Three Dancemakers Explore Change

by Jean Schiffman

Local dancemakers Kim Epifano, Joe Goode and James Sofranko present fresh, inspiring new works.

Longtime local dancemaker Kim Epifano calls the first part of her new world premiere a “wandering gathering.” Audiences follow a live music-, dance-, storytelling- and visual art-enhanced path through parts of SOMA, arriving at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Forum for a wraparound performance that Epifano envisions as a “live, pulsing thing.”

Choreographer and dance-theater pioneer Joe Goode, whose company is now 30 years old, was thinking about “things that disappear”—for example, places that are destroyed in war—and wondered if he himself is in some sense disappearing as he ages. His new piece explores that theme in his signature text-based style.

Former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer James Sofranko sees himself as a curator as well as an artist—he programmed his company’s second season (which includes both an American and a world premiere) to offer audiences a mix of styles and his dancers the opportunity to be enriched by the variety.

Last Blue Couch in the Sky

For Kim Epifano, whose Epiphany Dance Theatre is celebrating its 20th anniversary, it’s essential to connect with the communities where she lives and works, to explore themes of social justice and to make dance accessible to all. (She has produced SF Trolley Dances, free, on Muni streetcars since 2004.) For “Last Blue Couch in the Sky,” commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, she reached out to several SOMA organizations for input, inspiration and assistance, among them Hospitality House for the homeless and Bessie Carmichael Elementary School. 

The title derives from artist Brian Goggin’s recently dismantled, 1997 installation “Defenestration,” which featured a blue couch on the fire escape of the Orlando, an SRO hotel in the Tenderloin. “The city is going through huge changes,” Epifano observes, “and that sculpture felt like a metaphor for that change.” The blue couch reappears in this premiere.

To create the historically based (and admission-free) walking portion of the piece, Epifano solicited local playwright Joan Holden to collaborate on the script. Audiences gather at a mini-plaza to be guided through neighborhoods that these days are largely Filipino and Nepalese, with stops along the way to observe artwork by local residents, listen to a singer on the fire escape of the Orlando and other attractions. Local actor Bob Ernst, with dancers, leads the crowd on a storytelling promenade from the merry-go-round at the Children’s Creativity Museum to YBCA’s Forum, for the ticketed part
of the show.

There, the dancers surround the viewers, who are sitting on stools. “I want the audience to have the live action feeling of a street corner,”
says Epifano.

June 2 → 4

Tutubi Plaza, Russ St. between Minna and Natoma/Yerba Buena Center
for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission St., San Francisco
(415) 978-2787


Nobody Lives Here Now

When you’re a dancer, explains Joe Goode, and your identity is so deeply connected to your body, and the accumulated injuries of 40 years of dancing catch up with you, you wonder, who am I now? It was that question-to-self that inspired this new piece for his company, Joe Goode Performance Works. He’d started out by thinking about a village in France that was entirely wiped out by the Nazis and that, he says, “led me to a more interior space which is where my work tends to go, [to wonder] am I myself disappearing?” That thought led, too, to ideas about gender and its permutations. And from there he created “Nobody Lives Here Now,” about the mysteries of aging and identity, for four dancers, set to classical music (Shostakovich’s Opus 15—“slightly sad, melancholy; I fell in love with it”—plus movements from symphonies by Stravinsky
and Debussy) performed live by the Thalea String Quartet.

Goode’s text correlates his concept to corny magic-show disappearing acts. As the fifth member of the ensemble, he himself portrays an older magician who knows that in life there’s a natural arc—it’s not shazzam all the time—and that as something disappears, something else appears.

A secondary character “disappears” inside her own body (which is neither strictly male nor female; what’s disappearing is firmly edged gender identity, explains Goode). The other characters are magician’s assistants who narrate and who are intentionally cheesy, stylistically presentational. Performers emerge from and disappear into a de rigueur magic cabinet, and design elements include video by David Szlasa, with facial close-ups. “That’s my homage to Ingmar Bergman,” Goode says. “The interior look of somebody—I love that.”

Also on the bill: a retrospective of Goode’s choreographic career, including various landmark pieces.

June 22 → 24

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Theater, 701 Mission St., San Francisco 978-2787


José Limón’s “Chaconne,” set to music by J.S. Bach and performed here by Pascal Molat, is the oldest in the SFDanceworks’ lineup—which comprises six pieces and nine dancers—that James Sofranko assembled for his company this year. He included Limón’s 1942 solo because “I haven’t seen as much Limón as I should have, living here in San Francisco. He’s one of the fathers of modern dance in America.” Sofranko studied Limón’s technique, as well as techniques of other choreographers, at Juilliard.

He wanted an international contribution, so U.K. choreographer Christopher Bruce’s 2014 “Shadows” will make its American premiere here. “I feel like we haven’t seen much of his work in San Francisco, either,” he explains. The piece, featuring a quartet of dancers and with music by Arvo Pärt, is set in Eastern Europe in the 1940s and depicts a family being forced from their home. “With all the upheaval of the world refugee crisis, it really spoke to me,” Sofranko says. “It puts an image on something that’s hard to describe in words, that only dance can do. It stirs up emotions that are important [to acknowledge] as families go through difficult times.”

And because he also wants to promote new work, especially by local choreographers, he commissioned local dancemaker James Graham. “James is from a dance/theater background,” he says. “He’s worked with Joe Goode. I think he’ll put a little theatrical element in there. A lot of the other pieces [in the program] are very dancey. It’s good for dancers to go outside their box a little.”

Also on the bill are Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Never Was”; Penny Saunders’ “Soir Bleu,” an ensemble work inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings; and Danielle Rowe’s duet “For Pixie.”

June 22 → 24

ODC Theater, 3153 17th St.,
San Francisco 863-9834