Saturday, June 2, 2012

high wire act

Performing is a gamble. There's something deliciously high wire about it. You might be solid, solid, solid--totally sunk into the slim, fast channel of your work--but on every side is the great, yawning, empty space that comes with standing up in front of people and trying to tell them something right now, in this immediate place and time. You can rehearse until muscle memory leaps to attention at the sound of a familiar score; you can rehearse until you don't have to think of anything because it all happens automatically, a physical habit drilled into the body by the obscene number of hours it takes to prepare most dance pieces for the stage. But then you step out into that other world where you are dancing for other people and so much of that falls away. You are walking the finest of lines, racing along it way up high in the air, and because you are there, actually there, live and breathing and thinking, so are the people you're dancing for. In the best of worlds, it's like being pressed forehead to forehead and whispering all your most beautiful secrets, even if you're separated by a vast stage and an ocean of seats.

I love it. Can't get enough of it. I'm a sucker and a glutton for it.

The piece I'm performing in this weekend takes that feeling and cranks it up to neon, quivering brightness. The Water is Clear and Still is a new performance installation by Liss Fain Dance. Most of the dance installations that I see have a sort of casualness about them, a conscious desire to connect to the pedestrian and human. You go into a gallery or warehouse or some other space, and the dancers are people moving around you. They tend to contain themselves, or have some looseness and improvisational ease. I like that. I like the effort to take dance out of the proscenium and bring it closer to the experience of being a normal human being.

This piece is a bit different. When you say the word "installation," this might seem like a better fit. It takes a highly choreographed, visually complicated piece and unleashes it in a lavishly artificial environment that the audience gets to enter alongside the dancers. There's very little casualness about it. The set is an almost alien deconstruction of a grove of trees. Video projections spill across the floor. The score by Dan Wool is an enormous wash of sound spilling out of a battalion of speakers hidden way up with the lighting rig. The choreography is vigorous and absolutely set. The most human thing about the entire production is, I think, the wonderful Val Sinckler, who performs short stories by Jamaica Kincaid in such a warm, vivid way that you can't help but fall in love with them. (I wrote a piece for Fantasy Matters about dancing to Jamaica Kincaid's stories.)

But, somehow, the composed formality of the piece creates an almost forced intimacy with the audience. They enter the world of it with us, and the contrast between the piece and the unexpected closeness and volatility of an audience that can move around at will somehow administers a little shock of that delicious, high wire connection. It's a kind of magic.

Please come to the show if you can... We only have two more shows to go. Tonight at 8 PM and tomorrow at 2 PM.

The Water is Clear and Still
Liss Fain Dance
at Z Space
450 Florida Street, San Francisco, 94110

Tickets are $25 and available online through Brown Paper Tickets and in person at the box office.

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