Reflection: Dance Generators – Pause to Bridge – March 4, 2023 ODC Theater, San Francisco
Updated: Mar 7
The Bay Area is rich in intergenerational dance performances. This January Risa Jaroslaw featured two elder dancers in her all-female-cast of Talking Circle. The performers in Evie Laden’s body-percussion ensemble, in February, had a thirty-seven-year age range between youngest and oldest.
So, what makes Dance Generators (DG) Pause to Bridge different? The work is cogenerated, meaning it is created by and for the dancers, using “collective movement rituals, improvisational scores, collaborative choreographic prompts, reflection, and dialogue.” The process is linear rather than hierarchical. DG Program Director Liv Schaffer and her collaborator and Co-Director for this piece, Dazaun Soleyn function as guides and mentors, rather than dictators.
Entering the ODC theater on Saturday afternoon feels like arriving for a gathering at the home of a friend-of-a-friend. The room is abuzz, but you are not sure where you fit yet. Performers, recognizable for their black clothing and colorful socks, are milling near the front of the stage. They greet family and friends, breaking the fourth wall, that invisible barrier between performer and patron, before it is even established. I am just here for the dance. I take my seat. Head down, scrolling through my phone for program information, awaiting the performance. I note it is past curtain time.
A performer in the show comes over to say hello. We chat for a moment. I feel more at ease. Some of the dancers talk among themselves, others sit in chairs along the side of the stage. The atmosphere is casual and comfortable. It feels organic rather than performative. We are invited to be fully present, engaged and authentically ourselves. This is the Dance Generators way, though not yet mine. I note the time again in my mind.
Finally with performers onstage, the audience settles. The show is about to start. Schaffer and Soleyn begin to move gently side-by-side close to the audience. With their voices they ask each other “What do we want the audience to know?” They take turns speaking. Schaffer (age 32) goes first. Her goal is to create “cogenerated futures.” Whatever that means, I am intrigued.
Soleyn’s (32) purpose today is healing. On the cusp of completing architecture school, his thesis explores how architecture informs trauma. As he and Schaffer continue to sway, he notes, “when moving, you kinda can’t lie.” Meanwhile, MY strong perfectionist performance values mean I am annoyed that they spend these minutes speaking and dancing downstage in half-light, when a bright white light exists behind them.
We are told this piece is a collage of past and present DG work. Going “back and forth between doing and discussing,” the material is still raw, only put together yesterday. Soleyn points out a black chair onstage. It is a “chair of welcoming,” holding space for the ancestors and elders, past and present.
Cecilia London (76) reads an inspiring poem, about “space-place,” a source of enhancing energy, a place of connectivity, interesting but unseen, discoverable in moments of gardening, dancing, listening. Sebastian Le (21) moves into the pool of light. Placing one loose fist over another he climbs an invisible rope, then hand over hand, a ladder; he is a seeker.
The improvisational cello music of Max Judelson fills the space. Sebastian approaches a seated older gentleman, Yope Posthumus (90), whose erect posture does him proud. Posthumus approaches others seated around the space, and with sinuous arms invites them to join the dance.
A group hug forms, the oldest and youngest dancers amongst the quartet of bodies. Hugging happens often onstage and along the sidewalls. Some hugs are likely plotted, others surely spontaneous, expressions of support and appreciation for each other.
Six dancers, a mixture of college age and older adults, perform a choreographed sequence. The younger ones move in unison, the elders flow with them, integral to the feeling of collective joy and accomplishment.
The cast is evenly balanced with seven older adults, ages 60 to 90, and six University of San Francisco (USF) undergraduate students. The pairings of old and young are fascinating, as each mover is given equal dignity. They explore similarities and differences. No one is trivialized or infantilized. Themes of reaching, striving, trusting, helping, and community, emerge as small group dances develop and dissolve.
A recorded drum track joins the cello, a merging of the classical and the contemporary. Company members lie side by side. Bent knees pointed skyward, they slowly draw strands from their necks. David Robinson (18) steps carefully through the gaps, navigating the space between his castmates. He is a beautiful dancer, his classical training shines in his elegant lines.
The full company takes the stage, walking with purpose, each on their own trajectory. They cross, an abundance of humanity, cooperatively avoiding collisions in this simple but satisfying improvisation. A clap starts a vibrating alacrity in everyone. A snap directs all into slow-motion inventions. It is fun to watch the various interpretations of each prompt in bodies of different abilities.
The piece closes with a procession. Sebastian leads, as each dancer falls in line by cupping their hands over the skull of the person in front of them. They stride off assuredly as one connected entity. Raucous audience applause ensues, followed by Schaffer inviting us to join in a community conversation onstage.
Seventy people sit in a circle. Some sit in chairs, most on the floor with performers interspersed. Popcorn style, we voice a word or two regarding the dance, among the responses are: connected & separate; envy, communication, playfulness, intentional, shedding, tenderness, attunement, and technique of generosity. Schaffer offers space to the student dancers, most of whom are graduating seniors.
Dance Generators is a very special space, a place of authenticity and honesty. Someone refers to a common choreographic expectation that dancers leave their personal thoughts and feelings at the door and come to do the work. Dance Generators is the opposite, a rigorous place where you dance from who you are and how you feel.
The kindness and mutual respect are palpable, as one young performer becomes emotional another crosses the circle to comfort and support him. I am changed by this hour, my impatience replaced by gratitude. We all wait in comfortable silence for several minutes until he resumes his sharing.
Reflection by Jen Norris March 5, 2023
The Dance Generators Cast shows their appreciation for cellist (not shown) during bows.
Dance Generators, an intergenerational dance company housed at the University of San Francisco, brings together artists ranging in age from 18 to 90 for choreographic experimentation at ODC Theater.
Pause to Bridge
Co-directed by Liv Schaffer, Dazaun Soleyn, and the Dance Generators
with music by Max Judelson
Featuring the artistry, intellect, choreographic voice, lived experience and generosity of collaborating artists:
Mary Jane Agnew (she/her, 21)
Grace D'Anca (she/her, 78)
Ann DiFruscia (she/her, 74)
Helen Dannenberg (she/her, 80)
Valerie Gutwirth (she/her, 60)
Raychel Hatch (she/her, 21)
Sebastian Le (he/him, 21)
Cecilia London (she/her, 76)
Kathleen Moore (she/her, 63)
Yope Posthumus (he/him, 90)
Zoë Quon (she/her, 21)
David Robinson (he/him, 18)
Grace Shaver (she/her, 21)