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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: ODC Theater presents the world-premiere of Kayla Farrish/Decent Structures Arts: Put Away the Fire, dear, March 8-10, 2024 ODC Theater, San Francisco

Updated: Mar 12

Kayla Farrish and her company Decent Structures Arts’s Put Away the Fire, dear is an epic piece of dance theater which confronts the oppressive identity archetypes with which Black people in America have been saddled.  “Rigorous contemporary dance” is the foundation, layered richly with spoken word, demanding rhythms, and transporting song. Loosely narrative it expresses a more universal ethos rather than personal stories. The work is presented poetically, in phrases, like episodic flashes of memory.  With drum kit, keyboard, and organic percussion instruments, composer Alex MacKinnon adds urgency and immediacy to his recorded cinematic soundscore.


In this world premiere presentation at the ODC Theater, Put Away the Fire, dear roils with the simmering energy of people working to free themselves and others.  Dyer Rhoads’s scenery evokes a film set, with backing flats rolling about as part of the choreography, carving new spaces in which the characters may live. A sheer drape obscures some scenes, creating a physical manifestation of the haziness of memory.  Props include a desk, typewriter, and a small hand-held movie camera, all ways in which narratives are created.  Copious amounts of paper represent the ephemera from which the past may be reconstructed, or the future written.   Covering the floor, tossed in the air to rain down once more, the pages carry the burdensome weight of history. Suitcases bearing lost treasures of an ancestor or the bare necessities of a migrant are filled and flung.


Kayla Farrish in Put Away the Fire, dear; photo by Elyse Mertz


Worn down by decades of film industry and societal marginalization, the BIPOC characters rebel against their archetypal identities of servants, sidekicks, and slaves, disposable and confined to the edges when not outright vilified. A performer asks “When was the last time you saw a Black man as human?” “Are we myth or are we legacy?” Reflecting and reframing portrayals of BIPOC individuals, the scripted sections demand our attention. They ask us to consider: who is visible, when, how, and to whom?


 “There lies the truth,” versus “The truth lies there,” or simply “the truth lies.” Reshaping meaning may be as simple as rearranging words, yet the reordering of minds and bodies requires exertion and determination.  Storm tossed, the dancers curve backwards, their forward trajectory thwarted by an invisible and relentless force.  Twisting and flipping, their shapes adapt violently, whipping through space, bouncing off the ground or resting broken there.


Movement is peppered with words. “Don’t let me fall,” Christian Warner and Imani Guadin plead and demand of each other as they drive into, drip over, melt about, and lift one another.  “If you fall, I fall,” is physically true in this improvisational duet. It is also expresses the metaphorical suffocation experienced by individuals forced to act as unwilling ambassadors for a collective, and lending deeper meaning to Warner’s query to his partner, “Aren’t you tired?”


The six marvelously multi-talented performers play many roles in relationship to each other, but also carry a core sensibility through the two acts (2:15 hour show). Kerime Konur is our astute and persistent narrator, a filmmaker and writer, busy capturing footage and typing furiously at a desk upstage. Christian Paris Blue embodies a more spiritual presence, his face often tilted up toward the light. With a golden blanket draped over rising arms, he crafts wings. Later, he bundles it into an infant, nurturing it at his chest.   Dancing alone, he is slow and easy, moving with a gooey lightness and finesse as his feet doodle in jazzy syncopation.  His playful swagger relieves the pressure for a moment.


Kayla Farrish is a driving, churning presence throughout, shining brightest in a closing duet with Christian Paris Blue, full of hope and love.  Farrish lifts Blue high. Lunging skyward grasping freedom in huge handfuls, he defies gravity.  Later he spins them both with blurring speed, cradling her head and neck in his palms as Farrish’s feet extend, carving huge circles around them.  Were I the dramaturg I would have concluded the piece here, at two hours.  The remaining quarter hour adds little else to a thought-provoking and artistically sophisticated work.


Costume designer Caitlin Taylor’s shirtwaist dresses and tailored pants set the action in the Mid-20th Century, the 1930’s-1960’s, the dawning of the Civil Rights movement.  Through subtle costume changes the clothing’s textures transition from flat cottons and coarse wools to shiny fluid synthetics which lift and reflect the light in the piece’s uplifting and united culminating sections.


The program notes indicate that the piece remixes “Old Hollywood cinematic frameworks,” and “maps the journey of six BIPOC and marginalized characters as they take the reins of their identity archetypes.”  The film allusions aren’t as clear as the program copy suggests.

In Act 1, we hear promotional blurbs for a Hitchcock thriller as Jessica Alexander and Christian Warner tiptoe apprehensively, clinging to each other as they peer around spooky corners. Later, I catch a reference to the “Color Purple,” Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, which has twice been made into a movie (1985 & 2023).  Recognizing the source of those bits left me wondering if much of the previous text sequences originate from films.  


Even if there is a lack of connection to specific films, it does not weaken the power of the piece in conveying the negligent and purposeful erasure and diminishment of BIPOC people and the imperative that communities control their own depictions.  Put Away the Fire, dear is a living testament to what true representation looks like in 2024. Kudos to Farrish and company for keeping it live and real in front of us, and letting the movement, music, and words speak, and not relying on projected images to tell their tale.


Farrish is an artist to watch with loads to say, it is no wonder the New York Times names her a “Breakout Star of 2021.”


Review by Jen Norris, published March 11, 2024

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Production Credits:

ODC Theater Presents:

Kayla Farrish/Decent Structures Arts: Put Away the Fire, dear

ODC Theater March 8-10, 2024

Created by Kayla Farrish with Collaboration with Creative Artists

Writings, Creative Collaboration, and Performance

Jessica Alexander

Christian Paris Blue

Kayla Farrish

Imani Gaudin

Kerime Konur

Christian Warner

Live Music Alex MacKinnon

Set Creation Dyer Rhoads

Lighting Design Dyer Rhoads

Costume Design Caitlin Taylor

Film Projection Filmmakers Garrett Parker Jessica Ray

Additional Creative Collaborators: Truth Colon, Junyla Silmon, and DuBois A’keen

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