RAWdance presents – CONCEPT series: Digital Edition and Dance Party – San Francisco

Megan Lowe's (UN)CAGED.© Megan Lowe. (Click image for larger version)
Megan Lowe’s (UN)CAGED.
© Megan Lowe. (Click image for larger version)

RAWdance presents CONCEPT series: Digital Edition and Dance Party
Featuring work by Eric Garcia, Megan Lowe, Jocelyn Reyes, Marissa Brown, Frankie Lee III, Katie Wong, Michaela Cruze, Stacey Yuen, Wendy Rein, Ryan Smith
San Francisco, streamed on Zoom
14 August 2020
Videos and artist introductions

Once upon a time, not so long ago, at the dawn of the pandemic infinity that begins anew each morning, Zoom beamed a ray of possibility into the dance world. Unprecedented open classes with the finest teachers and dancers, international workshops offered at fractional cost, performances by pod casts on the laptop stage. Call it hedonic adaptation, call it burnout, but these days Zoom togetherness feels more like a Bartesian reminder of our ongoing separation.

If anything can jolt us out of our digital doldrums, even for an hour, it’s the eternal sunshine of RAWdance, a bicoastal contemporary company led by co-founders Wendy Rein and Ryan Smith in New York’s Hudson Valley and co-artistic director Katie Wong in San Francisco. One of RAWdance’s signature programs is the CONCEPT Series, informal showings of contemporary dance started in 2007 and held two or three times a year in the elegant Beaux Arts Green Room of SF’s 1932 Veterans Building.

The antithesis of social distancing, CONCEPT Series shows are crowded, collegial happenings emceed by the warm and witty Rein and Smith, who also serve refreshments – which always include their signature salted popcorn – during breaks. Their intelligent enthusiasm, and the quality of their curation, has made the CONCEPT Series a destination on the SF dance calendar and a springboard for new talent and new work.

Rather than succumb to a COVID-19 hiatus, RAWdance pivoted to a dance-on-camera format for the CONCEPT Series’ 28th edition, and on 14 August presented seven new short films created by various artists over the past few months of sheltering – interspersed with Rein, Smith and Wong’s effervescent hosting and video of corn kernels popping in a pan. The artists, who are primarily based in the San Francisco Bay Area, embraced the camera as an imaginative medium, not just a vehicle for performance capture.

Eric Garcia of Detour Dance introduced Up on High as one chapter in a multiyear project exploring ancestry. As director and videographer, Garcia captures Wiley Naman Strasser’s alter-egos, one a quotidian human and the other a flower-crowned spiritual avatar, intercutting their movements to create a shared ritual that culminates on a city hilltop.

In (UN)CAGED, Megan Lowe explores notions of context on the grounds of Los Angeles’ defunct Griffith Park Zoo, abandoned since 1966. Film and sound run forward and backward as Lowe dances, climbs and swings in and around the decrepit cement-and-bar enclosures. The juxtaposition of Lowe’s spontaneity, and her agency to enter and exit the cages at liberty, comments – whether intentionally or not – on the bleak, prisonlike cages.

Jocelyn Reyes’ Box World was self-filmed in a glass-walled high-rise apartment overlooking a commercial block in San Francisco and filled with towers of moving boxes stuffed with crumpled advertising circulars. Double exposures of Reyes as she maneuvers between and knocks over the boxes, eventually taking a hammer to them, is all of us right now.

Marissa Brown - <I>Self Portrait</I>.<br />© Marissa Brown. (Click image for larger version)
Marissa Brown – Self Portrait.
© Marissa Brown. (Click image for larger version)

Alone in the group, Marissa Brown showed dance qua dance. Her subtly filmic Self-Portrait is true to its name: self-filmed, self-edited footage of her solo movement, shot on a deserted rural road at dusk and accompanied only by ambient sounds of the intermittent breeze and her own footfalls. Brown overlaid an internal monologue via subtitles like “I want to speak French,” “I’m distracted by the glittering prize.” Brown’s disclosures are as revealing as they are superfluous – her fluent gestures need no translation.

Wong shares screen time and choreography credit with Michaela Cruze and Stacey Yuen in her film Clipped, shot outdoors with the dancers distanced and wearing multiple layered masks. Modern movement is somehow less compelling when you can’t see the dancers’ faces, but close-ups of them removing one mask after another, each embellished with hearts, musical notes, stick-figure families, baked goods and other icons of normalcy, trigger longing for the life that was and, hopefully, will be again.

In Frankie Lee III’s Journeys w/ God, filmed in a lush park, double exposures of Lee create an illusion of companionship, but the transparent quality of the footage gives him the same ethereal quality of the sunlight filtering through the trees. Stop-motion, fast and slow speeds, and other techniques are as much a part of the dance as his sky-high extensions and liquid transitions.

If the Queen of Hearts hosted a luncheon in the croquet-ground, it might go something like their Rein and Smith’s Picnic: a profusion of red-and-white checks, hands smooshing into berry-topped cakes, red apples whittling to their cores via stop-motion animation, Rein’s cherry-soda hair shimmering in the sun. Klezmer music by Underscore Orkestra fuels the high-concept chaos, into which Smith and Rein inject glimpses of abstract choreography – as artistic partners of many years’ standing, they are seamless together – and kinetic editing enhances its sugar-rush energy.

The videos and artist introductions are available here. Bring your own popcorn, generously seasoned with ennui.

About the author

Claudia Bauer

Claudia Bauer is a freelance writer and lifelong bunhead in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her writing has appeared in Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Critical Dance and SF/Arts Monthly. She tweets every so often at @speakingofdance.

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