A work-from-home contemporary dance choreographer is a rare thing. But while this evening’s Sunset Dancers III is my first experience with Lizz Roman and Dancers (LRD), I can tell already that cutting a path through the unexpected is an essential ingredient for Roman. Her latest site-specific dance piece is set inside her own home. It’s the third in a series of Sunset Dances created in and around her bungalow near Ocean Beach. Certainly, using your house as the performance space has its advantage. The rent is free and travel time to rehearsal is non-existent. Additionally, there is no need to convince management of the necessity of your requested facility adaptations, such as metal rails under staircases and over doorways, which the dancers use as handholds during their gravity-defying postures.
Dancers performing in Lizz Roman and Dancers Sunset Dances III; Photo: J. Norris
Before we begin, Roman prepares us for the evening and encourages us to stay alert, empowering us to adjust our perspectives often. She light-heartedly leads us in a turning-our-heads warm-up exercise, lest we be unprepared to glimpse an artist who might peek out unexpectedly. After her remarks, Roman turns over the evening to the dancers, becoming one of our humble guides.
Sunset Dancers III is a voyeur’s dream come true, crafted to be viewed primarily from outside the house. An intimate group of twenty-four guests, split into two viewing groups, are attentively led through the hour-long performance. Remaining on ground-level throughout, we view from in front and behind the house, as well as inside the garage. The piece is supported by uber-talented live musicians (Jerome Lindner and Malcom Lee) and vocalist (Andrew Bigs), performing original songs and text. Located centrally in the garage, which opens to the street and the yard, the music accompanies the many simultaneous dances unfolding throughout the site.
My evening begins at the foot of the driveway on 47th Avenue. Inviting curiosity, the edifice glows from within (Lighting Clyde Sheets). Emptied of extraneous housewares, artwork, or incidental furnishings, the rooms are neutral playgrounds for the cast of ten dancers. Only isolated large objects which can be used as dance surfaces, such as a couch, dining table or bed, remain.
Through the large living room picture window and smaller kitchen pane, solo dancers can be seen, as well as below in the garage and on a front bench. It isn’t possible to watch more than one area at a time. I choose a woman in the living room. Standing on the couch at the back of the room. She faces us as she curves sideways dripping her torso down the wall. Meanwhile in the kitchen another dancer wedges their body into a high shelf nook, folding their legs into a bent-knee seated position. The space seems made for their physique.
There is humor and surprise throughout. After watching a person headstand onto the garage couch and then body surf along its arm, I check back in upstairs. Now only the naked feet of the living room dancer can be seen, spiraling along the bottom of the picture window. While their body is out of sight, blocked by the wall below the sill, one pictures the dancer rolling across the floor. This is contact improv with the built-environment as your partner.
I enjoy how the curvaceous human forms contrast with the architecture’s rectilinear shapes. I notice during the solos, I am creating backstories in relationship to their solitude. When additional dancers join, forming couples and trios, they become performers once more for me. I wonder if others have a similar experience.
Roman and her dancers alter my perspective. The small kitchen, narrow stairwells, human-scale doorways make the performers appear larger-than-life. By standing on furniture or using hidden grab bars, the ceiling becomes a dancefloor and skews our perception of what part of a person should be visible through a window. So conditioned am I to view things through a proscenium, that a performer sticking their head out the front door in order to watch another through the kitchen window reads as a breaking of the fourth wall.
Performer upside down on couch in Lizz Roman and Dancers's Sunset Dances III; Photo: J. Norris
As in many dances there are moves that I want to try. Could I make my body into a right angle with my arms extended to the floor and my feet pressed into the wall? If I could get there, could I then swivel my hips so my feet rotate? Certainly, in my daily life, I could plop, rather than sit, into a couch and enjoy its spring much more often.
Liz Duran Boubion, Erin Coyne, Colin Epstein, Clairey Evangelho, Clarissa K. Ko, Jamie Nakama, Diego Ramil, Daniel Rojas, Hentyle Yapp, Hannah Westbrook are practiced improv practitioners. Reading each other’s cues, each is ready and able to lift, bear weight, mirror or follow their partners.
The trajectory of the performance I saw moved from solos, to ensembles, to a thrilling section with the whole company working in and around the garage where we sat against one wall. Two playful beings appear unexpectedly from a doorway behind us to the side, while another climbs out a window to the yard and several push off a wall in unison. The airstream from a young man spinning past me is palpable.
Projected image on house by filmmaker Peter Litwinowicz part of Sunset Dances III; Photo J.Norris
Multiple viewings are needed to absorb the layers of creativity on offer. Roman has a group of outstanding collaborators with whom bios indicate she has worked for years. Bigs’s sung and spoken texts are rich in imagery well-matched to the danced vignettes unfolding around us. A snippet in my notes reads “I can feel my head pushing through the clouds.” Amusing animated line drawings and filled-shapes of a half-scale-man walk along the exterior of the house, skim along the ceilings, and do yoga on the walls (Filmmaker Pete Litwinowicz).
Lizz Roman has a new fan in me. Sunset Dances III runs weekends through October 1, but tickets are scarce making the joy of participating all the more sweet.
Review by Jen Norris; Published September 17, 2023
Lizz Roman and Dancers
SUNSET DANCES III
2050 47th Avenue, San Francisco
Sept 15 – Oct 1, 2023
Liz Duran Boubion
Clarissa K. Ko
Jerome Lindner Musician/Composer
Malcolm Lee Percussionist
Andrew Bigs Vocalist
Clyde Sheets Lighting Designer
Pete Litwinowicz Filmmaker