Going the Distance: Walking Distance Dance Festival-SF Program Notes | By Marie Tollon

The festival format provides a unique opportunity to travel the many paths that have been thoughtfully carved out by each of the participating artists. But what kind of distance(s) are we asked to go here? There is the physical distance between the two buildings in which the festival happens, allowing us an intake of fresh air and a casual chat with fellow viewers as we cross the street to attend the second part of the program. There is the space between two artists whose work is featured on the same bill, and the fertile dialogue it creates. And what about the gap between the familiar and the unknown that the artists, each in their own way, are encouraging us to consider?

Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc. in "Hapless Bizarre" Photo by Christopher Duggan

Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc.
in “Hapless Bizarre”
Photo by Christopher Duggan

WDDF-SF also bridges the distance between East and West Coasts, by inscribing the voices of seven choreographers – six of which are based on the West Coast- within the larger artistic conversation. The latter has been recently fueled by the question of cultural appropriation, which manifests in the work of several artists of this edition, echoing Philadelphia’s Remix Festival, which addressed current intellectual property laws and the art of sampling via choreography earlier this month.

Choreographers Lionel Popkin (Los Angeles), Amy O’Neal (Seattle), Doug Elkins (New York) and performance entity Headmistress (Bay Area) each insert their own lens on this issue. In Ruth Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Popkin inquires whether dance artist Ruth St Denis’ orientalism was an act of cultural appropriation or a legitimate examination of the sources of dance. O’Neal explores the relationship between sampling and creativity by collaging different styles of dance in The Most Innovative, Daring, and Original Piece of Dance/Performance You Will See this Decade. With his Bay Area debut in Hapless Bizarre, Elkins tackles the issue of appropriation by sourcing French director Jacques Demy’s 1964 musical film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Similar to O’Neal, Elkins mingles many genres of dance, providing what he calls a “collision of languages” in a piece that navigates the boundaries between physical comedy and dance. Headmistress draws from observing and absorbing the work of artists in Brazil, Senegal and France to investigate cultural cross-pollination in its two solos.

Rachna Nivas Photo by Margo Moritz

Rachna Nivas
Photo by Margo Moritz

A look at how identity is constructed and represented also permeates the work of several artists of this edition. Of both Indian and Jewish descent, Popkin examines his cultural lineage by questioning the accurateness of the South Asian imagery that populates his dances. Headmistress researches how context informs identity while O’Neal challenges the performative representations of gender, race and sexuality.

Featuring works accompanied by live musicians, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre (Los Angeles), Rachna Nivas of Chitresh Das Dance Company (Bay Area) and Garrett + Moulton Productions (Bay Area) emphasize the relationship between movement and music. Set in a bowling alley, Duckler’s Bowling Blues reflects on how art re-contextualizes our experience of space and vice versa. The two Bay Area choreographers highlight the mesmerizing expressivity of the body: Garrett and Moulton’s A Show of Hands exposes the manifold stories hands can enact, while in Nivas’s Bhakti, eyebrows, fingers and arms communicate the intricacies of the life of the mystic princess Meerabai, who defied the role assigned to her by the patriarchal Indian society of the 16th century.

With its three programs, the festival contributes to building a variety of poetic landscapes. Whether we journey through one or through all of them, we can track how the creative paths delineated by the artists crisscross, join or diverge from one another.

So let’s put on our walking shoes and go the distance(s).

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