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

In a recent review of this year’s Venice Biennale, the art critic Roberta Smith stated: “The world is a mass of intractable ills on which art must shed light.” In the Bay Area, many artists are doing just that, highlighting the impending questions and struggles of displacement, relocation and isolation which have become increasingly dire due to the loss of affordable housing. This year’s edition of the Walking Distance Dance Festival offers a window into these concerns. Some explore the potential impact of a home on their artistic identity, while others question how relationships are forged within a given environment.

Namita Kapoor's  "Hindu Swing" Photo by Gundi Vigfusson

Namita Kapoor’s
“Hindu Swing”
Photo by Gundi Vigfusson

In Namita Kapoor’s own words, Hindu Swing represents a “homecoming.” As she explores the life and work of Jack Cole, she discovers the intricate relationship between jazz and Indian classical dance, tracing a direct line back to her cultural roots. Also evoking lineage, Jess Curtis/Gravity addresses the impact of art spaces on generations of artists. At the same time, he considers how technology is profoundly affecting the creation of and our relationship to art. Recalling people, experiences and spaces, The Dance That Documents Itself insists on the symbiotic relationship between space and work, especially as it relates to dance as an ephemeral art form in which the body is its own archive.

The body is not only an archive but a collection in the making. Pupil Suite by Andrea Miller [Gallim Dance] is a voracious exploration of movement, both reminiscent of the Gaga vocabulary that characterized her home base at Batsheva and a bold departure from those roots. With Double Exposure, RAWdance duo Ryan Smith and Wendy Rein temporarily step out of their role as choreographers to visit the many facets of their relationship through other choreographic perspectives.

Gallim Dance in "Pupil Suite" Photo by Hilary Johnson

Gallim Dance in
“Pupil Suite”
Photo by Hilary Johnson

KT Nelson’s Transit takes a look at a day in the life of urban dwellers and the kinds of relationships that stem from sharing a common space. For his part, Gerald Casel examines conceptual and formal disorientation. Based on a creative process that favors chance procedures and improvisation, Dwelling forces the performers out of their comfort zone, obliging them to navigate an unknown personal and physical space. Disorientation can lead to isolation- as in Amy Seiwert’s Static- and our inability to find a way back into community.

Together, these artworks convey poignant images of San Francisco and the people and experience of living in these times.

The Walking Distance Dance Festival-SF takes place at the ODC Campus on June 5 and 6, 2015. For tickets, click here.

Creating (a) Dwelling | By Marie Tollon

In her 1977 essay On Photography, American writer Susan Sontag evokes the relationship between photography and the experience of the unknown. Referring to the disorientation that is often generated by traveling, she explains that taking photographs gives the traveler a sense of control over an unfamiliar context: “The very activity of taking pictures is soothing and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel.”

GERALDCASELDANCE  in "Dwelling" Photo by Julie Wolterstorff

in “Dwelling”
Photo by Julie Wolterstorff

Bay Area choreographer Gerald Casel knows a thing or two about disorientation. At some point in his life, he lived in 5 cities in 5 years and recalls the uncertainty and identity questions that arose from making a home in a new environment. Yet, he didn’t resort to photography as a way to create meaning out of his sense of dislocation. He instead used his medium, choreography, and created Dwelling, a piece that explores disorientation both conceptually and formally. Performed to live music by avant-garde composer Tim Russell, the dance stems from Casel’s desire to tell “his experience in a way that other bodies could also experience, through disorientation.” Originally premiered in 2012, the piece will be presented at the Walking Distance Dance Festival this weekend.

Dwelling represents a departure from Casel’s earlier creative process, as he did not start creating material from his body as he usually does, but instead used random movement generators such as word games, improvisation, word and number generators to push the dancers out of their comfort zone and engage them with a series of tasks that disorient the body and mind in space. “It doesn’t make any sense but that’s often how you feel when you are traveling a lot. Nothing makes sense. My collaborators -the dancers- are also in a position where they don’t rely on their strengths, so they have to follow this formula of creating movement to create this idea of disorientation and dislocation,” Casel explained.

The process fosters inquiries into methods of composition and collaboration in performance. “When you are improvising, you rely on your gut and instinct. But when you have material that you have to learn, that creates a force and adds another layer… What is the role of the dancer? What is their sense of agency in the work? It’s not just about me but also about the people in the room, and by extension the people who are watching.”

Photo by Julie Wolterstorff

Photo by Julie Wolterstorff

Another way Dwelling departs from former pieces by Casel is that it includes text. “I think of them as choreographic objects,” Casel explains. “Words and language propose different sets of meaning than seeing dance. So I use them in different ways. The first way is to describe what is happening on stage. The second is to read from [Martin] Heidegger’s text [Building, Dwelling, Thinking]. It’s creating this background around which the events are unfolding. The third is [for the dancers] to speak about how they are feeling in this moment.”

As the performers share through words and movements the disorientation imposed by the choreographic structure of Dwelling, we are encouraged to recall our own experiences of dislocation and what tools and mechanisms we engage to navigate them.

Dwelling will be presented along selections of Jess Curtis/Gravity’s The Dance That Documents Itself on Saturday, June 6, at 8pm. For tickets, click here.

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