Surprise Attack: FACT/SFâ€™s Home Season 3.0
The Garage, San Francisco, April 8-10 & 13-15, 2011
Brave is the person who sits in the front row at a FACT/SF show. One has to be prepared for unsettling touched-by-a-stranger encounters, likeÂ when dancer Maggie Stack put her hand on my shoulder, then on my handâ€”and then on my note-taking pen!â€”during Entertaining Victoria, which had its world premiere during the companyâ€™s recent two-weekend run of Home Season 3.0, a retrospective on the companyâ€™s first three years, at The Garage in San Francisco.
Thatâ€™s the thing about FACT/SF: they donâ€™t let you relax in your seat watch the show; they draft you into it. The dancers might get on the floor and slither closer and closer to you, and just when youâ€™re thinking that itâ€™s time for them to stop or they will slide right under your seat, they indeed slide under your seat and out the other side. If you arenâ€™t paying attention, well, who knows? No word on whether the company has a contingency plan in the event that someone doesnâ€™t get their feet out of the way.
Artistic director Charles Slender had to get creative to adapt the in-your-face mood of the original Consumption Series, a site-specific work created for the intimate, decidedly non-prosceniumÂ (and, sadly, defunct) Mama Calizoâ€™s Voice Factory, to the Garage’s boxy space and bleacher seating. The Frog Pocket/Arvo PÃ¤rt soundrack, aggressive movementÂ and decadent postâ€“Marie Antoinette corset-and-tube-socks costumes remain, but this time nobody danced with aÂ bucket on their head; instead, they caravanned down the aisle and into the lobby, and danced there for a few minutes, mostly out of sight. Was anyone wondering if the piece was over? Will those of us who couldnâ€™t see them never understand the work because we missed that part?Â A few front-row sitters got the extreme-close-up treatment from dancers Erin Kraemer and Catherine Newman; was it awkward or were they into it?
And thatâ€™s what makes FACT/SF so intriguing (beyond the high quality of the balletic contemporary danceâ€”letâ€™s not forget that, by all means): the answers donâ€™t matter. Resolution is boring. Wondering if the dancers are ever going to come back and, if they make it back, whether theyâ€™ll do anything but wiggle their toes (the punch line of the ultraminimalist Pretonically Oriented v.1, a work in progress that premiered earlier this year through ODCâ€™s Pilot Program), or if they will touch youâ€”againâ€”now that will put you on the edge of your seat, and make you giggle, and keep you guessing.
So when the lights dim for the next piece, you say to yourself, During this one, I willÂ be ready. And then the mood turns. In an update to his 2007 solo â€¦is all that an(n)a sees.09 & .10, Slender dances to one of Bachâ€™s partitas for solo violin. Slender has an intellectual bent and a sardonic wit, so one naturally anticipates unalloyed assertiveness when heâ€™s free to have his way with a captive audience. But in â€¦is all, he taps a vein of vulnerability, revealing something raw and guileless, such that I wanted to look away but couldnâ€™t. Slender, like all his dancers, moves fluidly, bending and extending, twisting and falling to the floor with precision and deliberateness…but thatâ€™s not the point, either. It is simply moving when an artist trusts his audience to watch him dance, lit by only a single uplight, no makeup and no faÃ§ade, to music that touches him.
The show closed with Entertaining Victoria, inspired by the waltzes of yore and set to Straussâ€™ Blue Danube, which Slender illustrates by interlacing all five dancers (Daniel Arizmendi and Jona Mercer, along with the three women) in arcs that trace the rise and fall of the music. Slender canâ€™t resist inverting the contemporary vocabulary, so arms are thrown, dress hems are tugged, dancers hop hither and yon and whip out 180-degree penchÃ©es, and thenÂ crowd into each other blankly, like the band that goes up the alley at the end of Animal House. As Straussâ€™ iconic melody streams overhead, Mark Morrisâ€™s Waltz of the Flowers comes to mind, and at the same time one fears end is nigh. How they pull it off with straight faces, Iâ€™ll never know.
Home Season 3.0 also included the ironic Before this we werenâ€™t here and Eine Kleine Kitschen, Nein? In the first, Slender and dancer/manager Jeanne Pfeffer slouch stock-still in chairs while Peggy Lee wonders â€œwhy donâ€™t we just end it all?â€ in â€œIs That All There Is?â€ (Leeâ€™s version was a Top 40 hit in 1969; evidently mainstream America was into existential inquiry back then.) Kitschen sends up modern-dance self-seriousness in choreography, spoken word and snotty attitude. These two pieces were amusing, but with FACT/SFâ€™s potential for multilayered work,Â they could take a backseat to new challenges and new surprises.
Â©2011 Claudia Bauer. Reprints only with advance written permission.