Friday, February 12, 2016


Pictured: ka·nei·see | collective's Mallory Markham
Photo: Rob Best
SAFEhouse Arts, San Francisco
Feb 11th, 2016

Collaboration. Risk-taking. Experimentation. Pushing the envelope. These creative processes fuel new contemporary dance. And they are certainly at the heart of SAFEhouse Arts’ latest Resident Artist Workshop (RAW). Curated by directors Peter Cheng of Peter & Co. and Tanya Chianese of ka·nei·see | collective, the evening featured a five-piece salon of current choreographic compositions and works-in-progress, many of which will be part of upcoming festivals and home seasons. The choreographic points of view impressed and in every instance, the dance artists handily communicated the breadth, range and distinctness of the material.

Excerpts from Cheng’s Transverse Course opened the program; a picturesque and sculptural trio. The dance progressed as a series of short scenes, each separated by a blackout, almost like a set of passing, but related thoughts. For the first of these vignettes, the three women took turns soloing with a tactile movement phrase. Some choreographic throughlines were present in each version, yet none of the solos were the same. Instead Cheng employed choreographic devices to adjust and change the pattern – sequence, repetition, accumulation and stretto – revealing the layers, diversity and possibilities inherent in a single movement phrase. Following this initial statement, the full trio unfolded in a variety of formations including two versus one, duets and unison work. And the unison was good. Unison in contemporary dance is a tricky business, requiring technical accuracy while still celebrating the individualism of the dancers. This delicate balance was reached in Transverse Course. Choreographically, the movement carved through the space at every juncture (demonstrated with careful attention by Angela Bevevino, Sarah Butler and Sophia Larriva): rond de jambes in plié and arabesque developpés alongside simple and elegant hand motions.

Next up was Binki Danz in Bianca Stephanie Mendoza’s The Ground I Stand On. A brief, yet powerful solo danced by Mendoza, The Ground I Stand On was a contiguous physical statement with a phenomenal fusion of styles and genres – street dance, percussive pedestrianism, hip hop and contemporary release technique. LV Dance Collective brought Son Lost In A Moment, a meditative and graceful duet danced by Devon Chen and Kao Vey Saephanh, who also served the piece’s choreographer. Chen entered with her hands in prayer (an image that would recur) and took her place in a preset circle of flowers. That opening combined with white costuming immediately gave a serenity, tranquility and spiritual feel to the work. This sense was maintained through large movements, big lifts and long extensions. And there was an intriguing and subtle narrative at play – Son Lost In A Moment spoke of solitude and companionship at the same time. Ayana Yonesaka offered her duet OHN, perhaps the most narratively driven (though non-linear) dance of the night. The foreground dancer began with a calm kind of body scan, like something that might be found as part of a mindfulness practice. In stark contrast, the upstage dancer moved towards her in an aggressive, preying crawl. Quickly, the mindfulness evolved into a dominant, strong and assured charge. Yonesaka’s contemporary pas de deux for two women would continue to deliciously toggle back and forth between these two states – purposeful self-awareness and combative self-determination. And in the end, it seemed that the first dancer had devoured the other.

ka·nei·see | collective closed this edition of SAFEhouse’s Resident Artist Workshop with Chianese’s ensemble work, Readymade. Two dancers began facing away from the audience and cycled through a movement phrase, their shadows simultaneously dancing on the exposed brick wall while beautiful string music sang through the space. The dancers eventually turned to face front, growing and developing their sequence before being joined by the full cast. And what a transition that was. Full of forward motion and drive, each dancer entered from behind an upstage left screen and traveled on the diagonal to downstage right, then ran behind the house seats to begin the circuit again and again (with differing choreography). Individuals and small groups would feed in and out of the stream to dance featured sections, and Readymade concluded with a unison gesture sequence to text by Alan Watts. For me, the striking element of this work was the depth of collaboration and how that collaboration challenged assumptions about the relationship between choreography and sound. Readymade wasn’t a neoclassical imagining of how a musical or text score could be translated by movement, nor was the score simply an accompaniment for the dance. The collaboration went far beyond this, to the point that the elements started to become one – the dance and the music, the gestures and the text. The legato runs, the staccato pulses, the pizzicato plucking, the percussive rhythms were in the bodies and the score. Musical arpeggios and articulated limbs were married. No part of the work dominated the other – the achieved cohesiveness was stunning and rare.

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