Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Two by 24: Love on Loop"

Photo: RJ Muna
created by RAWdance
UN plaza, San Francisco
June 19, 2012

I love, love, love site-specific dance performance.  There is nothing quite like being in an unexpected space at an unusual time to remind you that dance is everywhere.  I am always astonished at the creativity of the choreographers and the agility of the dancers as they venture outside the theater/studio (and their comfort zone) to embrace alternative venues and share their art.  Site-specific work is even more special when it happens in the midst of the community, injecting dance into an everyday routine, blurring the lines between art and life.  RAWdance's "Two by 24: Love on Loop" had it all: an immersive experience, with deep narrative continuity, supported by sound technique and ground-breaking choreography.  Artistic Directors Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith truly are site-specific royalty.

"Two by 24: Love on Loop" was presented yesterday between 11:00am and 7:00pm, at UN Plaza; the day blessed with some gorgeous and rare San Francisco weather.  The piece unfolded on a large circular stone slate, with San Francisco's city hall perfectly framed in the distance.  Rein and Smith choreographed a single modern dance duet that was performed by twelve different couples over this eight hour period.  The lengthy installation was without starts or stops, instead, each pas de deux organically emerging as the previous one neared its completion.  Underneath the duets (in a similar loop) was Dan Wool's original composition; a combination of captivating music and political soundscore (regular conversations about love and marriage juxtaposed against commentary/debate on marriage equality).  The constant 'loop' of dance and music was ingenious, not just for its 'coolness' factor but also because it emphasized and spoke intimately of the formal and contextual goals within the work.  Powerful doesn't seem quite enough to characterize the impact of this entire package (setting, accompaniment, choreography, dance), yet I think that is the best word I can conjure right now.

Structurally, "Two by 24: Love on Loop" was a great throw back to the 1960 post-modern Judson era, where re-defining assumptions of what dance is, and challenging perceptions of where it can occur and how it can be viewed reigned supreme.  Rein and Smith brought their dance to a public place for free, so it could be part of the community, and exist for whoever happened to be present throughout the day.  There was certainly a diverse cross-section of the community at the performance - those who call Civic Center their home, those who work in the area, tourists and those who came specifically to see the piece.  And for every one of those people in the audience, their viewing of "Two by 24: Love on Loop" was different.  Depending on when they arrived or when they happened upon the dance, they would be encountering the duet at its beginning, in the middle or near the end.  In addition, depending on how long each person stayed, they may have had the opportunity to see the duet danced once or several times by different dancers (as I did).  All of these logistics add to and alter the experience, which makes this kind of public, outdoor performance so amazing - the audience becomes a participant in the art.

While the Judson Dance Theater was somewhat obsessed with structural integrity and dance for dance's sake, thankfully RAWdance is able to consider these issues while always in the presence of an equally commanding narrative.  "Two by 24: Love on Loop" was no exception - it had a conceptual theme, explored through the choreography and revealed through each pair's interpretation.  Rein and Smith sought to take us on the emotional, cyclical journey that is love, complete with vulnerability, affection, infatuation, passion, anger, trust, frustration, and abandon.  To that end, circularness was incredibly important to this work.  Visually, the dance was staged on a circular surface and being presented on the loop made the whole experience circular and repeating.  Choreographically, you could see the circular theme woven into the movements - the double-attitude turning lift, pirouettes in pass√© and the expansion/contraction of the breath.  Then, by having numerous couples perform the same duet, a unique circular pattern of love was painted; the same and different all at once.  Each had ups and downs; challenges and achievements; stagnation and growth yet distinctive to each couple. 

I was fortunate to see the duet done by two women (Suzy Myre and Elizabeth Chitty), a man and a woman (Wendy Rein and Jeremiah Crank) and two men (David Schleiffers and Todd Eckert).  Each couple's love story was so different and compelling.  The passion between the two women (Myre and Chitty) ran the gamut from volatile to desperate; Rein and Crank added a sense of maturity, mutual respect and personal connectedness; and Schleiffers and Eckert exuded tenderness and sheer joy.  During the breathing motif, each set of two dancers stood facing each other; their chests expanding and contracting together.  This was a special moment - two people truly in-sync and lost in each other; nothing else existing in the entire world but them.  I felt like that one instant revealed a significant message: love is personal, individual and does not fit into some pedantic definition created by the fearful.

"Two by 24: Love on Loop" clearly outlines the struggle for marriage equality and the bizarre intersection of human emotion and political agenda.  But much more simply, Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith's new piece is a beautiful comment on the gift of love.  Two adults in love with each other should be celebrated, cherished, supported and have equal rights. Period.


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