Joe Goode Performance Annex, San Francisco
December 6th, 2013
Over time, a lovely sense of familiarity can develop between a dance company and its audience. Viewers pick up on the ensemble’s choreographic style, movement dynamics and preferred collaborators. Then comes a piece (or two) that they didn’t expect, an entirely different work that seems out of the ordinary, not the norm. Critics often describe this as a departure. But it isn’t. The ‘surprising’ and the ‘unexpected’ are indicators of artistic growth and compositional exploration. In the performing arts, there is nothing worse than stagnation or the status quo - different is good; divergence, a necessity.
RAWdance’s newest evening-length production, “Mine”, is one such deliciously unpredictable tour de force. Choreographed by Co-Artistic Directors Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith, everything about the fifty-minute work is utterly primal, to the point of animalistic. The very essence of human nature, instinct and emotion is under a honest microscope. And while “Mine” is a truly collaborative performance experience, its core is still rooted in the strength of contemporary dance technique.
The set, designed by Sean Riley, demanded instant attention upon entering the space. A complex arrangement of weighted ropes and pulleys hung from the ceiling, some that would be utilized during the dance and some that were present to frame the action. “Mine” was anything but a casual event, though the start of the performance was very informal and appropriately blurry. As audience members were still being seated and the crew was making its final preparations, dancers began to take the stage area one by one, each stopping at a center mark for an extended period of time. An intense moment of sacred preparation, they were silencing the world around them and entering into a personal and internal trance.
“Mine’s” first segment was a concerto of partnering and levels for the entire company (Kerry Demme, Aaron Perlstein, Laura Sharp, Rein and Smith). These early moments also saw the dance’s first aerial injection (a rope), which added a number of important qualities to both the movement and the meaning. While providing a new physical sense of space, this rope also had a dual narrative character - it was an instrument of command while simultaneously being an instrument of liberation. In addition, the use of ropes led to some ‘tug-of-war’ motifs, and some ‘tantrum-like’ incidents. The delicate balance of exercising will amongst a community of individuals was illuminated for all present to confront and consider.
The middle of the piece housed some dramatic and compelling scenes, two of which require special mention. In one, the entire cast gathered together. They began to creep forward, very slowly, moving their hands and arms in unison. A primal march of stalking and ensnaring was underway. Later, three bird cages were lowered from the ceiling, enclosing the heads of three dancers. While they cycled through a set of parallel developpés, parts of their physical being were immobilized while others were free.
Throughout “Mine”, the sickled foot kept making repeat appearances, and this was neither an accident nor for esthetic purposes. The modern dance ‘flexed foot’ came into being for many reasons, one of which was in response to the exaggerated ‘pointe’ that is found in classical ballet. But a sickled foot is something different altogether. While usually the result of not paying attention, in “Mine”, sickling was absolutely purposeful. This position of the foot was a deliberate act of both defiance and control, floating in a precarious state between the extremes of pointing and flexion.