The intimate architecture of Relief, the latest from Charles Slender-White’s contemporary dance company FACT/SF, seeks a certain hard-won solace.
It does away with any big, overarching themes, and instead pursues a joyful, close-quarters engagement with its small audience, which is limited to 40.
The evening begins mulling around a small bar in a corner of the Joe Goode Annex, the cavernous post-industrial box at the northwest corner of Project Artaud in San Francisco's Mission District.
The space has been pared down so that the bar and some nearby chairs form a cozy antechamber alongside another box framed by vertical columns covered in permeable paper. This interior paper box reveals six dancers in a strenuous group warm-up.
Eventually, bartender Jeanne Pfeffer lifts a section of one column and invites the audience inside, onto a single row of chairs along the three makeshift walls painted cobalt blue.
The enclosed yet porous space sets off the 24-foot-high ceiling dramatically. There's a sense of elevation, even as one feels one cannot hide from either the dancers or one’s fellow audience members.
This combination of intimacy and openness proves a potent and integral aspect of the piece that unfolds.
It begins with a series of stylized falls, as the impressive ensemble of performers and co-creators (Liane Burns, Michaela Burns, Catherine Newman, LizAnne Roman Roberts, Amanda Whitehead, and Slender-White) repeatedly slip from their seats and onto the floor with resounding force in several looping, modulated patterns. Their pounding, sharply sculpted, almost relentless movements introduce us to a rigorous architectural impulse that is more or less maintained throughout, though in a surprising variety of ways.
At times, Slender-White's dancers inject the austere physical landscape with a great deal of humor—triumphal postures, cheerleading vaults, mincing robotic wandering and shameless voguing.
At one point, confronting a small house composed entirely of front-row seats, the dancers explore the room’s inhabitants like great fish circling shoreline bathers. They brush by the audience in slow-moving lines or with the graceful sweep of a limb, only to rush headlong at them a moment later, either in groups or singly.
Buoyed by a slyly surfacing, minimal soundtrack, and a shrewd sense of pattern and form that can make the collective dunk tank feel at times like the open ocean, Relief manages to create depths and vistas despite its close quarters.
FACT/SF Presents an Evening-Length World Premiere Relief by Charles Slender-White Produced in association with the Joe Goode Annex May 7-9 & 14-16, 2015, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco Tickets: $20-$30 available at http://www.factsf.org/relief.