Sunday, May 10, 2015


Photo: Kegan Marling
FACT/SF presents
co-produced by the Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco 
May 9th, 2015

As a genre, Dance Theater walks a precarious tightrope. The components in a Dance Theater work often fit together in unexpected, strange or even odd ways. It can feel elusive, even for folks who are used to seeing it. At the same time, Dance Theater tends to explore common, relatable themes that speak to a vast audience. Dance Theater is most successful when it can do both - stay true to its compositional form and characteristics and allow the identifiable messages to shine through.

FACT/SF’s current production, Relief, tackles this tricky task with sensitivity, thought and gumption. Choreographer and Artistic Director Charles Slender-White has constructed a diverse Dance Theater work that also reveals an important message. Lines that divide are blurry, and the blurriest place between two extremes is also the most interesting.

Relief partitioned the Joe Goode Annex into two sections: the gathering area and the performance space. Streamers of large square paper sheets hanging from ceiling to floor. As the audience mingled and chatted, the dance started, behind this porous ‘wall’. FACT/SF’s company of six dancers was partly obscured, partly visible. Immediately, the notion of division, and the blurriness in division, was established.

One of the streamer panels was folded up and we were invited into the main space. Once everyone was seated, a new movement phrase began. From their chairs, the dancers dropped onto the floor with intensity and speed, whipping their bodies back and forth, over and over again. Here, Relief was exposing the state between calm and collapse. A balancing section examined obedience and rebellion and fed directly into a delicious old-school jazz dance sequence. The dancers traveled through the space with pas de boureés, parallel pirouettes, piqué turns and fouettés. Pasted-on smiles produced a creepy runway feeling, and a simultaneous expression of reality and pretense.

The mood shifted and the company filed into one line. With their heads down, they shuffled around the perimeter of the stage, very close to the audience. Visible and invisible in the same instant. When this shuffling motif recurred later in the work, it was cadenced by a confrontation segment. Performers went right up to various audience members, looking them directly in the eye while they continued through a series of gestures. This moment challenged the idea of and the relationship between participant and viewer – the original post-modernists would be proud.

Photo: Kegan Marling
The company was on stage and dancing full-out for Relief’s entire seventy-minutes (with only a few brief periods of rest). It was quite a feat. And the technique demonstrated by all six was very, very strong. This was particularly apparent in the last third of the piece during a set of beautifully flowing movement phrases. This collection was constructed as a cycle - dancers would join, complete the circuit, sit down and another would take their place. A sense of fluidity and continuous motion took over, yet there was still reference to division. The choreography was performed in unison, so the group was working collectively. But the majority of the phrase occurred in the corners, in the periphery, which equally spoke of individualism. This section was my favorite of the evening, though with its multiple cycles, it did go on a little long. And as Relief closed, the opening running phrase returned. Except this time, we were in the space with the dancers, and could experience it in its entirety and fullness. No division was present.    

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