Monday, August 24, 2015

SHE WENT phase 4

SHE WENT phase 4
SAFEhouse Arts, San Francisco
August 22nd, 2015

Without exception, every RAW (Resident Artist Workshop) evening reminds me how important risk is to the performing arts. This definitely held true as SAFEhouse Arts showcased a triptych of experimental dance created and performed by women this past weekend. Featuring Alma Esperanza Cunningham’s hard-hitting, hypnotizing SHE WENT phase 4, guest artists Rosemary Hannon and Daria Kaufman joined the bill with their own stunning solos, Work in Progress and Product respectively.

With the audience’s seats arranged in a perimeter around a designated stage, Arletta Anderson, Keryn Breiterman-Loader and Caitlin Daly entered the space to open Cunningham’s SHE WENT phase 4. As the three began an initial series of poses with a sense of neutrality, even disengagement, a note of egalitarianism was also present. The trio was placed among the audience. Two dancers then ventured into the center stage space and started yelling at each other over and over again. Certainly startling at first, the repetition also had that dance theater property of anesthetizing as the vocalization went on. Repetition like this, used as a performative, revelatory tool, would be an ongoing theme.
SHE WENT phase 4
There is no doubt that Cunningham has created a narratively charged contemporary work with SHE WENT phase 4, though for me, it was the structural properties and formal composition that captivated. Cunningham constantly played with the duet versus solo arrangement in the dance, while the expression of ‘threes’ was deeply rooted in the choreographic sequences (triplets, pas de boure├ęs). The egalitarianism that had been established at the outset continued, demystifying the relationship between performer and audience and challenging comfort levels. One dancer hit various positions (long arabesque, front attitude) very close to audience members, while another brushed a few viewers with her hair. The spatial awareness demonstrated by all three performers was also striking. Throughout SHE WENT phase 4, they traveled blindly (and quickly) backwards in space, often very close to one another and never once collided.

Costumed in a full-length sparkly gown, Hannon took the stage in Work in Progress. Pedestrian movement informed this intense, but short solo, with continual changes in direction, dynamics and level. After a few minutes, Hannon shed her dress and danced the rest of the piece in a simple black two-piece: boy shorts and camisole. That visual shift ushered a similar shift in narrative; deconstruction revealing true essence. How does it feel to lie on the floor? How does your body react when you move quickly and then suddenly slow down? How does the leg circle in the hip socket? Work in Progress was pure, unencumbered movement.


Kaufman’s Product was an evocative and wonderfully clever performance piece. She began by sitting on a chair and cycling through a gestural phrase of ‘situating’: fixing her dress, tailoring her attitude and experimenting with her facial expression. This kind of adjusting and adjustments continued as Kaufman rose from the chair and proceeded to read an instructive script aloud. A combination physical and verbal monologue, Product was a purposely-exaggerated sales pitch inserted into a performance platform. This was a highly successful experiment with a number of probing questions arising. What should be? What are you supposed to want? What is the correct way? How can you accomplish a particular task? Where does individual decision-making come in?

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