Artists Responding to The Challenges of Our Times: ODC/Dance Downtown Program Notes | By Marie Tollon

In The New York Times essay “Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times” (November 2014), film critic A.O. Scott voiced his distress at the growing divide between the world’s turbulent affairs and the more placid topics that artists are instead choosing to focus on. To discuss artists’ social responsibility, Scott gathered a panel of individuals that mostly reflected his area of expertise and comprised filmmakers, singers and playwrights. Notably absent from the conversation were choreographers and visual artists.

ODC/Dance in Brenda Way's "The Invention of Wings" Photo by RJ Muna

ODC/Dance in Brenda Way’s
“The Invention of Wings”
Photo by RJ Muna

This evening’s program partly fills the gap and provides us with the opportunity to appreciate how the work of choreographers KT Nelson and Brenda Way, along with their visual arts collaborators, continues to respond to the social and political issues that Scott finds imperative for the arts to address. Inspired by Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei’s artistic agenda, The Invention of Wings reminds us that freedom of expression continues to be challenged around the world, as evidenced by this year’s terrorist attacks on the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. Dead Reckoning, with its strident physicality invokes the careless impact of humans on the natural world just on the heels of NASA global statistics showing that 2014 was the hottest year on record.

With nature both the context and subject for his work, photographer and sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral site-specific installations, which inspired boulders and bones last season, also questions the relationship between humans and their environment. When Goldsworthy goes into nature, he seeks to become part of the landscape. He asks: “What is human intervention? What is tolerable?”

With an urgency that seeps through their carefully crafted kinetic language, the dancers embody these questions and invite us to reflect on the values that shape our lives.

ODC/Dance Downtown at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater through Sunday, March 22, 2015. For tickets, click here.

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