RAWdance presents – CONCEPT 21: Chamber & works in progress by Bay Area choreographers – San Francisco

RAWdance Co-Artistic Directors Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith.<br />© Margo Moritz. (Click image for larger version)
RAWdance Co-Artistic Directors Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith.
© Margo Moritz. (Click image for larger version)

RAWdance presents CONCEPT series: 21
Kristin Damrow & Company: EAMES
Courtney Mazeika: untitled
Bhumi B. Patel: remaining tender
RAWdance: Reset
Rogelio Lopez & Dancers: Contemplating the Storm
Bianca Cabrera/Blind Tiger Society: Re-Queued

San Francisco, Green Room, War Memorial Performing Arts Center
24 November 2017

Buffets, sampler platters, tasting menus – all offer the chance to try an assortment of flavors. But if it’s an artistic experience you crave rather than culinary (though this particular event also includes some delicious food), RAWdance’s CONCEPT series, with its array of choreographic styles and textures, is for you.

Designed, curated and hosted by RAWdance’s co-Artistic Directors Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein, the CONCEPT series invites San Francisco dance enthusiasts to experience an intimate showing of local performances and choreography. This past weekend, the long running program marked its twenty-first edition at the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center with six remarkable in-process works. And the ‘in-process’ part is crucial. The CONCEPT series is not only about offering a choreographic range to audiences, it is about championing artists to share work that is on a creative journey, whether that journey is just beginning or is nearing its final destination.

The evening opened with a preview of Kristin Damrow & Company’s current project EAMES, inspired by furniture and design icons Ray and Charles Eames. For CONCEPT, Damrow chose to bring an excerpted character study from the full-length piece, one that finds soloist Patrick Barnes exploring the mystery of creative genius and embodying the design persona of Charles Eames. Barnes entered the space with quiet determination, intently surveying the room and observing its possibilities. Traveling in straight pathways, he began a cycle of choreographic phrases that experimented with levels and planes, sinking from relevé into deep plié and flipping positions from standing to upside down. Fouettés were repeated to perfect and smooth the transition from arabesque to the front. Barnes adjusted his arm from a high allongé to shoulder height to a low V, critically observing all three positions to see what looked best. Throughout the entire solo, he searched for the place where line, body and innovation could meet – a creator and his creative process. So impressive, this glimpse made me very eager for EAMES’ upcoming premiere in January of 2018.

Next up and in silence, Chelsea Reichert and Sydney Franz slowly stretched, extending arms and legs out from the core and center – two dancers moving on their own, yet together in the space. As music and sound joined the scene, the physicality expanded and the structure deepened. Reichert and Franz met in moments of unison, their port de bras and port de corps syncing up. Partnering varied with lifts and counterbalances, the scapula, head and neck serving as points of contact between the two. And then, there were several instances seemingly repeated from the beginning where, while conscious of the other, each dancer was expressing individual choreography. Created by Courtney Mazeika, this untitled work-in-progress revealed what a pas de deux is and can be. It is a ‘dance of two’, and that can mean together, separate, partnered, side-by-side, in canon, in unison, consonant or dissonant. Mazeika is taking a deep dive into this choreographic form and it is definitely paying off.

Choreographer/performer Bhumi B. Patel offered this program note to accompany a new version of 2016’s remaining tender – “If the dead are watching, I want them to see that we still reach to each other.” remaining tender was steeped in this sentiment, the idea of outstretched-ness permeating every aspect of the dance. Patel began seated on the floor, legs extended in front. With the breath, the upper body folded over the legs, paused for an instant and then rebounded back. This motif repeated over and over again, the upper body and solarplexus making numerous attempts to reach the earth. Gradually, Patel came to standing, propelling both forward and back on a diagonal. On this circuit, the hands and arms took over as the reaching agents, swinging, pounding on the chest, and sculpting invisible walls in the air. A brief but compelling solo, remaining tender was equal parts visceral and introspective; tactile and primal.

The hosting company, RAWdance was up next with the premiere of Reset, an ensemble work for seven choreographed by Rein and Smith. A percussive, rhythmic line beat through the air as the company took the space. They met Ryo Miyashita’s score with similarly inspired movements – walking, stylistic running, jumping, batterie, hip isolations – all with a steady and energetic pulse. Tasks and phrases unfolded in different facings and various floor patterns, making the room vibrate with measured movement. And in addition, there was a keen attention to position. Dancers would gently adjust one another – lowering the height of a leg or tilting the angle of the face. Aptly titled, duets and smaller groupings emerged out of the larger cast throughout Reset. Dancers would come together for a sequence, it would dissolve, then a new cluster would materialize and it too, would fracture. Coupled with the staccato steps, this continual forming/reforming conjured a science-y atmosphere – the performance space morphing into a giant molecule, the cast into atoms.

Another premiere on the CONCEPT program was Rogelio Lopez & Dancers’ Contemplating the Storm, choreography and performance by Lopez. Dancewise Lopez fixed his gaze on the horizon in front of him, a point way in the beyond, far into the unknown. His arms curved and waved, caressing the air and expanding into a wide second position. His entire being responded, a shoulder roll leading the body all the way to the floor, eventually arriving in a living, inverted balance – without doubt the most phenomenal posture of the entire evening. Contemplating the Storm was informed by outward motion; a constant pull toward the visual point established at the beginning. Yet, at the same time, Lopez managed to layer an inner focus that was tender, deliberate and sorrowful.

CONCEPT 21 closed with a bang – the premiere of Bianca Cabrera/Blind Tiger Society’s Re-Queued. A trio for Rebecca Morris, Emma Jane Salmon and Nell Suttles, Re-Queued surged with Cabrera’s signature combination of coiled energy, positional specificity and choreographic surprise. In one moment, Morris, Salmon and Suttles would spring off their feet and pierce the space with their stick-straight arms. Suddenly, a shoulder isolation would interrupt and set off a series of rolling spines and serpentine hips. Then, legs would circle in huge ronds de jambe, followed by massive grand battements, wide fourth position lunges and forced arches. Re-Queued was a goldmine of choreographic riches. But for me, the most powerful part of the trio was how each woman was interpreting and communicating the choreography in her own time and on her own terms while still valuing the collective. Strength was everywhere – they were a strong team and a team of strong individuals.

If you were out of town for Thanksgiving and missed the CONCEPT 21, do not despair. The program returns with three new editions in March, June and November of 2018!

About the author

Heather Desaulniers

Heather Desaulniers is a freelance dance writer based in Oakland, California. She is the Editorial Associate and SF/Bay Area columnist for CriticalDance, the dance curator for SF Arts Monthly and a frequent contributor to several dance-focused publications. Website:

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