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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: FACT/SF, Summer Dance Festival - Week 2, ODC Theater, August 25-27, 2023

No looming videos, confessional monologues, or audience participation for these choreographers; FACT/SF Summer Dance Festival Week 2 show is rich in dance. It features six high-caliber world premiere dances in ninety minutes. The choreographers were selected from up to fifty applicants by a curatorial team of eight. The care taken in selecting a diverse and talented group is evident in the quality of the program.

Los Angeles choreographer Taylor Donofrio’s BETTY begins with a memorable tableau. In the style of a sixties pin-up model, Poppy Miller lounges on her hip. She wears a bateau-neck blouse and mid-thigh length shorts. A puddle of shiny white plates is carefully arranged behind her, while atop her head she balances additional plates. Scooting along the floor on her tush, she periodically takes a plate from the stack, placing it on the floor. Maintaining perfect posture, the pile never teeters.

Miller’s composure is contrasted by Liessa Son’s awkwardness. Son stands legs splayed, canting forward, her arms reaching up to grasp something large. Her long hair pulled over her face and secured under her chin, she is faceless.

Miller and Son merge in a variety of frantic and fascinating ways. They become literally enmeshed, as standing back-to-back each struggles to braid her hair to the other’s. A repeating motif finds Son striving to expand. Balanced on one leg she extends herself forward before Miller tugs Son’s trailing leg bringing her back to their shared space. Entrenched in failure, the pattern becomes so established that in Miller’s absence, Son continues to rise, reach and fall. This strong introduction to their work will have me seeking out Donofrio Dance Co. in their Southern California home.

With RP, Mexican American choreographer and performer Alfonso Cervera brings attention to Retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease that runs in his family. Cervera’s performance draws from Baile folklórico and other Latin dance traditions. Initially he is carefree sashaying around the stage in a collage of sassy shimmies and salty salsa steps, his hips swaying, his smile broad.

The mood becomes heavier as he discovers a huipile, a white dress embroidered with bright flowers. Cherishing the dress, he drapes it over his head as a scarf, covering his face to inhale its scent, before hanging it presentationally downstage.

The dress becomes the brightest thing onstage. Lighting Designer Del Medoff gives it a spotlight while dimming the stage to a soft golden glow, which allows the edges to blur, as if our sight is also slowly ebbing. Barefoot, with his upper body placid, Cervera dances the staccato fast-footed folklórico steps typically performed in hard-soled shoes. We hear the voices of Cervera and the women in his life who suffer from this progressive disease. RP is a personal expression of love and regret, which will resonate with many viewers.

A praying mantis, a dazzling beetle, the world of insects is full of complicated patterns and unique structures. Héctor Jaime and Brooke Terry use the combined assets of their two bodies to become various captivating creatures for Insecta, choreographed by Jaime & Carmina Márquez for Xochipilli Dance Company. Their drapey leaf-green pants, slit from waist to a gathered ankle, amplify the otherness of their limbs. Thighs touching, balanced on their conjoined knees, Jaime and Terry’s outer legs jut to the side atop a pointed toe. A bright blue third eye adorns their stacked faces, so six eyes peer out at us. Hands come together and finger-pads touch tentatively in front of their mouths like exploring antenna or claw-like mandibles.

Brooke Terry & Héctor Jaime in Insecta, choreography Héctor Jaime & Carmina Márquez; Photo FACT/SF FB page

Two Bay Area duos show us their improvisational skills and deep partnerships. Emily Hansel and Mia J. Chong create and perform the quirky Bad Birdwatching. As they tug upon and manipulate each other’s bodies we enjoy their camaraderie. Hansel’s movements have an appealing droopiness, while Chong’s are more linear. There is a lighthearted absurdity as both stand frozen with necks cricked, faces gazing at the sky. Perhaps this is the titular moment of bad birdwatching?

Unhinged and chaotic, the duo of Brianna Elyse Torres and Chinchin Hsu leave us guessing what fresh madness lays ahead as they perform their improvisation piece, Autobrecciation. A geology word, autobrecciation can be defined as volatile-rich, pressurized lava dome rocks fragmenting explosively. “Volatile-rich” is a great description for Torres and Hsu in this dance. Perhaps five minutes into the piece, the women’s mouths become glowing maws, from which they spit and withdraw small white lights. It's truly creepy and also amazing that they could perform such a physical dance while holding objects inside their mouths.

But all is not darkness. The FACT/SF dancers Keanu Brady, Katherine Neumann and LizAnne Roman Roberts, in matching metallic mid-drift cut hoodies and booty shorts, bring the party energy with this punchy piece performed to a synth pop soundtrack by Charli XCX. It is a highly stylized dance team routine composed of lightning-fast synchronized arm motions. Charles Slender-White’s sitch puts the cherry on top of this Festival program, though at five minutes in length this snippet really serves as a teaser for the larger work to come.

FACT/SF dancers Katherine Neumann, Keanu Brady & LizAnne Roman bow; Photo: J. Norris

FACT/SF is an important part of the Bay Area dance ecosystem, investing energy in developing artists and bringing new voices to the dance studio and the stage. Their Festival and Dance Lab continue to grow and evolve since 2018. This year includes two sets of performances and two weeks of workshops. As well as, an inaugural showcase for emerging choreographers presented for an invited audience. Resourced not only with theatrical lighting, sound and tech support, FACT/SF also made sure there was a photographer and videographer engaged to ensure showcase participants leave with professional media resources to aid in their future success.

Review by Jen Norris, published August 29, 2023


Program Credits

Summer Dance Festival 2023

August 25, 26, & 27, 2023; ODC Theater, 3153 17th Street, San Francisco, CA

FACT/SF Artistic Director: Charles Slender-White

Production Direction: Jax Blaksa

Lighting Design & Technical Direction: Del Medoff

Technicians: Taylor Rivers & Del Medoff


BETTY (world premiere)

Choreography: Taylor Donofrio

Performance: Liessa Son, Poppy Miller

Music: Original sound score by Squash & Biscuit, with excerpt from The Ronnettes

Scenic Consultant: Yuki Ding


Insecta (world premiere)

Choreography: Héctor Jaime & Carmina Márquez

Performance: Héctor Jaime, Brooke Terry

Music: Meitei, Dylan Henner & Robert Farrugia


RP (world premiere) Choreography & Performance: Alfonso Cervera

Music: Panoptica, Angelica Maria, and ASMR family recordings. Edited by Alfonso Cervera.

Costume Design: Alfonso Cervera and Vilma Ojeda


Bad Birdwatching (world premiere)

Choreography & Performance: Mia J. Chong and Emily Hansel

Music: Ben Juodvalkis


Autobrecciation (world premiere)

Choreography & Performance: Brianna Elyse Torres and Chinchin Hsu

Music: Kuniyuki Takahasi, Led Zeppelin, Arca


sitch (worldpremiere) Concept & Direction: Charles Slender-White

Choreography & Performance: Keanu Brady, Katherine Neumann, LizAnne Roman Roberts

Music: Charli XCX

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