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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Nina Haft & Company Presents THE SPACES BETWEEN Oct. 14-22 2023 Western Sky Studio, Berkeley

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

A contemporary dance performance on a Sunday afternoon could be a predictable occasion and yet this one will turn out to be extraordinary. We have come to partake in the world premiere of THE SPACES BETWEEN being presented by the NINA HAFT & COMPANY in Berkeley’s Western Sky Studio, October 14- 22. Wearing masks and in stocking feet, as requested, we arrive in the light-filled studio space. Dancers mill, hugging family and friends, introducing themselves to newcomers. A convivial vibe pervades the space.

When all are gathered, Haft gives us some context. What we are about to experience is less a finished piece and more an ongoing practice. She and her collaborators have been contemplating how we each, in our own daily lives, choreograph the space around us. During the pandemic, Haft observed how individuals went about maintaining the recommended six-foot distances around themselves. She noticed how the choices we make about who, when, and how to be near, construed as the choreographing of our lives.

Embracing a new approach to dance making for

her and some of the dancers, The Space Between is entirely improvised. The artists have been practicing making and remaking forms. As Haft poetically notes, the artists have been learning to grow and regenerate a garden of movement and now, with the audience present, they may harvest.

Being given a preface feels generous. So many find contemporary dance confounding. What a relief it is to be given information about this technique of finely-tuned structured improvisation which is woven into choreography, relieving all from the insecurity of ignorance or the futile search for narrative threads.

The dancers introduce themselves and speak about how they generate ideas, identify goals, and adopt shared assumptions as they create their improvisational scores. They direct us to break into conversational groups of 2-3 people. We reflect on the places we moved through today and share how we moved in those spaces. What influenced our movement? Also, when we share space with others, what made it satisfying, familiar, energizing, or disorienting for us?

Performer Jesse Wiener facilitates an audience round robin requesting a word or phrase that arose for us during our chats. About a third of the sixty guests offer something: “relaxed in my body,” “being in shared spaces,” and “listening from within,” are some of my favorites.

Next we are invited to join a simple improv. The goal is moving in space. One can run, walk, stand, sit, rise, sink, etc. The only rule is no touching. Haft selects two audience prompts and adds them to the mix: “pausing and slowing down” and “intersecting.” Watching is considered part of the score, so even if we remain seated, we are vital participants.

Dancers Jesse Wiener (C) Nico Ortiz Maimon (R); Photo Hillary Goidell

Dancers Rose Huey, Jennifer Twilley Jerum, Nico Ortiz Maimon, and Frances Sedayao, join Weiner crossing through and around the space in inventive ways, dashing or scooting with varied speed and intention. They run, pace, scoot on butts, until Haft concludes it with, “and rest”.

Maimon and Huey share some guiding phrases with us from the piece we will see: “vulnerability,” ”sling-shot,” “breathe,” “nesting,” and “taking space.” Having these touchstones proves to be enriching as the work begins in earnest. Over forty minutes we witness ten scores.

The first score includes all the dancers as well as composer/musician emma tomé and Haft. Facing into a circle, they being with a deep breath. All bend forward and then rise, hands lifting above heads before washing over and down their bodies. Assuming this is a structured improvisation, I wonder whether they take turns prompting the next movement or if there is a single leader; either way, their connectiveness and unity is heartening.

Jerum’s solo score follows; beginning on her back with knees bent, she arches elegantly to her side. She moves intentionally through a series of poses. Balanced on one shoulder and the toes of both feet, she then rises to a deep plié with head tilted back. Her face is often directed up to the skylight and I imagine that focus to be one of her goals, along with exploring varying points of contact with the floor.

Wiener begins a score alone exploring options for arms and jutting chin. Her hands touch her shoulders creating wings which then fold closed over her face; on bent legs she becomes a shy bird. Spreading her arms wide she invites Sedayao to join her. They play together, taking advantage of their size differences, as Weiner carries the petite Sedayao in her arms. They experiment with leaning into and away from each other.

In Huey’s brief solo dance, her style is soft and curvilinear. Backing into the space she bends deeply backward, demonstrating her strength and flexibility.

Dancer Rose Huey performing in The Spaces Between; Photo: Hillary Goidell

Tomé sits cross-legged at the edge of the performance space, with laptop, sound board and microphone at the ready. She offers vocalizations and sound effects. For a section involving all the dancers, tomé contributes rumbling, tinkling winds. Four dancers maintain a loose swaying rhythm as their heads twist searchingly.

All exit except Maimon, whose foot is grasped tightly by a reclining Sedayao. Giving in, Maimon lies on her side next to her captor. Satisfied she has Maimon’s attention, Sedayao rises, their eyes locked. Sedayao dances, using her penetrating gaze to keep Maimon and the audience enthralled. Slowly interdependence develops as Maimon offers her upturned palms to Sedayao. Their intimacy grows from cautious nesting to hand holding with fingers interwoven.

Touch is used to indicate one’s partner’s location and intention in an exciting dance between Huey and Wiener in which they are often turned so they cannot see each other.

Semi-hidden in a corner, Maimon rests against Wiener. Their arms are wrapped around each other as they both watch Huey and Wiener dance. When it is their turn, they pace behind our chairs, their footfalls matched step for step. Coming together in a high touch dance they mirror each other’s movements, beginning with lingering nested hugs and traveling to sword-like arms which land on shoulders as if beknighting each other. Staying in synch becomes challenging as the speed increases and they roll across the floor losing line of sight periodically.

The presentation ends as it began, with all the creators circled, bowing first to each other in recognition of a marvelous shared endeavor, and then to us. The care and intention that was invested in our participation as audience members has been very successful. Watching these fine dancers negotiate space together has been enormously satisfying.

Review by Jen Norris, Published October 25, 2023


Production Credits

Nina Haft & Co is a collaborative of artists, including director Nina Haft, dancers Rose Huey, Jennifer Twilley Jerum, Nico Ortiz Maimon, Frances Sedayao, Jesse Wiener, and composer/musician emma tomé.

Performance Details: L

ocation: Western Sky Studio, 2525 Eighth Street, #13A, Berkeley, CA 94701

Dates: Saturdays & Sundays, October 14-15, 21-22

Time: All shows at 3pm

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