Reviews

RAWdance – Take 3: Shadow (part 1), The Healer – San Francisco

Ryan Smith in <I>Shadow (part 1)</I>.<br />© Hillary Goidell. (Click image for larger version)
Ryan Smith in Shadow (part 1).
© Hillary Goidell. (Click image for larger version)

RAWdance
Take 3: Shadow (part 1), The Healer

★★★✰✰
San Francisco, streamed via ODC Theater
29 October 2021
rawdance.org
odc.dance

Over the past month, ODC Theater hosted their Fall 2021 Season – a series of groundbreaking performances, of which only a few remain. This time around, ODC opted to follow many Bay Area arts institutions and create a mixed in-person/virtual line-up, welcoming audiences back for in-theater events while keeping some programs entirely online. Friday night saw the premiere of one of those online experiences, Take 3, a double bill from RAWdance’s directorial team of Wendy Rein, Ryan T. Smith and Katerina Wong. Delightful moments shone in both Shadow (part 1) and The Healer, though there were also moments with less clarity.

I was already familiar with Wong’s The Healer having seen its digital premiere back in January. And many of my initial observations held true at this second viewing. Danced by four women, The Healer investigates movement and healing with a holistic look at ancient traditions and contemporary practices alike. Such attentiveness and curiosity pervades its thirty minutes. Ritualistic progressions met soothing gestures. Meditative tasks emphasized connecting breath to movement. And tactile phrases unfolded along limbs and core, gathering internal energy of the body before releasing it into space. Nothing in The Healer was rushed, though that didn’t mean that the pace was exceedingly slow. In fact, several group sequences featured highly spirited swirling turns, changing levels and explosive sissones in parallel. The dynamic range within the choreography was quite lovely.
 

Juliann Witt and Stacey Yuen in The Healer.© RAWdance. (Click image for larger version)
Juliann Witt and Stacey Yuen in The Healer.
© RAWdance. (Click image for larger version)

I like The Healer a great deal. Though I was a little surprised to find it so soon on another program, especially being that both events were virtual. It’s definitely not uncommon for companies to repeat works, even within a short time span. But the cast might be different, a choreographic section might be reworked, or it’s live, where no two performances will ever be exactly the same. This was the same – same video capture, same camera angles, same cast. That being said, great for first-time viewers.

Ominous, creepy, foreboding – one couldn’t help notice such tones throughout the world premiere of Shadow (part 1). The atmosphere was very effective. Not just with it being Halloween weekend, but because these moods certainly worked with the narrative intention of the piece. Choreographed by Rein and Smith, again for four performers, the press materials shared how Shadow would be “exploring identity as constructed through the murky world of our digital footprints.” And when you think about the all-encompassing reality of digital footprints, it can be somewhat creepy. Several of Shadow’s scenes embodied that eeriness.

As the piece opened, one dancer stood directly behind another, manipulating her movements and choices. Frenetic staccato movements and blank stares indicated uncertainty and fear. A calisthenics unison sequence became less human and more robotic over time. An invisible force kept pushing the dancers back in space, as they continually tried to move forward. And there were several images of balance followed by collapse: a first position grand plié and a high boat yoga pose tumbling over with vigor.
 

Ryan Smith, Carly Johnson, Victor Talledos and Wendy Rein in Shadow (part 1).© Hillary Goidell. (Click image for larger version)
Ryan Smith, Carly Johnson, Victor Talledos and Wendy Rein in Shadow (part 1).
© Hillary Goidell. (Click image for larger version)

Shadow was billed as a multidisciplinary work, and that description is most accurate. Lighting, designed by Del Medoff, played a huge role. The cast held individual light devices and vertical light poles lined the back of the stage. Different effects would take place with these poles, from quick pulses to lightning flashes to a slow strobe. Similar to The Healer, Shadow’s choreographic range was very good, but Surabhi Saraf’s score needed more highs and lows for my taste. There were some ingenious technological sounds built into the score (I think I even heard an old-school dial-up modem), but it pretty much stayed in the same place for the duration.

My understanding is that Shadow was initially envisioned for the live stage, but was re-worked for the screen during the pandemic (like so many projects). Unfortunately, the virtual format proved limiting. Details, whether choreographic or scenic, were continually obscured or lost because they were out of the camera frame. So getting a really good picture of the whole piece was challenging.

*Take 3 is available as ‘video on demand’ until November 7th.
 
 

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: www.heatherdance.com

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