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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: FACT/SF, Summer 2023 Dance Festival Week 1 – PORT: SF/PDX, ODC Theater, August 18-20, 2023

“We Got You,” the catchphrase/mantra FACT/SF dancers use with each other when creating new work could be the title of their Summer Dance Festival 2023 Week 1 program: PORT: SF/PDX at the ODC Theater, August 18-20, 2023. PORT (Peer Organized Reciprocal Touring), is a touring model created to foster connections between dance companies. Program 1 features FACT/SF and Portland’s Shaun Keylock Company (SKC) making their Bay Area debut. FACT/SF is essentially saying to SKC, “We Got You.” We want to share our venue, production resources, marketing and audience with you. Later FACT/SF will visit Portland to share a bill on SKC’s home turf.


Keanu Brady, LizAnne Roman Roberts & Katherine Neumann during bows for FACT/SF Pivot; Photo: J. Norris


SKC is presenting ManTango Opera Lounge (1993), a reconstruction of a work by Portland choreographer Gregg Bielemeier, and Anthem (2022) SKC’s first COVID-era piece.

ManTango Opera Lounge, a duet for two men, is performed by Salvatore Bonilla and Atticus Griffin to a compilation of tango songs and arias from Verdi operas. Bonilla is sleeveless in a vest and tailored pants. Griffin is bare-chested in an unbuttoned flowy coat. Both suits are constructed from bronze-lace floral-brocade. The merger of male tailoring with the sheer feminine fabric is intriguing.


ManTango’s choreography moves the dancer backward. Whether barrel jumping, running, or fan kicking the performer is shifting into the space behind himself. The aesthetic is a loose-limbed slouchiness, which program notes indicate is characteristic of Bielemeier’s style. The dancers’ focus is often downward which contributes to an overall feeling of precarity.


While the men take a while to physically find each other, it is worth the wait as they come together in a push-me/pull-you version of a partner dance. Each has an arm crooked around the other’s back, pulling him close, while their other arms wedge between them, pushing away.


In another sequence, one bends over, tush in the air, palms on the floor. The other man attempts to sit on his partner’s back. The slickness of their clothes and the sloping angle of the bent back cause the sittee to slide off immediately. They take turns being the mountee or the mounter, but no matter the set of the hips, the spread of the legs, or the angle of approach, full dominance is never achieved. Bonilla and Griffin perform with an earnestness that leaves one unsure if laughter would be appreciated, but humorous this most certainly is.


SKC’s Anthem choreographed by Shaun Keylock in collaboration with the dancers (Sophie Beadie, Bonilla, Griffin, Jillian Hobbs and Anna Hooper) begins with silhouetted figures pacing laterally back and forth, passing each other without acknowledgement. The stage brightens revealing a somber cast of five, dressed in black. Partnerships form and dissolve without commitment. A man cradles a woman to his chest before setting her down, unconcerned.


As the piece develops, stronger unisons form, perhaps trust is developing. The quintet face inward seeing each other. Still off quilter, their alignment tilts riskily as each kicks out to the side. The otherworldly electronic music, which has hummed along throughout, builds to a deafening volume as the dancers walk into a bright light, leaving Griffin alone on stage in the descending darkness. Full of failed attempts at cohesion, Anthem projects the uncertainty and distrust many experienced as the initial COVID social distancing requirements were drawn back.


FACT/SF’s world premiere, Pivot, a collection of short dances set to fresh pop songs, is enjoyable and quirky, providing a juxtaposition to SKC’s intensity. It is a slapstick trio created for, and by, company members Keanu Brady, Katherine Neumann, and LizAnne Roman Roberts, with choreographic contributions by Jax Blaska, Eric Garcia, Del Medoff and Charles Slender-White. That seems like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but regardless it came out tasting great.


Lighting Designer Del Medoff uses angular shapes of light to reveal and conceal the dancers’ movements. Dancers, as elegant track athletes, run with perfect posture and pumping arms, through a rectangle of light center stage. Their stockinged feet are silent as they approach from the darkness, appear for a flash, and then disappear into the void. When traveling in opposite directions their bodies cross one another daringly close. As the light expands to a full diagonal stripe, the runners add a standing vertical jump to punctuate the conclusion of each pass. An abrupt black out concludes this and subsequent sections.


Up next, a fine entrant to ‘Monty Python’s Silly Walk Ministry.’ Arrayed across the front of the stage, the dancers strut toward their distinctly defined shadows on the backdrop. Their gate is clownlike. Their legs splay at the knees. They droop backward, shoulders lag behind their forward thrusting hips. The shadows amplify the fun, as if there are now six ridiculous characters. This section ends with furious scissor kicking. The dancers lay side-by-side channeling Jane Fonda.


Each vignette holds its own rewards. Naming them and making up narratives to support the action could be a party game. The finale doesn’t disappoint. Laying face up in a strip of light, visible only from the waist up, their disembodied heads and torsos schooch along the floor. The method of locomotion is barely evident, as shoulder blades rise and fall, and a head swings to the side establishing a head hold to help draw a body along. Slowly, their truncated selves creep toward a far-too-distant corner.


At the post-performance Q&A it is clear why FACT/SF Artistic Director, Charles Slender-White, was drawn to work with Shaun Kelock and his company. Both men created and lead organizations with demonstrable commitments to the longevity of their respective communities.


SKC runs a preservation project in Portland, showcasing and protecting the choreographic works of elder dancemakers. The restoration process creates bonds between generations of dance artists and ensures the region’s dance history is carried forward in the bodies of multiple generations.


FACT/SF enlivens and expands the Bay Area through its PORT touring exchange, the Summer Dance Festival (whose Week 2 show Aug 25-27 includes six short San Francisco premieres) and its Fieldwork program, providing opportunities, support, and material resources for fellow artists. These artists have got us covered.


Review by Jen Norris, published August 20, 2023

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Program Credits

FACT/SF

Pivot (worldpremiere) Concept, Direction, Choreography & Performance: Keanu Brady, Katherine Neumann, & LizAnne Roman Roberts With choreographic contributions from: Jax Blaska, Eric Garcia, Del Medoff, & Charles Slender-White Music: Michael Wall, The Sugarman 3, Natura Ferox, Charli XCX, Touch Sensitive Lighting Design & Technical Direction: Del Medoff

Technicians: Taylor Rivers & Del Medoff


SHAUN KEYLOCK COMPANY

ManTango Opera Lounge Premiere: 1993, ArtQuake, Portland, OR

Choreography: Gregg Bielemeier

Performance: Salvatore Bonilla, Atticus Griffin

Costume Design: Laurel Leverton

Music: Horacio Rivera, Giuseppe Verdi

Lighting Design: Jeff Forbes

Technical Direction: Del Medoff

Anthem

Premiere: 2022, PICA, Portland, OR

Choreography: Shaun Keylock in collaboration with the dancers

Performance: Sophie Beadie, Salvatore Bonilla, Atticus Griffin, Jillian Hobbs, Anna Hooper

Music: Nico Muhly, Alex Groves

Lighting Design: Jenessa Raabe

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