Stirring the Practice | By Marie Tollon

Poised to unravel, dancer Brandon Private Freeman, dashes forth, head first, and pushes his entire body weight into dancer James Gilmer. Towering a foot taller, with a long body and sphinxlike poise, Gilmer receives and redirects Freeman’s electric charge with the contained calm that a tai chi master might use to divert an assault. Freeman leans into Gilmer and collapses onto his side, only to be brought up and held by the taller performer. Are they a father and a son, the latter rebelling against his parent? Two sides of a same man, boyhood and manhood, exposed? Their striking duet, so precisely crafted that it recalls a defined sculpture whose edges have been softened by time, was part of a preview of Sketch 5: Stirred presented at the Joe Goode Annex two weeks ago.

Rachel Furst in  Amy Seiwert's Imagery Photo by David DeSilva

Rachel Furst in
Amy Seiwert’s Imagery
Photo by David DeSilva

Each summer, the Sketch series, created and curated by Bay Area choreographer Amy Seiwert since 2011, offers artists the challenge to step out of their comfort zone and explore new choreographic avenues in contemporary ballet. During the past two iterations of Sketch, Seiwert and the participating choreographers investigated their relationship to limitations (Sketch 3: Expectations) and to music structures (Sketch 4: Music Mirror). This year, Sketch 5: Stirred is about collaboration within the creative process. For this edition, Seiwert and ODC Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson are editing each other’s work and interrupting each other’s process, to co-create Starting Over at the End, which will be presented at ODC Theater next week, along with Seiwert’s Traveling Alone (2012) and the premiere of Back To.

Seiwert and Nelson’s idea of collaborating arose while they presented work at the Walla Walla Dance Festival last summer. In lieu of lecture demonstration, Nelson proposed they create a piece together while in front of the audience. “I was terrified at first,” Seiwert recalled during the work-in-progress showing at the Joe Goode Annex. “We went into the studio, took some material each of us were working on, spent an hour working together and had some lovely moments.” Back in San Francisco, and some months later, they decided to do it again, this time “more seriously.”

Although Seiwert has collaborated with many artists before, including composers and software artists, she had yet to make a piece with another choreographer. On the contrary, Nelson has been involved in several collaborations with other choreographers in the recent years, including New York-based choreographer Kate Weare and ODC Artistic Director/Founder Brenda Way in 2013 for Triangulating Euclid, and again with Way for the evening-length piece boulders and bones in 2014.

James Gilmer and Sarah Griffin  Photo by David DeSilva

James Gilmer and Sarah Griffin
Photo by David DeSilva

Along with stylistic and aesthetic differences, Nelson and Seiwert approach the creative process and the autonomy of dancers differently. Seiwert usually starts her process with music, which in turn plays a role in generating the material and potential direction of the work. Alternatively, Nelson wants her dancers “to experience the physicality of the movements without being influenced by the music. I want dance to have an equal voice, and not the music to be the driver,” so she often asks the dancer to research movements in silence.

“We began the collaborative process with each choreographer generating a gestural phrase with the upper body. Those gestures were manipulated individually by the dancers, then edited and composed by both choreographers together and separately. The dancers acquired each other’s manipulations, combined into partnered and group interactions, and only then applied musicality,” writes dancer Sarah Griffin about the process.

During the showing, Seiwert iterated that it takes committed dancers to perform in Sketch. They need to be open to experimentation, and in this case, able to navigate two artistic voices and at times conflicting directions. Throughout the talk, Seiwert and Nelson shared how schizophrenic the process could feel for dancers, especially when the choreographers “would see a problem and each try to fix it.” Nelson mentioned going to Griffin at one point and asking her to change one section. Puzzled, Griffin turned to Nelson and said: “Amy just asked me to change it this way.” In this short video, Freeman explains that working with two choreographers on a piece is alike “the mom and dad thing, when mom says one thing and dad says another,” but “working with two of my favorite choreographers at the same time is pretty dreamy.”

Brandon Freeman and Rachel Furst Photo by David DeSilva

Brandon Freeman and Rachel Furst
Photo by David DeSilva

Seiwert’s biggest hope for this collaboration was “to be influenced in some ways.” “KT made me rethink a lot of musical and port de bras choices,” explained Seiwert. Nelson had always wanted to work with pointe shoes, and by working with Seiwert, she also discovered to work with “nuances and let your imagination be in that one point.”

For Seiwert, Sketch 5 is an exploration of the fine line between having one’s creative habits challenged, yet retaining one’s artistic voice. Giving up a part of one’s autonomy within collaboration “can be alienating and disorienting but if you are open to being lost, it can be exciting,” Seiwert stated. The work shown at the Joe Goode Annex demonstrated that both choreographers are succeeding in making choices that integrate both of their visions in a graceful and powerful way. As Nelson shared, “I think the piece does have both Amy and KT in it, as opposed to some composite. We are still both there.”

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Going Solo: A Conversation with Miki Orihara | By Marie Tollon

After performing for many years, dancers likely retire from the stage, explore their choreographic voice, go on teaching or change careers altogether. Yet, as the traditional model of the single-choreographer-run dance company is dwindling, dancers are taking new performing paths upon their retirement, thereby subverting the traditional invisibility of the aging dancing body and prompting dance writer Wendy Perron’s latest blog post Aging Dancers: An Alternate Vision. This trend was clearly demonstrated when Wendy Whelan retired in her late forties from the New York City Ballet last fall, after dancing for the company for thirty years. Rather than stepping out of the spotlight, she commissioned four contemporary dance duets for her project Restless Creature, which she has been touring since last year. Similarly, after dancing with the Martha Graham Dance Company for nearly 30 years, principal dancer Miki Orihara recently started her own project, an evening of solos entitled Resonance. Premiered at La MaMa in New York in 2014, it was presented at the Theatre of Yugen in San Francisco last month.

Miki Orihara in "Resonance" Photo by Kenji Mori

Miki Orihara
in “Resonance”
Photo by Kenji Mori

The program featured Orihara’s breathtaking versatility. She easily morphed from the mischievous character of Martha Graham’s Satyric Festival Song (1932), to the sorrowful aging ballerina of Martha Clarke’s Nocturne (1978). The program also included Maenad from Jose Limon’s Dance for Isadora (1971), Prologue, a piece that Orihara choreographed for this program and New York-based choreographer Adam Barruch’s Memory Current (2014). With a program that spans over 83 years of choreographic landscape, Orihara intends to show the continuity and lineage between modern and contemporary dance, as she explained in her program notes.

Originally from Japan, Orihara came to the United States to pursue her dance studies. She joined the Martha Graham Ensemble in 1983, and the company a few years later. She was promoted to principal dancer and performed many roles of the Graham repertory. Orihara and I sat down to talk about her evening of solos while she was in San Francisco.

Marie Tollon: You perform these five solos in chronological order but initially you had the order reversed. Can you tell us how you decided on this specific order?

Miki Orihara: My concept is that you learn new things by learning old [ones]. So I wanted to do from new [work] to old [work], instead of old to new. But it didn’t work. I tried different orders, but it didn’t work, mainly because of my energy level. The hardest piece within the five solos is the Limon’s piece. The placement of standing is completely different in each dance. Martha [Graham]’s is very much on your heels. Limon’s is a bit forward, and Martha Clarke’s is all forward, but at the same time the weight is under here [she demonstrates under her hips]. I had a great time discovering all these subtleties.

Also it was appropriate that I started from Martha [Graham]’s work because I was showing my training and background. I am from Japan and studied modern dance in Japan. My teacher was one of five pioneers of Japanese modern dance. When I came to New York, I studied at the Alvin Ailey School, I studied Limon technique, then I got to the Graham school and it made sense to me. La MaMa [Theater in New York] said to me: “Why don’t you show who you are now, so this performance shows the process of becoming who you are.” So I wanted to do Martha [Graham’s work]’’. I used to take class at Limon. I wanted to do a piece by somebody new, and chose Adam [Barruch]. I danced Martha Clarke’s piece about 7 years ago and I really like it so I asked her if I could perform her solo during this program. I wanted to cover the whole essence of dance.

One beautiful thing about this particular program is that I got to work with the artists. I worked with Carla Maxwell, who is the Artistic Director of the Limon Dance Company. She was the original dancer for that particular section. I also went to Martha Clarke’s apartment and we worked together on the solo. I knew Adam [Barruch] from [The] Juilliard [School]. I saw his first composition showcase and he made a parody of Deborah Zall, who was his teacher at La Guardia High School. That was very impressive and I never forgot it. So I asked him to choreograph on me.

Miki Orihara in Martha Graham's "Satyric Festival Song" Photo by John Deane

Miki Orihara in
Martha Graham’s
“Satyric Festival Song”
Photo by John Deane

MT: You mentioned that throughout this project, performing older pieces helped you understand contemporary works better and vice versa. Can you talk more about that?

MO: In Japan we have a word that means “learning new by learning old” because there is so much knowledge in the old. It’s the same for everything, not just dancing. You are not learning anything new. If you study Shakespeare, you learn so much about theater, or lighting, or relationships. So that was the whole idea.

MT: How did your knowledge of Martha Graham’s work inform working with Adam Barruch for example?

MO: You don’t really see it but Martha Graham’s technique is in his piece so much. Adam has a Graham and Limon [technique] background so it worked perfectly for this program. There were a couple things that I couldn’t do in the beginning because I was just imitating. Adam does a lot of arm gestures. But he has long arms, long legs, it really shows well on him. I want to move like that, but I don’t have a body like that so what can I do? I asked him how to do something and after he explained, I understood the movement really came from the center.

MT: How does performing contemporary work help you revisit Martha Graham’s work?

MO: You learn exercises in the Martha Graham technique that you don’t see in the work on stage. Without that kind of training, it’s hard to move that way. All you do on stage is a variation of what you learned in class. When I go see a performance, I’m often impressed by how much dancers move. If I [was to ] do this, I [would] die! Often times, I don’t understand where the movements come from. If I work closely with the choreographer, I understand where they come from. I like that aspect of digging. Some choreographers are purely interested in forms, shapes, and the movements have nothing to do with the internal. As a dancer, you must have feeling when you are dancing that particular movement because you are a human being. If you don’t, you are not dancing. Many dancers don’t even feel anything. They are just told to lift their legs.

Miki Orihara in Martha Clarke's "Nocturne" Photo by Juan Vargas

Miki Orihara in
Martha Clarke’s “Nocturne”
Photo by Juan Vargas

MT: It is a hard program to perform, as each piece is a very strong individual solo. How do you manage the transition from one character to another?

MO: It was an issue at the beginning, but it is not so much anymore. I feel like those five different persons are part of me. I have the mischievous of the Satyric Festival Song character and I have the crazy maenad in me. Martha Clarke’s piece is about aging. In the dance career, I am very old as a dancer. I’m now facing my dance career. Translating it into the dance is actually very hard. I love the acting part of it. I am facing the age so I don’t need to lie.

MT: In Prologue, there is a long sequence of holding, with your fists and feet retracted. You support the entire space with that moment.

MO: That’s also my background of Japanese dance. In Noh theater, you don’t move so much but you contain so much. Martha [Graham] always talked about how the hardest thing is to be still. I wasn’t still, I was moving very slowly, but there was so much tension.

MT: Throughout your career as a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, you have performed on large proscenium stages. For this project, you are performing in smaller, more intimate spaces. How does it change the experience for you?

MO: Even though I have been dancing Satyric Festival Song in big theaters, how you project is different. I am not saying that the amount of energy is different but I can contain and bring it to me rather than going out with it. On the big stage, you have to go out. There are two kinds of dancers: the one who is physically out there, the other one who bring people in. And as a dancer, you want to be the second kind.

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

GERALDCASELDANCE
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.

Dancer, Healer, Shape-shifter: Sara Shelton Mann in Keith Hennessy’s Sara (the smuggler) | By Marie Tollon

A large aqua green drape splits the stage at a diagonal, from floor to ceiling. Its color is reminiscent of seas and skies, worlds to travel through. There’s a wooden kitchen table, and the dark Marley floor licks up the sidewall upstage right, creating a black board 7 feet high above the floor. The stage calls to mind an attic, hastily divided by a homemade curtain, veiling potential stories and objects, meant to be revealed or left in a state of permanent and secretive abandonment. Since so much of Keith Hennessy’s Sara (the smuggler) is about history, memory and disclosure, its setting is perfectly adequate.

Sara Shelton Mann in "Sara (the smuggler)" Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Sara Shelton Mann in
“Sara (the smuggler)”
Photo by Robbie Sweeny

In anticipation of the last of the three sold-out performance evenings, a sense of urgency and excitement can be traced through the audience. In the intimate setting, friends hug and talk, latecomers squeeze against others and find a seat on the floor. The room at CounterPulse is packed to the hilt.

Sara Shelton Mann appears with a cutting presence, wearing casual black slacks, white jogging sneakers, her head and face shrouded by a golden headscarf that runs to her mid torso. She walks to the black board, white chalk in hand, and furiously scrawls notes, phrases and symbols. The hand and wrist movements are quick, frenzied, as if dictated by some external power source that she has tapped into.

Hennessy had mentioned including solos from Contraband’s repertoire in Sara (the smuggler). Since I didn’t see the company perform in the 80s and 90s and only know brief excerpts of the work from video, I can’t tell which moments are revisited from older works. Yet many sections of the evening-long work, such as the opening, convey the feeling of the world Contraband is known for having created: mystical, performative, inclusive.

Whether Shelton Mann is revisiting this first scene from a previous performance or not, the beginning of the piece can be read as a metaphor for choreography, the writing of bodies in space. It also announces the first question the performer addresses with the audience: “What is choreography?” She goes on to propose some answers, still in the form of questions: “Is it going from point A to point B with intention, tension and desire?” In retrospect, the initial question seems to linger as the backbone of the piece, like something left in an attic: hidden, yet pervasive. It is a reminder that artists, like philosophers, can spend a life digging deeper to answer a single question, each time bringing new layers of their art form to light.

Sara Shelton Mann Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Sara Shelton Mann
Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Since the board on which Shelton Mann is writing is on the sidewall, it is hard to decipher what she is writing or drawing. In this culture of “full disclosure,” where so much unedited information is shared and flung in your face, it is a relief for an image to be allowed to incubate in its mystery. Sara (the smuggler) artfully contrasts such scenes with moments of full transparency, both in form and content. Hennessy makes several appearances on stage, to ask Shelton Mann a question, or add a prop for her to use. Discrete, his interventions are moving, as the trust and friendship between the two artists are apparent. Later on, the drape is brought down, revealing composer Norman Rutherford in the background. Shelton Mann also shares intimate, and traumatic, personal stories of growing up in the South, of her life in New York in the sixties and her journey to the Bay Area. She also announces her performance fee ($3,000), thereby exposing the financial transactions that are involved in the making of performances, information about which viewers are rarely informed. Shelton Mann reveals that this money will help pay for a hip injection. “Keith cried,” is all she says following the disclosure of her fee, and the silence that follows that statement is heavy. Here she also reveals the socio-economical realities of the dancer’s life: it is hard to make a living dancing, health insurance is rarely included in a dancer’s contract, and the dancer, whose body is prone to injuries, learns to live with pain, waiting for the next chunk of income to address health issues.

Sara (the smuggler) is an ode to Shelton Mann, her curiosity, her formidable strength and her irreverent spirit, in the many forms it manifests. There’s Sara, the wild child, whose appetite for life gets her in trouble in the stern, conservative family that adopted her after she lost her parents at a young age. There’s Sara the dancer, who recalls the support of her first dance teacher that went far beyond the dance studio; there’s Sara the choreographer, who shares her dreams and desires when founding Contraband. There’s Sara the teacher, who invites audience members to get up, move around, lift their arms, thereby leading a momentary class. There’s Sara the healer who gives a ‘clearing’ to a volunteer who has his right foot in a cast. Hands fluttering like birds on his arms and legs, she ‘removes knots’ from his body with loud exhalations and sounds, interrupting her talk to mention the left leg: “This one is doing all the work! I know how that feels.” The volunteer has a huge smile on his face. Sara the possessed: lying down and humming, muttering feverishly, occasionally springing upright to spit off to her side, before returning to her prone position with her spine undulating while her wrists perform a dance of the wild. Like a tapestry composed of pieces masterfully sewn together, Sara (the smuggler) succeeds in exposing the many facets of Shelton Mann’s identity in a seamless way.

Sara Shelton Mann Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Sara Shelton Mann
Photo by Robbie Sweeny

At the outset of this tour de force, Shelton Mann breaks the wooden table in half with a hatchet, momentarily channeling Indian Goddess Shiva, the destroyer and transformer. What does she –and Hennessy- manage to destroy and transform through this work? Maybe unintentionally on the part of its maker, the piece succeeds in undermining common beliefs that still pervade the dance/performance world: that the young and athletic body is the only one adept enough to perform or be looked at; that the spiritual has no place on stage; that choreography needs to be “dance-y.”

With flawless transitions, Hennessy also succeeds in transforming a talking solo into a work that transcends its subject: Shelton Mann’s personal memories offer a window into larger pieces of American history, such as vivid images of a South devoured by racial tensions and gripped by the looming presence of the Ku Klux Klan. The piece also provides material for gender and socio-economical studies: Shelton Mann’s upbringing story exemplifies what was generally expected of women in poor, religious communities in the fifties. It also conveys a moment of dance history: the making of work with Alwin Nikolais in New York, the dreams underlying the founding of Contraband, its influence on the Bay Area’s artistic landscape.

At one moment during the show, as Shelton is reflecting on Contraband’s work, she mentions realizing then that “she was creating something much bigger than [herself].” With Sara (the smuggler), Hennessy and Shelton Mann accomplish that: they create a powerful and moving piece, one that resonates beyond genres, traditions and autobiography.

 

 

 

 

Sharing the Legacy of a Dance Collection | By Marie Tollon

340 Bryant Street Studios, TwinSpace, The Goodman Building are just a few of the names to add to the running list of art spaces that have been forced to close in the past few years in the Bay Area. Sadly, it keeps lengthening, as each week seems to bring the news of another organization that has lost its lease. Naming these places fails to capture their liveliness, their contribution to the larger cultural fabric of the Bay Area, nor the individual and collective trajectories of the artists who made them thrive. With San Francisco’s “hyper-gentrification” and the closure of so many art spaces, how many stories are being aborted? How much is the cultural wealth of the city being stifled by voracious and massive financial transactions?

Photographs displayed on the wall at 66 Sanchez Photo by Priscilla Murray

Photographs displayed on the wall
at 66 Sanchez
Photo by Priscilla Murray

In most cases, the stories behind those arts organizations live solely through memory and the artists’ body, as Jess Curtis’s The Dance That Documents Itself demonstrated last fall at CounterPulse, and which selections will be presented at Walking Distance in June. But how else can we experience those stories and the memories that have survived?

In rare cases, objects are left behind, becoming the sole relics of moments in time that constitute the history of a place and are part of a community’s collective heritage. Such is the case with the 66 Sanchez Collection, partly on view in the lobby of ODC Theater until May 12. The collection belonged to the owner of 66 Sanchez, Gerald Arpino, co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet and its Artistic Director from 1988 to 2007. It includes posters, photographs, prints, books, sculptures, records, playbills, letters and personal effects that belonged to Arpino and his long-time partner and choreographic assistant James Howell.

Known as “Mr. A,” he bought the property at 64/66 Sanchez Street in the mid-1970s, soon after Howell left the Joffrey Ballet and moved to San Francisco to study physical therapy. Also a musical assistant and photographer, Howell taught class in the studio built at 66 Sanchez. After Howell’s death from AIDS complications in 1982, 66 Sanchez housed dancers and artists who kept the space alive, while Mr. A lived in his main residence in Chicago. He visited the property annually “to rest, stay in touch with friends and enjoy the marvels of the meticulously placed artifacts that lined the walls of the home’s kitchen, living room, staircases, dance studio and back porch,” Carlos Venturo, ODC School Registrar and one of the last residents, explains. “Through Mr. A’s generosity, professional dance artists lived in the house, and managed the dance studio activities while dancing and creating work in a variety of Bay Area dance companies.”

When Mr. A passed away in 2008, the house was put up for sale by his trust, its residents forced to leave and its artistic activities to cease. Two of the house’s last residents, Venturo and ODC/Dance Company Manager Joseph Copley, inherited the 66 Sanchez Collection. I sat down with them last week to talk about the collection and life at 66 Sanchez.

Marie Tollon: How did you come to live at 66 Sanchez?

Carlos Venturo: After dancing in Colorado for 5 years, I returned to San Francisco. A friend of mine lived at 66 Sanchez and invited me to stay with him. A few months later, a room opened up and I became one of the regulars – from 2001 to 2011. I started to take charge of the studio, book events, do maintenance. So I became very involved with the life of the house.

Joseph Copley: I moved in much later, as Carlos’ partner. When Carlos took over managing the activities of the studio, it became a very busy yoga center. RAWdance started the Concept series there; Amy Seiwert made a lot of ballet there; local drag performers would rehearse there – a lot of the Trannyshack members – Heklina, Peaches [Christ]- it became a really popular space. It had beautiful blond marley, and 8 gigantic skylights.

Inside 66 Sanchez Photo by Priscilla Murray

Inside 66 Sanchez
Photo by Priscilla Murray

MT: Was the collection on display?

CV: The house was covered with posters, except in the studio.

JC: You couldn’t tell which color the walls were!

MT: What was Gerald Arpino’s relationship to the house?

CV: When James Howell died, he never wanted to sell the house. It was a place for him to get away. There are many Joffrey connections here in the Bay Area. So he had lots of friends to visit. He would socialize and go to the ballet, visit the dancers. Sometimes he would get up on stage and give them notes! He was a very eccentric person. He was very entertaining and incredibly generous. He was mostly gone: at least 11 months of the year, it was just us. There was a bank account where we deposited all the payments, and rents, that sustained the place. When we were living there, the studio was sustaining itself. It was a way for us to demonstrate our gratefulness for having this place that we thought would last forever but was suddenly gone.

JC: Going back to the 70s and 80s, the Joffrey had a strong connection to San Francisco. They had seasons at the Opera House. [Gerald Arpino] would use the studio to make pieces. The Joffrey would rehearse there. We have a document of Mayor Diane Feinstein declaring “Gerald Arpino Day” in San Francisco!

MT: How did you inherit this collection?

CV: It was kind of a curse and a blessing, because we were the ones who happened to be there when [Gerald Arpino] died. His niece inherited everything. Little by little, she started to organize the estate. It took her a year to contact us. For a year after he died, we knew nothing. Nobody called us. The people we tried to contact suddenly didn’t work at the Joffrey anymore or we couldn’t reach them. For a year, we lived in a limbo, not knowing what was going to happen. First they sent a family member to come and take a look at the house. From that visit, it was another year until we received the visit of a real estate agent, who was very aggressive. That was 2010. From 2010, it took a year until we had to leave. Ultimately there was a family who was interested and ended up buying it. They were very well intentioned but it is impossible to be in good terms with the people who are going to kick you out. So we hired a lawyer who took over all the communication.

MT: What was the reaction in the dance community?

JC: There was an amazing outpour of support. When we heard from Mr. Arpino’s family, I started reaching out to people asking that they write a letter in support of keeping this property. I tried to have it registered as a national landmark. Everybody stepped up: Wayne Hazzard, Margie Jenkins, David Gordon who had visited us, Amy Seiwert, RAWdance, all the yoga teachers… We had a big fundraiser party to help with the cost of the move and everybody came and was very generous.

CV: Mr. Arpino’s niece never came to visit the place. She said that it was probably more valuable to us than to her, and probably [consisted of] copies of things that the family already had. By the time they got to us, they had to sort his Chicago’s property. It was probably more work than they had ever anticipated. She said that if we left everything, it would become the property of the new owners or we could take it if we wanted. We started the process of cleaning and discovering things we didn’t know were there. It was a massive endeavor. I stopped working and it became my full time job for 6 months.

JC: The entire third story of the house was an attic full of dance-related things. Sorting through things gave us the opportunity to look at each piece individually. In the house they were so cramped together that you took them in as a whole. To look at each of them one at a time and take the time to catalogue was really special.

The library at 66 Sanchez  Photo by Priscilla Murray

The library at 66 Sanchez
Photo by Priscilla Murray

MT: Where do you keep the collection?

JC: We have a 10 by 10 [foot] storage space that is totally full. When this was first happening, we reached out to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Performance and Design, the Dance Heritage Collection, everyone we could think of. And while everyone thought it was a fascinating story, nobody had the means and resources to move and archive the collection. They told us to hold on to it. But we don’t really have the resources to clean, archive and store it, so the problem is still there! The good news is that James Howell was very meticulous and the back of every picture has who did the lighting, who was dancing, on what stage, the name of the piece, what year… But when it comes to the slides, we have so many negatives, organized by date and place.

CV: It’s sad and expensive to see them in storage. It’s nice to give them light and share them with people who have no idea. We’ve had some appraisers come in. They told us that the value is in the collection itself. They have quoted us $30,000 to do the work of archiving all the pieces. Everything that we’ve found along the search was fascinating: autographed photographs, books that were given to them.

JC: A beautiful note that Mr. Arpino passed to James Howell, especially when he was sick, saying “get well soon”. When you look through books, you find these little notes.

MT: Has there been any interest from the Joffrey ballet?

CV: It became interesting to me to keep the collection here, in the West. It’s so unique that something from the East made it here in this shape. Part of the value is that it is here.

JC: The Joffrey School did show some interest but just in some photographs that were school related. So once again we come up against this problem of people who just want a little bit but we are trying to keep the collection as a whole. There are some photographs that are unique in that they are well documented. I remember some visitors coming and wanting to put Mr. A’s ballet back and the photographs in our house are the only documentation of an old ballet.

CV: Some dancers who were in the Joffrey want to take a piece with them. But it’s not the vision that I see for this collection of having a history that should belong to everybody.

JC: When [the collection] was in the house, everyone had access to it. Friends borrowed books; students at St Mary used the library for their research paper. Now, not intentionally, we have locked it away from everybody. That doesn’t feel right.

In addition to the lobby gallery open to the public, more pieces from the 66 Sanchez Collection will be shared during ODC Theater’s annual Indulge event for one night only on May 12, 2015.

 

 

 

Reflecting a Life in Dance: An Interview with Keith Hennessy and Sara Shelton Mann | By Marie Tollon

Two years ago, several iconic figures of the Bay Area’s dance community were invited to talk about the inner makings of their craft, lineage and legacy during a panel discussion entitled Carried in the Body: Dance Legacies Lost and Found, curated by choreographer Amara Tabor-Smith. Among the panelists was Sara Shelton Mann, founder and director of Contraband, who shared stories about her early training in New York, the creation of Contraband and the practices involved in her work.

Sara Shelton Mann Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Sara Shelton Mann
Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Sara (the smuggler), performed at CounterPulse this week, gives Mann another opportunity to activate memory and revisit the stories that live within her body, this time through movements and spoken words, in a solo directed by Keith Hennessy. Hennessy and Mann share a long history of collaboration and friendship: Hennessy was part of Contraband from 1985 to 1994 and credits Mann as a continuing influence on his work.

Sara (the smuggler) represents the first time Mann has ever been directed, and is inspired by Growing Up in Public, choreographed by Remy Charlip for Lucas Hoving in 1984. Based on a series of interviews that Charlip did with Hoving and performed by the latter when he was 73, Growing Up in Public interweaves text and movements, and juxtaposes the personal and the public. Another interview-based autobiographical solo, Jérôme Bel’s Véronique Doisneau (2004), also served as a source of inspiration for Sara (the smuggler).

I sat down last week with Hennessy and Mann to talk about history, lineage and the making of Sara (the smuggler).

Marie Tollon: You borrowed choreographic structures from Growing Up In Public and Véronique Doisneau. How did you use these structures in your process?

Keith Hennessy: With Growing Up in Public it’s very specific. I took the initial interview that Remy Charlip made for Lucas Hoving and I adapted that interview specifically to Sara. Forty to fifty percent of the text of the performance is going to come directly from that first interview. Also, we have a really intimate relationship with that piece: not just with Lucas who is my former teacher and Remy who collaborated with each of us, but we also have permission from Remy’s heirs to use the piece.

In rehearsal, we don’t ever work with the structure of Véronique Doisneau but it’s a piece that I carry with me as a big influence. What I found interesting about it was the way that Jérôme tried to take the stories that we’ve sort of forgotten or that are not so visible and bring those to the front. Also [there is] the notion of how to reflect a life in dance through an autobiographical interview-based solo. That’s where there are mutual resonances with all these pieces. In that way it echoes Growing Up in Public, but instead of taking the central figure, it’s taking the invisible figure. I feel that telling a dance history from the West Coast is that we are always playing with these visible and very invisible kinds of character.

MT: Keith, you performed with Contraband from 1985 to 1994. What elements were revealed from reversing the dancer-to-choreographer relationship between Sara and yourself in this piece?

Sara Shelton Mann (right)  and Keith Hennessy (center) in Contraband's Mira Cycle I (1990)

Sara Shelton Mann (right)
and Keith Hennessy (center) in
Contraband’s Mira Cycle I (1990)

KH: From the very beginning [in Contraband], we didn’t have a traditional choreographer/dancer relationship. We definitely had a big difference in age and experience, and even confidence about what was possible. At the same time, we just brought really different material to the table and worked shoulder-to-shoulder and eye-to-eye from the very beginning, within the dance company structure of Sara as the choreographer. It was true of everyone collaborating with Sara. Often we called ourselves the “prime members of the company,” or the “key collaborators:” we were always trying to find the right language to say that we weren’t the “dancers” of a piece. But for sure there is a big role reversal because there is a mixture of playwriting and structure building and I’m definitely the person doing it. Sara has a lot of input, but there’s no competition between us, and Sara is not trying to structure the piece.

SSM: And I’m not trying to have a big ego about it, or look really great or prove a point. It’s really beautiful. I’m very touched and very grateful. And I get a chance to play!

MT: Sara (the smuggler) is a piece with a multitude of references and histories. There’s your relationship to Sara but also to Hoving and Charlip, in addition to Sara’s own lineage. How do you navigate these different threads?

KH: I’m thinking about how history is made and what lineage is in a very complex way, not just in a single line. That came up today in the piece: “Should we tell the story chronologically?” And Norman [Rutherford], who is composing, was recognizing that in general the texts are chronological. But I was pointing out to him how I am putting dances and images in, from other works, in non-chronological ways; also in ways that almost cheat history: you think I am talking about this era but it’s actually coming from that other era. So I’m working both with linear time and another type of time that is non-linear. Sometimes I think of the spiral as a structure of time. There are some themes that we are finding: Sara’s relationship to emptiness versus chaos for example. That becomes a theme that cycles through personal life and professional life multiple times. That’s just one way I am thinking about history not as a linear project but as a continual revisiting or recycling of.

Otherwise it’s not that complicated because time did really unfold: Sara really did dance in New York in the 60s, here and there in the 70s and in the 80s we started this company. So things have a chronology. And I also had a series of teachers and experiences in my life. Our timelines are also playing with each other in the making of the piece. Sometimes, I will go: “this is what Sara would do if she was making this piece.” And other times I’m using devices that I would use on myself. What I’m doing is based on my last piece but that didn’t come from nowhere. That came from what I did with Sara, and before that with Lucas, and before that something else.

MT: You said that working with Sara and Contraband was a “radical experience that continues to influence your work.” How so?

KH: Today what was coming up was asking Sara about Contraband and her saying that one of the things that happened was not just to realize but to even prove that your body, your intuition and your story could have a place in the world. And that a group of people coming together, with their most essential truths, alive in space, dedicated to a precise moment, could create some kind of resonance that would ripple in the world. That’s a paraphrase of Sara. And I think that we’ve all had a version of that experience in Contraband. And I think many of us have, since Contraband, done things to either revisit that moment or to critique that moment, both to tear it apart and to rebuild it. But I have definitely done some work that thinks about community and the tribe in a way that is reminiscent of Contraband.

Another piece to that was that with Sara there was always a permission not to be defined by genre or discipline, and I already had that tendency in my early twenties but Contraband just fully asserted that. I’ve always assumed that the artist could do whatever they want and I continue to do that.

SSM: I work with the premise that the person is the transformative agent. You transform yourself in a space in a situation. You have that power and you have that responsibility. In that way we were very interdisciplinary. I had a relationship with every single person and we all had a relationship to the work and the work was a prayer, it was the seed. How that seeds sprouts and grows and turns into a flower or a tree or a garden depends on people’s skills, what they water, what they pay attention to.

But I want to come back to something, because I work with titles, they are a prayer to me and they have meaning. It is something that I haven’t addressed directly with Keith so it occurs to me that Sara (the smuggler) being the title, I wonder how these parts come together. What are the secrets that are being told, and those that are not being told? Because I used to say that my job was to smuggle human essence into the theater, to make a house for the divine. The more you do a piece, its energetic structure starts to appear and you can step into it because all the work of improvisation is never lost. All that information is sitting up in space.

MT: This work exposes the body as a living archive, which somehow operates as a counterforce to the ephemerality of dance as an art form. This piece also seems all the more poignant at this particular moment in the history of San Francisco because of the drastic changes the city has undergone in the last few years. Could you speak about that?

KH: What we are doing as a performance is staging the remembrance, staging the memory. Yes, if you were there for some of the performances that I mention, you will have some of your own triggers. If you weren’t, you won’t be getting the piece, what you will be getting is watching someone remembering them, both in the body and in language.

In terms of how to talk about the city, I think what’s going on is horrifying. It’s painful and it’s also unnecessary, which makes it all the more violent. The idea that certain changes must come, I don’t accept that. At the same time, I’m in my fifties, Sara is in her early seventies. We would be remembering our thirties as a different era anyway. No one can go back to being 25, 35, or 45 again. And any city that you lived 20 years ago is not the same city. There is that layer about just remembering.

But it’s clear that San Francisco had something in the 80s and early 90s. There really was a kind of moment. I think many things contributed to that. Economics of the situation would be one. It’s also important to remember that the people who were here in the 70s felt that they had already lost what they had, by the election of Reagan as president in 1981, and after the death of Harvey Milk and George Moscone in 1978. There was something happening in the 70s where rents were really cheap and there were many social programs for artists that didn’t continue onto the 80s. Many of the collectives that were part of a nation-wide phenomenon of dance collectives had disbanded within the first couple years of the 80s. The moment that we talk about as the sort of golden era of Contraband, from 1985 to 1995, is definitely a very special moment in the city. For some of us, that’s a moment that is also heavily marked by the AIDS crisis because protease inhibitors don’t get developed until mid-1995, early 1996. The politics of dance were very much caught up in what was happening in both feminist and gay cultures, and how those overlapped with dance.

There is a city that we had that we no longer have and some of that change is just that we got older, and some of it is just voracious, predatory, vampiric capitalism that has conspired with the government to change the city.

MT: Sara, is there anything else you would like to add?

SSM: I have an image, this big blue ribbon. That’s the figure 8, the infinity symbol, it’s a weaving and a return of a promise, and a prayer, and for me it’s a gift. It’s bringing together so many pieces, so many people, and so many relationships into a kind of balance in a certain way. And Keith is the only who could have done it… and he is the only I would let do it!

Professional Development Beyond The Dance Studio | By Marie Tollon

As BFA and MFA programs are becoming increasingly popular, the prospects for employment in the arts have grown exponentially challenging. With a larger pool of well qualified job applicants, a general lack of funding in the arts and regional limitations, young BFA and MFA graduates are faced with the daunting task of making a living as an artist. Compounding this crisis more often than not is a lack of adequate training, curriculum planning and preparation for life after graduation. Earlier last month, Sarah Austin questioned the close-circuit system of the dance field in her controversial article “Is American Modern Dance A Pyramid Scheme?”  Austin argues that current dance graduates have no other choices than finding their way back into the academic system to pay off their student loans and make a living.

The Dance Jam Photo by Sean Dagen

The Dance Jam
Photo by Sean Dagen

In a response to Austin’s article, Jennifer Edwards proposed ways to contribute to a change, including developing curriculums that offers dance students skills to face the current economic situation: “Students should leave a program with the tools and understanding that making dance includes written research, a marketing plan, a budget, marketing materials, a strategic roadmap for presenting the piece, and a rehearsed pitch and talking points.”

Many programs, including pre-professional and summer intensives, have been offering opportunities to develop some of the skills that Edwards insists are key in preparing dance students for life after graduation. One of these programs is ODC’s teen company, the Dance Jam. Originally started by choreographer KT Nelson in 1996, the Dance Jam provides its members with a variety of experiences, which range from performance to mentoring and fundraising.

The Dance Jam currently consists of 13 members, between 14 and 18 years old, who are selected by audition. “It’s ODC’s highest level of engagement for the young dancers who are passionate about the art form,” explains choreographer and ODC School Director Kimi Okada, who co-directed the Dance Jam with Nelson for many years and is now its sole director. Similar to professional dancers, Dance Jam members have strong requirements. They must take 7 dance classes a week -a combination of ballet, contemporary, and any other training the faculty feels they need, such as composition, global dance, or street dance- and a Pilates class. They also rehearse 3 times a week.

Aside from class and rehearsal, the Dance Jam also produces its own season at ODC each spring. Members of the teen company perform work by Nelson and Okada, and also by commissioned choreographers. The list of past commissioned choreographers includes Robert Dekkers, Kim Epifano, Katie Faulkner, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Erika Chong Shuch, Nol Simonse, Amara Tabor-Smith, Scott Wells and showcases a wide range of aesthetics and styles, to help students develop a variety of skills. This season at ODC, the Dance Jam will perform work by Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Sandrine Cassini, Dexandro “D” Montalvo, as well as a piece choreographed by Dance Jam alumni Mia Chong, who is currently a student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. In addition to its season, the Dance Jam also performs throughout the year, including at ODC’s Dance Downtown annual gala, at the fundraising event Fall For Art, and during Uncertain Weather.

The Dance Jam Photo by Andrew Weeks

The Dance Jam
Photo by Andrew Weeks

But the Dance Jam also offers its members the opportunity to develop skills that will be useful in the dance field and beyond. Members participate in outreach activities, and learn how to mentor. For the sixth year this spring, they spent a day at Berkeley High working with students in the dance studio. They also mentor the younger children for the production of Uncertain Weather. For Nina Guevara, a high school junior who is in her third year in the Jam, “learning how to interact with younger people, who are from our generation, and recognizing what they are growing up with is important.” The community spirit runs within the group. Mahkissa Sano, a high school sophomore trained in West African dance forms, mentions that her biggest challenge when she joined the Dance Jam this year was to acquire the technique that some of her peers had gained from years of studying ballet, jazz or modern. She beams when she talks about other Dance Jam members helping her out: “Watching them do something they love and teach it to you, it’s really great.”

Each of the Dance Jam members is also in charge of managing one specific production task in preparation of its season, ranging from flyer design to press release creation to donation solicitation. All members are asked to fundraise $100 in contributions and $50 in advertisement. They are also asked to introduce themselves to at least three people during Fall For Art. For Okada, “What we give them goes beyond the realm of dance. [Dance Jam members] learn how to be adaptive, to be part of an ensemble, to be a mentor. They also learn how to develop serious discipline and rigor. What they gain by producing their season is a sense of real ownership. Throughout the year, they are our teen ambassadors. It is important for us that they learn how to be in the world and how to be socially adept in certain situations. It is also key that they know how to articulate what is important to them in a way people can understand.”

The Dance Jam Photo by Andrew Weeks

The Dance Jam
Photo by Andrew Weeks

With skills that go far beyond technique and artistry, Dance Jam members feel that they can embrace a variety of careers. Danae Husary, a high school senior who is in her first year in the Jam, is applying to colleges that have a strong dance department. For her, “coming here gives you a taste of how [college] is going to be. You learn time management. And being a dance major you don’t necessarily have to dance professionally [after graduation]. I could become a teacher, a rehearsal director, a high school dance teacher. You can make it work!” Guevara is planning to continue her training in the hopes of establishing herself as a professional dancer, although her interests are broad. “There are so many other things at school that interest me. Dance becomes this vehicle for learning for me. There are those moments where it makes everything worth it. It is so rewarding in the end!” she explains.

Guevara’s comments point out the benefits of studying dance beyond ‘getting’ a career -benefits that were raised in some of the comments following Austin’s article. Dance develops an embodied knowledge that is beneficial in ways that cannot be measured. As dance scholar Janice Ross said to a group of students last summer: “It is accessing information that is not retrievable or demonstrable in any other way. There is a unique province of expression for dance, for the moving body. It occupies a place that if it were to vanish, we would lose a full series of knowledge and conversations.”

 

 

When We All Get Up and Dance Together | By Marie Tollon

As you walk along the streets of the city this Friday, March 27, you may witness individuals or groups laying into the groove of recorded music or dancing along the urban cacophony of their neighborhood. It may also be that you have marked your calendar -or programmed your phone- with a reminder to leave your desk for 5 minutes and engage in a petit pas de deux with a colleague. Yes, it is dance anywhere® day! Scheduled at noon in San Francisco, 3pm in New York, 8pm in Paris and Rome, everyone is encouraged to take part in this “simultaneous worldwide dance public art performance,” as Bay Area artist and founder Beth Fein describes the event. Founded in 2005, dance anywhere® celebrates its 10th year anniversary. I talked to Fein over the phone last week.

Dancers' reflections during dance anywhere®

Dancers’ reflections during
dance anywhere®

Marie Tollon: What was the impetus for starting dance anywhere®?

Beth Fein: I was coming home from a dance concert in San Francisco with friends who were all dancers. We started to talk about how hard it is to be an emerging choreographer: the expense of renting the theater, paying for tech and lighting, all those things which go with a formal performance. And I said: “What if we just all got up, danced together and did it for the sheer joy of dancing?” That’s how it began.

MT: Your background is both in visual arts and in dance.

BF: I started to dance when I was a teenager. I had some injuries in my 20s and went to art school at CCAC, which is now CCA. I majored in ceramics and photography. After graduating, I worked as a ceramics artist.

MT: How do both practices inform each other?

BF: When I’m doing a performance, I have such a visual sense of space, it’s like a canvas to me and the dancers who move through it are creating lines and shapes. Those things come from my visual arts background. When I work on my visual arts, I like to have things that have a sense of movement, a sense of moving through and leaving something behind. I often use dance anywhere® images, and make some prints (etchings) from them. I also like to make artwork that is not fixed in place, which has a Zen quality of possibilities: where chance and change are possible. Work that can be configured in different ways: picked up and moved into a new configuration as though it were a dance that was evolving.

Antoine Hunter 2013 dance anywhere®  Photo by Weidong Yang

Antoine Hunter
2013 dance anywhere®
Photo by Weidong Yang

MT: That reminds me of your 2013 exhibition Voices which had a participatory component to it. Was that partly informed by your dance background?

BF: Yes, they are similar in that I like site-specific performances and audience interaction. When we perform in public locations where the audience will often be in the space where you imagine your dancers to be, and then the audience becomes part of the performance. I like this exchange that happens. It enriches and deepens the work.

MT: You are celebrating the 10th anniversary of dance anywhere®. Do you have special memories?

BF: That is so hard [to answer]! There are so many things that have happened! I was actually going to show photos from all around the world in the lobby of ODC [Theater for the photo exhibit] but because the space isn’t that big, I chose instead to focus on Bay Area dance. I treasure my personal experience of going out in public spaces to dance, but I also am very inspired when people send images and video to me. Maria de La Vega from Buenos Aires did an animation. There’s an artist in Italy, Osvaldo Cibils, who took a huge piece of paper and was folding it and opening it. I’ve seen beautiful dancing of people in subway stations, the street and museums. In 2013, a group called Soradi Dance from Tomar, Portugal, got 1000 people in the town to participate in dance anywhere®. They were on this beautiful bridge over a river. I was amazed…

MT: I’m thinking of the people in Antarctica doing Happy Feet!

BF: Yes, dance anywhere® was on 6 continents and I thought: “Can we go to Antarctica?” I put the word out on social media and this woman responded: “Yes, I’m going on a cruise there.” I though she would just take a picture. She wasn’t a dancer, but she actually choreographed something and got all these people to dance with her including the crew – with the penguins as audience!

MT: How did you get the word out on other continents before social media?

BF: When we started, we got the word out through print media, email, dance organizations and word-of-mouth. We didn’t have any social media. It’s been such an amazing transformation in our world. Now we can reach people from all over the world. That’s another thing that is wonderful about dance anywhere®: it’s accessible to anyone. You don’t need anything – (there isn’t an entry fee or ticket to buy) anyone, anywhere can join in. We can all come together in one moment and set aside whatever differences we have and find common ground. It’s also a way to reclaim our culture. It’s not about buying or selling anybody anything. It’s about something that comes from within people and there’s a joyfulness that they can share. dance anywhere® is also a great way to connect with people that are far away from you: dance with friends or family who live miles away.

MT: What is for you the most important outcome of dance anywhere® over the past 10 years?

BF: Sparking creativity in other people and inspiring them… and creating a (momentary) global community.

MT: Where will you be on March 27?

BF: I will be at Jesse Square with a new work “Reflections.” This is a collaborative performance installation with Megan Lowe, Courtney Russell, Josie Alvite, Katie Motter, Loran Tolbert and Gina Breedlove singing. This is the beginning of a new interdisciplinary project I am working on.

The exhibition of photographs dance anywhere® & everywhere is on view in the lobby of ODC Theater until March 29, 2015.

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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