Review: SAMMAY | ritual for thrivation no. 2
State of Play, ODC Theater’s new San Francisco contemporary dance festival, came to a close this past weekend. The eleven-day festival, curated by guest co-curators Amara Tabor-Smith and Charles Slender-White, has exhibited the work of both established choreographers and newer voices. Guest artists from the East Coast as well as a wealth of Bay Area talent have been on display. ritual for thrivation no. 2, a co-presentation with the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, created by up-and-coming Filipinx American choreographer, interdisciplinary artist, and cultural producer SAMMAY, had the honor of closing the festival.
The evening-length event began in the lobby of ODC’s B Way Theater. As audience members arrived, they discovered a Philippines inspired tableau. It included a ratan peacock chair, bamboo floor mat, embroidered pillows and a woven domed hat. As performance time arrived the sounds of a singing bowl were heard. Two women, dressed in long white dresses, parted the crowd and made their way to the small set. One sat, stroking her long dark hair, speaking about the importance of long well-kept hair, while the other woman, the musician, knelt close by. A third figure arrived draped head to toe in white lace. This apparition-like figure took over the hair grooming. As the grooming ritual concluded the audience was admitted to the theater, elders first, then young people, then the queer-identified, etc. until all had entered.
A magical world awaited inside, created by visual artist Malaya Tuyay and set designer Stephanie Gancayco. The back wall glowed with a vivid landscape of round brown and gold hills, through which a moving stream cut, against a mystical sky full of twinkling stars rendered in the painterly style of a batik. In a front corner of the stage was an altar of sorts, including traditional brooms, fans and furniture and old photos of people from the Philippines.
Across the stage musicians knelt surrounded by traditional instruments and computerized audio equipment from which they created the soundscape. The musical performance by queer Pinay duo AstraLogik supported the performance beautifully. Whether with the tinkle of a rain stick or a lightly amplified lullaby they always seemed to strike the right note.
As the house lights dimmed, a performer, Harold Albert Quiben Galvez, spoke about the pain of losing pieces of himself. He plucked at himself, flinging invisible bits away, grimacing in pain with each gesture. His solo set the stage for a series of performances in which performers mimed screaming, contorted themselves around a painful center, or strained to reach some distant thing. The backdrop morphed into running water and then stars, as the mountains faded away.
The pace of the performance was slow. Gestures were given time to breathe, sections were explored fully, in a way fast-paced urban life rarely allows. One notable exception was the magnificent and too brief energetic street dance solo by Danielle Galvez.
The show concluded with an overly long section involving wispy, short-handled brooms. Several performers languidly waltzed around the space sweeping the floor and reaching for cobwebs in the imaginary eaves. Each time a frond fell from a broom the performer carefully picked it up and carried it, on open palms, to a woman seated in the front tableau. She received the frond with reverence, lifting it to her lips before placing it aside. Later the brooms became props for a complicated game of hopscotch that one could imagine children in rural villages playing.
Ritual for thrivation no. 2 is an introspective work, difficult to access at times. I longed for moments of exuberance, like the twirling sun-worshipping figures, that distinguished SAMMAY’s ritual for thrivation (2021) set in Yerba Buena Gardens in 2021. A marrying of the two moods may be where SAMMAY finds her greatest audience.
Part of ODC's State of Play 2022 dance festival
Performance June 9, 2022 8:00 p.m. in ODC's B Way Theater
Choreography and Artistic Direction: SAMMAY Peñaflor Dizon In Collaboration with Dance Artists: Danielle Galvez, Harold Albert Quiben Galvez, Jai Severson, and Tessa Nebrida Guest Artists: Justine Villanueva, Lisa Suguitan Melnick, and Sunshine Roque Musical Performance: AstraLogik Sound Design: AstraLogik Costume Design: Stephanie Gancayco Set Design: Stephanie Gancayco Visual Art: Malaya Tuyay Lighting Design: Dave Ragaza