Many choreographers make use of pedestrian movements in their work, but at ODC Theater's Walking Distance Dance Festival-San Francisco, it's the audience that does the strolling.
Featuring three double-bill programs over Friday and Saturday, the festival moves between the ODC campus' two performance spaces (and a bowling alley across the street), offering a stylistically and geographically diverse array of dance makers paired on thematically resonant programs.
The event opens with Los Angeles-based choreographer Lionel Popkin and the Bay Area duo Headmistress presenting works investigating notions of identity and cultural appropriation.
Headmistresses Amara Tabor-Smith and Sherwood Chen perform two solo pieces, including an excerpt from the work-in-progress "Mongrels and Objects." Popkin's West Coast premiere, "Ruth Doesn't Live Here Anymore," explores the way that modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis drew inspiration from traditional Asian dance and features three dancers from his company and a live score by the powerhouse duo of accordionist Guy Klucevsek and violinist Mary Rowell.
Live music also figures prominently in the second Walking Distance program, featuring restaged works by two beloved Bay Area companies. Garrett + Moulton Productions reprises "A Show of Hands," which premiered last year at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center to glowing reviews.
Set to music by Bay Area composer Dan Becker and performed live by the Friction Quartet, the work for six dancers celebrates the human hand in all its expressive possibilities. In an ideal pairing, Rachna Nivas, a principal member of Chitresh Das Dance Company, performs her own choreography in "Bhakti," a solo based on the life of the Hindu mystic Meerabai, accompanied by an ensemble of four classical Indian musicians (as well as the ankle bells that are integral to kathak dance).
"The live music was a big point for me this year," says Christy Bolingbroke, who brought the Walking Distance festival to the ODC Theater shortly before being elevated from interim theater director to director in 2012. "I cut my teeth with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and that deeply informs my lens when I consider dance. Last year, we focused on storytelling. This year, I wanted to focus on music, on how you pay attention to how music and movement interact. In some cases, the line between dancer and musician disappears. Rachna said, "in kathak we are playing instruments ourselves."
The festival takes place in the B'Way Theater inside ODC Theater, Studio B in ODC Dance Commons, and Mission Bowling Club across from the Theater, which are all within easy walking distance of one another. On each program, works will be performed twice, with some members of the audience starting in the Theater, and others in the Commons. The concept is to introduce audiences to work they might not otherwise take the time to check out.
"We realize some audiences only follow artists they know," Bolingbroke says. "This gives people a chance to experience as many artists as possible, and with 30-minute halves, we're not asking to commit to an unknown for an entire evening. It also frees up the whole environment, with the opportunity to talk between the two halves. How does Lionel Popkin relate to Chitresh Das?" The festival concludes with Program C, which pairs two choreographers who have expanded on their roots in break dancing. Amy O'Neal, a dancer of startling power and dexterity, performs the Bay Area premiere of her solo work "The Most Innovative, Daring, and Original Piece of Dance/Performance You Will See this Decade" (a title that plays on hip hop's hype culture). Former break-boy Doug Elkins makes his Bay Area debut with "Hapless Bizarre," a work for six dancers that draws on an array of far-flung sources from silent film and Jackie Chan to Jacques Tati and fractal geometry.
Best known for "Fräulein Maria," his acclaimed retelling of "Sound of Music," and his recent triumph, "Mo(or)town/Redux," which sets the story of "Othello" to Motown hits (and was named by The New York Times as one of the 10 top dance pieces of 2013), Elkins is a master of collaboration who creates playful works that are both wildly entertaining and deeply thoughtful. His first performance in the Bay Area is long overdue.
The festival includes two free events. Choreographer Heidi Duckler, who specializes in site-specific works, presents her company at Mission Bowling Club on 17th Street in "Bowling Blues" which integrates live music by multi-instrumentalist Claire Gignac and Duckler's kinetic choreography. And in between Programs B and C on Saturday, the festival presents a book reading by "Dance Magazine" editor at large Wendy Perron in conversation with influential critic and ODC Theater writer in residence Marie Tollon, whose "Through the Eyes of a Dancer" compiles more than four decades of her writing.
Tickets are $25 per program. A Festival Pass to all three programs is $65. Tickets may be purchased at odcdance.org/buytickets.php or (415) 863-9834.
Contact Andrew Gilbert at email@example.com.