This isn't the duos first foray into performing sans a stage: They've danced in an empty store at the Westfield Shopping Center during the holiday season, strutted their stuff in Union Square Park, and just last week took their modern moves to a UCSF LGBT mixer on the rooftop grass patio at the Mission Bay site. (Gotta love the bounce back a sprung surface like grass provides.)
Smith and Rein, partners in dance for more than a decade (and housemates too), are artists-in-residence at ODC Dance Commons, where they teach classes in the wildly popular Rhythm and Motion program (Full disclosure: This writer has been an R&M devotee for 20 years.)
And, like fellow teacher Amara Smith, the pair want to play with food in their creative work. "San Francisco has such a strong, pulsing food culture that we're all naturally pulled to it," says Smith. "I also think there's something about the sense of community around food, the act of bringing people together to share an experience, that's really appealing to tap into."
Rein and Smith, both vegetarians, cook, eat, and experiment in the kitchen together, which is the only room in their house they can dance in. They're also big fans of Top Chef, where Falkner has served as a judge. (This month she can be found among the competition on The Next Iron Chef on the Food Network.)
In flight: Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein of RAWdance. Photo: R. J. Muna
Despite the unconventional setting, the dancers choreography exhibits classic technique with a strong physicality, set to violin music composed by Sarn Oliver, one half of Tangled Duo, which performed live in the preview run of this work last Tuesday. Scheduling conflicts prevent the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra members from performing each evening.
The dance world can be insular and elitist, says Smith, which is why his company performs for the public in unexpected places. "We like to break down those boundaries by showing athletic, crafted work up close and personal without any distance from our audience," he says.
Dancing in a restaurant is not without unique challenges. "The performance is a constant negotiation between musicality, character, spacing and safety," says Smith of the self-contained piece performed in the heart of the dining room while staff ferry hot food to hungry customers. "We have to negotiate jackets hanging from chairs, purses on the floor, waiters passing by, and dropped spoons." He adds: "It's a tricky situation but a fun one."
This writer can report that no food went flying (except as choreographed) during last Wednesday night's two performances and diners seemed delighted by the cheeky interlude between courses.
The curious and couples looking for something special for date night should snag a table at Orson tonight or tomorrow.
And, heads up to those who want to catch the show without forking out major money in the dining room for, say, hangar steak: The bar or lounge serve as perfectly fine spots from which to watch.
Orson's Happy Hour menu, now available from 5 to 8, features duck fat French fries, curry cauliflower gratin, and mac & cheese, along with $5 cocktails. Watching patrons' reactions to the seemingly spontaneous display in the dining area: Priceless.
Orson Restaurant Bar + Lounge
508 4th Street
(between Bryant & Brannan Streets)
October 18 and 19