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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Sean Dorsey Dance “The Lost Art of Dreaming” November 18-20, 2022 Z Space, San Francisco

Sean Dorsey, and his eponymous dance company, has many fans in San Francisco. They are out in force Saturday, November 19 at Z Space. Their applause and adoration at the conclusion of his newest dance, The Lost Art of Dreaming, garner an impromptu additional curtain call.

(Bows for The Lost Art of Dreaming from left: Brandon Graham, Héctor Jaime, David Le, Nol Simonse and Sean Dorsey; photo credit J. Norris).

To paraphrase Dorsey’s opening invocation Dreaming is meant to be a spell: a danced invitation to claim our joy, pleasure, well-being, love and connection. It misses this mark, too often choosing to explain a feeling rather than evoking its emotion through dance. The evening, which includes one intermission, is structured as a series of vignettes, separated by clunky transitions, in which the music ends abruptly as lights plunge to darkness. While program notes, and Dorsey himself, tell us the piece has had a two-and-a-half-year gestation, it fee lsboth incomplete and overlong.

The soundscore includes a different original music composition for each of the seventeen named dance sections. Eight composers and vocalists were engaged in the process. Regrettably, the variety of musical voices contributes to a lack of overall cohesion.

Dorsey is at his best when he is preaching the gospel of inclusion and self-love. Adopting a folksy earnestness as he indulges his need to teach us things. Coming close, facing us, he eagerly imparts his knowledge and imaginings. Did you know that human bodies are made of twenty-six elements? That all those elements came from a star and so from a poetic lens you can see we were each created from stardust? Dorsey’s musings are not only poetic, but thought-provoking. We consider a world before longing or the idea that the power of longing can create matter. The dance struggles to keep up with the aspirations of these fathomless reflections.

In this piece, reaching is the physical manifestation of longing. Performers reach for the stars, for a dream, for a partner, and toward the gods. Each time an arm extends upward fingers splayed grasping for the intangible. As their limbs return to earth the dancers look puzzlingly into their empty hands.

Dreaming’s cast includes Dorsey and four other dancers. Much of the larger group movement is performed in unison, and relies heavily on repetition. This detracts from the intriguing individuality of the performers. The gestural language too often mimics the spoken work. When a lyric refers to the constellation Orion, the Hunter, the dancers make bows and arrows of their arms. They wrest their hearts from their torsos, fists drawn violently from their chests, as Dorsey speaks about longing.

The partner and solo sequences are where the richness of the evening resides. In “Pleasure Revolution” Brandon Graham delights with a vogue section, straight from the Ballroom floor. He duckwalks and rises skillfully from the floor to his toes and into a pirouette, one leg extended smartly behind him.

During the “Starside” section, David Le tenderly nests within Nol Simonse’s arms. A fascinating duet unfolds, in which Simonse points his finger into Le’s chest. Le sways backward and to the side, his body rippling in response to the finger’s pressure. Is Le trying to escape or willingly being guided by his larger counterpart? Either way one is drawn in to Le’s fluid contortions.

Dressed in form fitting sheer black shirts, Héctor Jaime and Graham melt into each other, creating a single being, with wrapping arms and nuzzling heads. Their pairing grows, blossoming into a series of lifts. Jaime proudly carries Graham astride his shoulder.

“At the moment of my death what will I long for and what will I be ready to leave behind?” Dorsey wonders aloud into the dark stage. A haunting violin and golden light draw Simonse onto the stage. Wearing a copper skirt and corset, he trails an endlessly long billowing train. Head and torso down, arms extended in a zombie-like arc, he processes hypnotically toward a grouping of the others. Pausing to greet each one with a forehead bump, or a hand clasp, torso now raised he circles them. Simonse commands our attention as he regally lugs the weight of his train behind him.

The costume changes are numerous, and at times extraneous, disrupting the flow. Performers appear in pants, skirts, and culottes, in shirts, and bare-chested. The publicity for the show promises a strapless corseted full-skirted dress with muscled shoulders and arms on full display. This signature dress is magnificent and Dorsey makes the most of its beauty in the finale. The performers kneel on a diagonal, their backs to us, their full skirts puddled around them. They bow forward their straight arms trailing behind them. Drawing their arms forward their torsos rise gracefully, before bowing once more as their arms row backwards. They are majestic swans together, an ode to that most poetic and emblematic of moments in the ballet lexicon.

While there were some prophetic moments, the marriage of Dorsey’s important and necessary queer advocacy work with contemporary dance seems less organic than it once did. A poet, a documentarian, a queer and arts community leader, a civil justice warrior, and a tireless trans spokesperson, Dorsey is many things for many people. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the dance-making suffers under the weight of so many identities.

Dreams is fortunate to have numerous touring dates scheduled across the United States in 2023. One hopes Dorsey and his collaborators will continue to edit and tighten the work to allow its brightest moments to shine unburdened by repetition and awkward changeovers.

Review by Jen Norris November 20, 2022


Production Credits:

Sean Dorsey Dance

The Lost Art of Dreaming (World Premiere)

November 18 – 20, 2022; Z Space, San Francisco

Choreographed and written by: Sean Dorsey

Movement created & performed by: Sean Dorsey, Brandon Graham, Héctor Jaime, David Le, Nol Simonse

Original music composed by: Anomie Belle, LD Brown, Frida Ibarra, Alex Kelly, Ben Kessler, Jesse Olsen Bay, and Kelsey Lu, with special guest vocalist: B Noel Thomas

Costume Design: Tiffany Amundson, Krystal Harfert and Melissa Castaneda

Lighting Design: Clyde Sheets

Technical Direction: Emily Paulson

Soundscore Engineering: Grace Coleman

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