FACT/SF & DISCO RIOT Dance On Making
This review was originally published at Life As A Modern Dancer.
FACT/SF and DISCO RIOT, based in San Diego, presented two works at ODC Theater on August 5–7, closing out FACT/SF’s two week Summer Dance Festival. Bay Area audiences were given the opportunity to see this SoCal company thanks to PORT (Peer Organized Reciprocal Touring), a touring program developed by Charles Slender-White, artistic director of FACT/SF.
In our third year of pandemic life touring is a bigger risk than ever. Building an audience and staying healthy can feel like trying to force two negative magnets together. Masking was required of the audience for this split bill and the dancers performed unmasked. Whether the requirement was based on touring or not, I’m grateful dancers are traveling to the Bay Area to perform.
DISCO RIOT opened with “Ex Nihilo” (2019) choreographed by artistic director Zaquia Mahler Salinas. The dance is led by and responds to audio recordings of lectures by Alan Watts, edited within an original score by Jonny Tar, that examine origins, nothingness, and interconnectedness.
The quintet is a slow build. The phrasing feels patchwork like material that has been sewn together. Walking is a frequent transition between dancier moments. Salinas, Guillermo Castro, Lauren Christie, Marty Dorado, and Odessa Uno make their way towards the downstage left corner with a gesture evocative of pulling an arrow through a bow. Watts’s voice describes the duality of sensations and two dancers connect as if forming each other. Christie and Uno cradle each other’s heads, swirling on an axis at center stage.
The first half of “Ex Nihilo” feels like a mismatch of performance quality and choreography. The dancers share a committed presence on stage but the movement doesn’t meet that commitment. Until the powerful modern dance diagonal does its work. At the halfway point the dancers come barreling down the stage right diagonal and the choreography sparks. The dance snaps into focus. Salinas and Castro share a duet of inversions, turns, and floorwork that is propulsive and highlights a creative chemistry that enhances the theme of the work.
The costumes were another mismatch. It looks like the assignment was gender neutrality, but the result was a kind of mermaid-core: shimmery opalescence with a green tinge and fabric bunched and ruffled like scales. The look was memorable but how it connected to the dance was opaque.
FACT/SF premiered “For a,” choreographed and performed by Charles Slender-White, Katherine Neumann, and LizAnne Roman. FACT/SF is entering its 15th season and “For a” is a culmination of sorts; seventeen artists are listed as choreographic contributors from past productions. The work has easter eggs of past repertory, from movement phrases to the buckets of “The Consumption Series” (2010).
“For a” has one of the best openings I’ve seen in recent memory. The theater’s entire lighting grid was lowered to just above the floor. The beams, the hardware, the wires, all visible. Slender-White, Neumann, and Roman enter gliding beneath it all belly down on creeper seats. It was silly and joyful and the audience laughed.
The trio stands and dances in the alleys between the equipment. Wearing black shirts and skirts that mirror the silhouette of theater lighting cages, the trio play in foreground and background, bodies obscured by the theater trappings.
Once the lighting grid rose back to its regular station, Neumann danced a solo with a floodlight in hand that felt more like a duet between human and object. This is a dance about dancing the way people say a painting is about painting. The surface, the materiality, the limitations are paramount. The objects are the subject. “For a” is about dance the way Cy Twombly’s scribbles are about painting.
Slender-White is a certified teacher of Countertechnique, the release adjacent movement style that has one perpetually rotating on a vertical axis. Inventive gestures are born out of the dancers’ shaping of Countertechnique. The gestures look unique unto themselves, not like abstractions of a familiar wave or pointing.
There is a lot of unison in “For a” and it was hard to tell when the unison was meant to highlight the differences of a body’s internal axis, or when they just needed more rehearsal. Either way, motifs emerge. Parallel bourrees, arms tracing down the body and out into space, shoulders guiding in and out of turns.
At times I think the most transgressive choice a modern dance choreographer can make in the Bay Area is to choreograph to classical music, without irony. For this reason Slender-White’s choice of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major feels bold. The trio kept up with the demands of the music, though if FACT/SF had Mark Morris money, I think arranging the composition to a slightly shorter length would benefit the dance. “For a” is a welcome tribute to form and dancing.