reclamation of identity links the WDDF works of Nelson, Brian Brooks, Nicole Klaymoon and Lincoln/Seiters. The range of normative to performative identities, represented in these dances, indicate the vast choice we possess in how we explore, choose and reveal often hybrid and complex identities. Klaymoon’s House of Matter employs spoken word, individual dance sequences in a cypher-like area and solos that conjure vogueing (a stylized performance of identity that evolved out of the in the 1980s). Cut-Out Guy explores the nuanced physicality of fierceness and fragility among an all-male cast, while Lincoln and Seiters address motherhood and femininity through text, gesture and props. Brooks mediates identity in I’m Going to Explode, ultimately reclaiming his image as a conforming professional businessman in a suit. Each in their own way, the works raise awareness of our constructed and expressed identities.
Taken together, the works of the WDDF, curated by ODC Theater Director Christy Bolingbroke, provide a rich architecture to revisit our environment, relationships, expression and identity. Bolingbroke correlates the thread of reclamation with “The value in live performance to remind us of our humanity. If artists creating work is about investigating these times in which we live, these artists are trying to get back in touch with something. Back in touch, for example, with a son’s teenage wrestling years and the innocence, support and potential wrapped up in that time. Revisiting and fully realizing a moment isn’t necessarily unique to these artists or this festival, but this festival is an example of why live performance reminds us what it is to be human, have presence and emerge from the daily grind.”