Friday, July 12, 2013

Botany's Breath

presented by The Conservatory of Flowers and Epiphany Productions present
at The Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco
July 10th, 2013

Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater’s newest collaborative experience opened Wednesday evening at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. A mobile, site-specific dance performance created by Artistic Director Kim Epifano, the dancers and the audience traveled through the cavernous recesses and diverse climates housed in this phenomenal building. The choreography utilized everything present in the space: bricks, dirt, interior design, horticulture, sculptures, fences, rocks. Yet even in this fixed space of prescribed parameters, “Botany’s Breath” was all about big ideas. From the extensive collaboration to the expansive physicality to the primary narrative theme, the fifty minute piece thoroughly examined the notion of awareness, and specifically the pull between internal insight and external stimuli.
Dancers: Colin Epstein, Marina Fukushima
Photo: Andy Mogg

The collaborative nature of the project was not only reflected by the meshing of choreography, lighting, video, score and text, but also by how the company multi-tasked throughout. Every performer took on multiple roles; no one was just a dancer or only a musician. Dancers accompanied choreographic phrases through song and the playing of various musical instruments. The musicians vocalized and became part of every scene’s visual landscape. Each collaborative aspect of the performance brought “Botany’s Breath” to life, and the team effort was very apparent. 

Choreographically, “Botany’s Breath” covered a wide spectrum and diverse vocabulary, drawing from different styles, intonation and articulation. Epifano tapped into this vast lexicon by marrying large swimming motions with smaller reflexive movements. Her choreography was beautifully expressive in its own right but it also spoke volumes on the deep and complex relationship between inward and outward sensibility. Broad sweeping arms and circular running reached out into the space, while a jerkier, staccato pas de deux took a couple back inside their own personal reality. Dancers folded into the plant life and camouflaged their presence while contact improvisation-style lifts and group unison segments created a sense of egalitarian community and collective goals. “Botany’s Breath” was a delicious collage of this internal and external imagery and a brilliant comment on how life is drawn to both sensations. Two moments of visual perspective also deserve special mention. The first showcased choreography through a sculptural opening and the second through mirrored doors. Both instances had that internal/external duality – the vignettes were occurring in the distance, but at the same time were also very near.  

The audience was broken into several clusters and ushered through the performance space via different routes. Planning this circuit cannot have been an easy task and it was carried out very well. Having said that, any site-specific mobile work will always bring with it a few logistic challenges. Even though the audience had been sub-divided, the groups were still too big for the tight spaces in the Conservatory of Flowers. That meant that from time to time, it was hard to see the performance. To be fair, the audience was warned about this. In the introductory remarks, the group was told that they might not be able to see everything at all times. And, if that did end up being the case, there was plenty of amazing plant-life and stunning butterflies to take in. But, “Botany’s Breath” was a dance performance. As such, missing some of the choreography was a little disappointing, even with the advanced notice of that possibility. Also, it would have been nice if the performance circuit included a few more extended stops. Most of the time, the audience was in transit. While that did lead to some interesting glimpses of material, a longer stay at some of the performance areas might give more time to fully experience and digest the lovely choreography and the exquisite dancing.

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