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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: ODC/Dance presents "Path of Miracles" February 10-12, 2023 Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Choreographer KT Nelson’s Path of Miracles, which unfolds within the awe-inspiring French Gothic architecture of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, poetically expresses her experience walking the 550-mile Camino de Santiago, the ancient Catholic pilgrimage across Northern Spain. The eleven contemporary dancers of ODC/Dance perform alongside the seventeen-member Volti choir singing composer Jody Talbot’s hauntingly beautiful contemporary choral work Path of Miracles itself inspired by the Camino. Over four sections, the piece moves from a state of self-conscious arrival and observation, to the joyful abundance of possibilities, with the dancers exalting in the freedom of a long linear space. Later, crowded spaces and unclear pathways cause excitement and anxiety. Danced duets reveal how the arduously long journey impacts a couple with self-doubt and disagreement but also soulful interdependencies. Entering the village square at the end of the journey the space swirls with relief, pride, and a rediscovered faith in the foundational goodness of others.

The audience’s path follows the performers, and thus Nelson’s trip, as we travel through the epic house of worship, over the course of seventy-five minutes. We move cooperatively, minding those that may be a bit creaky and slow. We choose what to watch, as small dances unfold simultaneously in disparate parts of the church, some more off the beaten path than others. We must accept that it isn’t possible to see it all, and each person’s experience will be unique.

The evening begins with reverberant vocalizing of the Volti a capella choir. The tones are low, persistent, and all encompassing. As dancer Rachel Furst, looks into the distance her stillness shifts with subtle shoulder lifts. She is loosening, coming slowly to her body and its capabilities. As other dancers emerge, the mood shifts from tentative to one of exuberant excitement. Dancers run with near abandon before sliding thrillingly along the stone floors in their leather slippers between the long expanse between the two choir lofts from which we watch. Ryan Rouland Smith takes long strides, with Jenna Marie balanced on his shoulders, her unbending legs point upward as her head rests against his back. He carries her as an inverted cross.

After the joy of long open spaces, Nelson wants us to experience some crowding and closeness. Our quest continues as we wend our way to the North Transept, a square space we peer into, nestling in, with many on the floor or on steps along three sides. The choir and the dancers flow into the open center en masse, weaving through and spinning around each other, as if in a bustling outdoor market. Two dancers carry the conductor’s lit music stand in a circuitous pattern as conductor Robert Geary follows, never missing a beat as he keeps the singers in synch despite the mayhem. In this section, performers step onto and over each other. Some are seated on the shoulders of others, riding along above the hubbub. A singer rises up, his feet in the palms of two accommodating dancers who transport him as he sings. A group dashes corner to corner, sliding into each other, arriving to create a close-knit tableau.

ODC/Dance Path of Miracles at Grace Cathedral photo credit: J. Norris

Next, we are sent on a find-your-own-adventure outing, as five duets unfold around the church. One is tucked away in the South Transept, a smaller contemplative spot. It features Furst and Allie Papazian. Struggling for space, hiding her face, burrowing into the corner, Furst is having an internal crisis. Papazian approaches slowly, and with care draws her companion into the open. With tenderness, she supports Furst, cupping her body under her own and gently rocking her, offering herself as an extension of comfort and home. Meanwhile across the Nave in the north aisle Jeremy Bannon-Neches and Brandon W. Freeman have reached the point in their journey where they are fighting. Their disagreement escalates to pushing and shoving, before finding a respectful equilibrium once more. I wish I could see all the duets, but that isn’t possible without a return trip (perhaps the digital version includes them all). I am guessing from what I did see, that Nelson has crafted pairings, which convey the complications between two intimate travelers on a long expedition together.

ODC/Dance Path of Miracles at Grace Cathedral photo credit: J. Norris

Reunification is jubilant, as all parties converge on the large central nave for the finale. Choristers and dancers comingle, strolling arm in arm. Several audience members are invited to join the performers, forming pairs lined up along the centerline. They hold sticks with white paper birds floating at their ends, above our heads. The birds have been our guides and constant companions on this mission. The piece concludes with a processional. Led by Geary, the singers follow, parting the lines of the assembled couples who step to the side to make room for the parade before falling in step behind them. A perfect conclusion to an evening in which the two ensembles wove in and out of each other, celebrating and supporting each other’s contributions with palpable collegiality. The unity and sanctity of the experience is complete and we are left tearful but satiated.

ODC and Volti offered only three performances, all of which sold-out. This is an encouraging sign that the necessary rebirth of audiences willing to gather and experience the world side-by-side may be upon us.

ODC/Dance Path of Miracles at Grace Cathedral photo credit: J. Norris

Review by Jen Norris Published 12/13/23



ODC/Dance Presents


February 10 – 12, 2023 Grace Cathedral

Choreographer: KT Nelson

Composer: Joby Talbot

Conductor: Robert Geary

Costume Designer: Natalie Barshow

Lighting Designer: David Robertson

Prop Artist: Emma Lanier

Director of Production: Jack Beuttler

Company Production Manager: Thomas Bowersox

Wardrobe Supervisor: Kyo Yohena

ODC Dancers: Brandon “Private” Freeman, Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Rachel Furst, Allie Papazian,

Jaime Garcia Castilla, Miche Wong, Christian Squires, Cora Cliburn, Ryan Rouland Smith,

Jenna Marie Colton Wall

Volti Executive Director Barbara Heroux

Volti Artistic Director / Conductor Robert Geary Volti


Sopranos: Yuhi Aizawa Combatti, Victoria Fraser, Jessica House Steward, Andrea Mich, Colby Smith

Altos: Megan D’Andrea, Monica Frame, Rachel Rush, Celeste Winant

Tenors: Ben Barr, Will Betts, Samuel Faustine, Tim Silva

Basses: John Kendall Bailey, Joel Chapman, Sidney Chen, Philip Saunders

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