Summer Sampler Program Notes

Randolph Coleman’s “Format 2” score

“This is what happens when you have an archivist, they bring back the old stuff,” joked ODC Founder and Artistic Director Brenda Way at a recent screening of Format V, a piece she choreographed in the early seventies and whose sibling, Format II, is being presented at Summer Sampler at ODC Theater this weekend. ODC Archivist and Story Architect Ariel Luckey gathered Way, Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson and Associate Choreographer Kimi Okada to talk about the Format series, which are based on composer Randolph Coleman’s improvisational music scores from the 1970’s. Way transposed all Coleman’s variables from musical ideas to dance concepts.

Way’s intentions were twofold: generate new movement ideas and mobilize the dancers’ intelligence. Both Nelson and Okada remember dancing the piece. “As a dancer, it was extremely challenging because you had to literally know true time- you had to count in seconds. You would start at different moments but you had to end together,” commented Okada. “Because there was no music, you were forced to live inside your physicality,” added Nelson.

In Format II, two dancers are the coach/conductors, guiding and keeping time for the one dancer they direct. The dancers onstage await the directions of their coaches, and have no idea which order of the score they will be asked to perform that night. As one of the performers told me, this challenges them to be “the most conscious that they have ever had to be.”

The piece straddles four decades of ODC’s history. For this remounting, a new element has been introduced: the cast will alternate, with one night female coaches, the following, male ones. The dancers took part in reinterpreting the score, creating their own movements based on it. As movements are a reflection of the time within which they are produced, can the viewer perceive what movements exist now that may not have existed then?

What Okada and Nelson pointed to in their memories of performing Format V can be experienced in the work they are presenting at Summer Sampler. In Nelson’s choreography, the dancers also embody the score, even in her collaboration with Korean dance artist Na Hoon Park. Nelson met Park three years ago during a trip to Korea and later saw him perform at San Francisco International Arts Festival. For the last three years, they exchanged emails about their work and a possible collaboration. The first two days of rehearsal took place in early July, and Nelson observed Park direct the dancers without intervening. In his world, she found herself disoriented. “That is the whole point of this collaboration,” she explained.

Okada’s specific use of timing can be witnessed in Head in the Sand, which explores the way we cope with loss. Whether exposed to personal or world tragedies, do we move towards denial? Do we collapse or attempt to escape? During the creative process, Okada offered emotional prompts rather than steps to encourage the dancers to explore how they get through the day.

Weaving past and present, this program attests to ODC’s continued exploration of choreography as a language of intelligence, social mirroring and intercultural sharing.

Summer Sampler is presented at ODC Theater from July 27 to July 29. For more information, please click here.