• Jen Norris

Review: Hope Mohr “liberation studies” Nov. 5, 2022 - Francisco Studios - 2377 San Jose Ave, SF

Artists make art, pandemics be damned, and so choreographer Hope Mohr developed a drawing practice. Working in black ink on large sheets of newsprint, Mohr’s drawings feature the outlines of human bodies and their limbs in interesting shapes. Many are inspired from dance rehearsal photos. There is no shading. Interior detail of the figures is edited to tell the viewer just enough. A simple well-shaped line describes a brow or a knee fold. Her drawing style frees us from defining who these people are and allows us to see their shapes and interactions without judgement. In places Mohr has added watercolor washes. She experiments with using red paint or blue felt, to define an organ, or create a connection between two bodies.

It’s midday on a rainy November Saturday, and as part of San Francisco’s Open Studios’ events, Mohr is interested in seeing movement in conversation with her drawings, which line the white walls of her art studio. She has invited a dozen people to a showing of a new movement installation work, liberation studies, as performed by Tegan Schwab-Alavi. In brief pre-showing remarks, Mohr shares that this dance investigates transitions.

Schwab-Alavi strikes a tension-filled pose, bent over at an odd angle, her arms askew, her hand frozen into a claw shape. She holds the pose unnaturally long, her muscles taut with the effort. She turns and strikes a second rigid pose. We feel the relief as Schwab-Alavi finally releases, shaking out her shoulders, gently rotating her head.

(Tegan Schwab-Alavi rehearsing liberation studies, drawings by Hope Mohr in background: photo credit: H. Mohr)

She walks casually to the wall and contemplates the drawings there, before returning center. Standing awkwardly in soft shoes on the concrete floor, one foot resting on its outside, she adjusts her limbs struggling to find comfort and balance. Using her hands to help support the leg fails to provide relief. Without the alignment provided by two stable floor-bound soles she must continue to make adjustments.

What if moving faster is the key? In a sudden burst, Schwab-Alavi circles the small space quickly. Hemmed in by the size, even her smaller gestures, at a faster speed, seem frantic. Trying to outrun or out-busy her unease isn’t a viable solution.

Periodically, Schwab-Alavi pauses, arm bent parallel to the floor. She ducks her face inside her elbow’s crook, hiding from the world, retiring from our gaze. She takes respite as a cat might use a paw to cover its eyes during a morning nap.

Starting against the far wall, Schwab-Alavi lunges forward using her arms to measure and demark distance across the floor. She picks up the next measurement where the last left off. Foot-by-foot, she moves toward the audience. Upon arrival she makes fleeting eye contact with an observer. Lying down spread eagle and exhausted her eyes close briefly. Waking much too soon, she rises and resumes some portion of the cycle of unbalanced standing, posing, artwork reviewing, hiding and measuring.

The piece is performed to a low-volume innocuous synthetic soundtrack, which baths the space in just enough music to allow us to focus on the movement. At one point Schwab-Alavi activates a metronome, and for a time, her dancing is accompanied by the persistent beats of time passing.

Curled on her side Schwab-Alavi lies at the feet of the audience. Mohr stands over her in contemplation before nesting her body around Schwab-Alavi’s. They roll together onto their backs, gazing over their shoulders, before rotating back into their spooning position. The person whose body forms the outside spoon rises, steps over her mate, and renests as the inside spoon. They roll onto their backs, gaze and renest. The new outside spoon rises, climbs and cuddles into the inside position. In this way, the pair progresses across the floor. When close to the door, Mohr rises, steps over Schwab-Alavi, unlocks the door, and exits, closing the door behind her. She is liberated. Schwab-Alavi looks around and then she too exits. We are left alone.

Since 2018 Mohr has put heroic administrative and organizational efforts into creating a more equitable dance company. Writing a book about the possibilities of a shared leadership model and putting the model into action through Bridge Live Arts (formerly Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project). Last week Mohr announced she will be moving on from Bridge Live Arts, in order to focus on her artistic practice. As the saying goes, as one door closes, another opens. I, for one, hope this interdisciplinary showing of her work is just the beginning of a wealth of new artistic output from Mohr.

Review by Jen Norris November 5, 2022

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Credits:

liberation studies

Saturday November 5, 2022

drawings and choreography by Hope Mohr

Solo performance by Tegan Schwab-Alavi

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