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Hope Mohr Dance's 2019 The Bridge Project Celebrated the Genius of Merce Cunningham

by Joanna G. Harris
November 11, 2019
ODC Theater
3153 17th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9834
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009.
This past August two former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Silas Riener and Raushan Mitchell taught a group of artists the technique, choreographic methodology and points of view that characterized Cunningham's work. Now three months later the ten artists chosen to complete the project presented their work in Hope Mohr Dance's 2019 Bridge Project Signals from the West:
Bay Area Artists in Conversation with Merce Cunningham at 100
, November 8 & 9 at San Francisco's ODC Theater.

The aim of the project, as quoted in the program was…"to create a space for contemporary cultural exchange between individuals with fantastically different bodies of knowledge; to make room for debate and communication across disciplines, generations and geographies.”

For the most part, the program on November 9 succeeded. After a respectful prayer to California's Ohlone Peoples tribes, the performing events included sound, movement, many video projections along with excerpts from the Cunningham repertory as staged by Riener and Mitchell. As an old Cunningham student, teacher and longtime observer of his works, I appreciated the pure dance excerpts most. Merce introduced "mixed-media" late in his career. Today’s artists seem devoted to that discipline.

"Underwater Moonlight" (days of blood & milk) by Sofia Cordova, written, performed and recorded in collaboration with Matt Gonzalez Kirkland, was about being “restricted by the limitations of postpartum life.” Four dancers were recorded moving slowly amid a variety of available sounds of mundane objects. Cordova notes she sees this work as “a disjointed conversation with Richard Moore and Merce Cunningham’s film “Assemblage.” It takes some concentration to attend to all the elements of this piece.

Other works on the program required similar attention and appreciation of mixed-media material. “Work in Place” was choreographed and danced by Sophia Wang along with Brontez Purnell. Her programs notes on the work said “so we tested routes for both capture and escape.”

The repetition of the dancers' entrances and exits made for attentiveness and clarity and some humor! The score and titles were provided by Kim West.

Other works included “Stop Play:: Quincunx” by writer/director Maxe Crandall, performed by Karla Quintero, Danny Thanh Nguyen, Julie Moon and Maxe Crandall. The work was described as a soap opera. “I shed the story, the ego sheds me,” said Julie Moon of “Quincunx”.

Dancer/choreographer Christy Funsch appeared on the TV screen reciting the names of 100 people from her career while dancer Nol Simonse moved “shards of material" from his 19 years of collaborative partnership with Funsch. Simonse is a superb dancer, clear and skilled in his execution of material, whether it be full-out dance moves or dramatic incidents.

Additional works included “Tejidos/Weavings”, a “structured improvisation for ensemble” and “Paris”, a well-executed solo by Alex Escalente. The program was highlighted both at the end and before intermission by excerpts from Cunningham's works, danced by Sarah Cecilia Bukowski, Traci Finch, Emily Hansel and Stacy Yuen as staged by Mitchell and Riener.

No matter what experimentation, innovation and collaboration was attempted and realized during the program, for this reviewer, watching Cunningham’s work was the ultimate reward.
Sarah Bukowski, Traci Finch, Stacey Yuen, Emily Hansel.

Sarah Bukowski, Traci Finch, Stacey Yuen, Emily Hansel.

Photo © & courtesy of Hillary Goidell

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