Thursday, November 15, 2018

SFMAF - Company/Choreographer Highlight #1

In just two months, the San Francisco Movement Arts Festival (SFMAF) returns with its annual Stations of the Movement program at Grace Cathedral. For one night only, this glorious, historic space is transformed into a gallery of choreographic treasures, movement and dance unfolding in and around various parts of the sanctuary. 2019 marks the fourth year of this one-of-a-kind program, which celebrates the depth, breadth and scope within the Bay Area’s local dance landscape.

Photo Jane Hu
Ahead of the event on Friday, January 25th, I will be highlighting one participating choreographer/dance company each month. For November, I caught up with Lissa Resnick, Founder and Artistic Director of East Bay-based No Strings Attached Dance Company.

As with all festival participants, the relationship between No Strings Attached and SFMAF started with SFMAF producer James (Jim) Tobin. “We were performing on a program called Dance on Center produced by Kathryn Roszak at the Osher Theater in Berkeley,” remembers Resnick, “it was dedicated to women choreographers and Jim was there; after that performance, he asked if we would like to be part of the festival.” Resnick and No Strings Attached decided to go for it, and accepted Tobin’s invitation for the first Stations of the Movement concept at Grace Cathedral, slated for January of 2016. Since then, No Strings has returned to SFMAF each year and will be also featured in the upcoming 2019 edition.

Photo Jane Hu
Resnick was drawn to the site-specific opportunity that being part of the festival provided. “I love the challenge of site-specific work, whether it’s creating a new piece or re-working something from the past; when you re-work a dance for a new space, you learn new things about the piece,” she shares, “but there can also be friction or uncertainty as to whether the piece will read in a different space or not.” Over the years, Resnick has experienced both scenarios. For their first SFMAF offering, the company brought an excerpt from Unforced Rhythms, a small group piece that had been created years prior in LA. No Strings Attached performed this work in Grace Cathedral’s Chapel of the Nativity, a smaller space to the side of the main pulpit, and the intimacy of that space and the intimacy of the dance really meshed well. The next year, the company excerpted another larger work, Type None, a mixed discipline composition that speaks to the convergence of science, medicine and the arts. While the piece had translated well on a larger stage – it had premiered at Z Space as part of the West Wave Dance Festival in 2016 – Resnick found it to be somewhat less successful in this particular venue. “We were in the Chapel of the Nativity again, which is a silent station,” she relays, “but the narrative of Type None really relied on sound/text, so it didn’t really work, but again, that was a moment of learning, good learning gleaned from the site-specific process.” Resnick had yet another instance of site-specific learning last year when No Strings Attached moved to the labyrinth station, located right as you enter the cathedral. Here they presented an iteration of Edifice, a work that has been a big part of the company’s repertory journey over the last two years. An aptly titled work to unfold in this grand structure, Resnick reworked the ensemble piece (for six) for a theatrical round. And while doing so, she found that the multiple visual perspectives and angles spoke deeply to and revealed another layer of a dance that seeks to ask what lies beneath. 

Just as SFMAF is evolving and changing (this year, the festival will have both a winter chapter and a summer one in July), so too is No Strings Attached. For the first time, they will be presenting work created by a guest choreographer, Thea Patterson. While Patterson may have the title of guest choreographer, she is no stranger to the company, “Thea has been dancing with No Strings for a long time and is also the company manager; she wears a lot of different hats and I’m really excited to see her take on this one as well,” Resnick explains. At present, Patterson is composing a contemporary ballet solo (to be danced by Alyse Romano) for premiere at the labyrinth station at 2019’s SFMAF. The solo, which is yet to-be-titled, features an original score by LA-based composer Silas Hite, and will mine some Zen-like philosophical questions about the human condition.  

As Resnick and I concluded our time together, I asked one last question which I’m planning to pose to all of the SFMAF artists that I speak to over the next two months. Why do you keep coming back year after year to perform at this event? Resnick offered a two-part response. First, she spoke of the sense of community that SFMAF embodies, “you can get this at other festivals, but with the sheer number of participants and the diversity of genre, the feeling of coming together is so strong.” Second, she commended the festival itself – its organization, its clear communication; its level of production support. “I feel very supported by Jim Tobin,” she says, “even with so many people in the mix, he makes sure that every individual feels like they are being personally taken care of - he remains heart-connected to what he’s doing as a producer.”

To learn more about the San Francisco Movement Arts Festival, visit and to learn more about Lissa Resnick and No Strings Attached Dance Company, visit

1 comment:

Jim Tobin said...

What a wonderful essay written by Heather Desaulniers and great insights by Lissa Resnick. Two women at the top of their game...!! It's a kind of article you want to re-read for the insights alone. Thank you for publishing this and highlighting our local dance and local artist.