Liss Fain’s work ranges from pure dance pieces to collaborations with composers, lighting and set designers, videographers, actors and technologists. The company presents performance installations that bring the audience inside the set and close to the performers, proscenium performances, artistic exchanges with companies from abroad and free public outreach performance events.
Liss Fain’s work expresses the unpredictable course of events that comprise one’s life and peoples’ responses to unforeseen situations. Non-narrative, highly physical and emotionally powerful, her work fuses modern dance’s forceful energy with the kinetic precision of ballet.The company has performed and taught at festivals and venues in Poland, Germany, Belarus, Russia and the UK as well as colleges, universities, festivals and presenting organizations in the US. Their home seasons in San Francisco are presented at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Z Space.
I Don’t Know and Never Will is based on excerpts of letters Liss Fain received decades ago. It recreates the intimacy, the deeply personal connections and the introspection of a relationship frozen in time through letters.
The dance is completed. And now the dancers have begun dancing in the soil. Their movement pushes through it, pushes it aside. The soil, contained in the corridors of the installation at first, invades the entire world of the installation as the dancers move. Watching the dancers in it, you feel the soil, smell it, see the movement’s sweep and delicacy in it.
The three percussionists—Jordan Glenn, Nava Dunkelman, Jacob Felix Heule—and their varied and wonderful collection of traditional and odd instruments are in the rehearsal studio with us this week, coordinating with the dancers. What a pleasure to have live music. And what amazing musicians, innovative and thoughtful.
I am taking my installation work in a new direction with I Don’t Know and Never Will. The smell of damp earth and leaves fills ODC Theater. Tactile and not really recognizable objects gradually collect in one of the three performance areas. My memories of a friendship from decades ago that is frozen in time and kept vivid by our letters makes I Don’t Know and Never Will the most personal work I have made. Written without editing or premeditation, with immediacy and forthrightness, his letters juxtapose descriptions, observations and feelings so acutely that I can see, feel, hear and smell it all. I’ve lost touch with him. I picked up a very old thread and wrote him. I want to know who he is now, but he hasn’t replied.
Speaking excerpts of the letters, actor Val Sinckler is inside the installation alongside the dancers (Jeremiah Crank, Sonja Dale, Megan Kurashige, Shannon Kurashige, Sarah Woods-LaDue). A commissioned score by percussionist Jordan Glenn is played live by three musicians from platforms placed over the theater seats. The world of these letters is made complete by Matthew Antaky’s installation design and Mary Domenico’s costumes.
An installation in the lobby of ODC Theater invites the audience and a broad range of people in the community to write a letter or note (anonymously) to the prompt: Write to someone about something you wish you had done and didn’t do. At one point in the piece, excerpts of a few of these will be read, with dancers and musicians improvising.
Known Once premieres this week! Get your tickets HERE (early bird discount of $10 per ticket until May 15).
From artistic director Liss Fain:
Known Once is about personal stories, memory and perception. The students and seniors we worked with dove into this project with openness and energy, letting us into their hearts and giving us stories that we treasure.
The piece is in part choreographed directly to their stories and movement, and in part I worked with broader concepts of memory—what remains important to us over time and how these deep undercurrents and fragments of images shape the trajectory of our lives. The installation for Known Once, with a wall behind and a moving wall in front, represents a life expanding and contracting. The choreography reaches into the past and enfolds the range of emotions and experiences we carry forwards.
Known Once developed through a deeply collaborative process with the dancers, in which they individualized phrases and created movement from prompts that are designed to be interpreted liberally and personally. Through the movement, the dancers brought their own memories into the piece.
Hear the voice of Walter Kanat, who is 93 years old and one of our senior collaborators, get a peek of Known Once in rehearsal, and hear a little preview of Dan Wool’s score in the video below:
We had the final workshop at The Redwoods on Thursday. I asked them to talk about their parents; I thought it would be interesting to hear people in the 90’s reflect on their parents. It was that and much more. Walter described unlacing and taking off his father’s shoes when he came home from work; how he felt it was an honor to do that. There was so much caring and thoughtfulness in all their voices. Here is one of the many very moving things they talked about—Letty told us that her husband had to help her get out of bed because she had had a stroke. Once he had taken her hands and pulled her up, he put his arms around her and slowly danced and sang the Tennessee Waltz.
Here’s Patsy Cline’s version of this iconic song:
In rehearsal now, we are grappling with how to use the final story in the piece, told by Walter, one of the seniors. His story begins descriptively and energetically, then reaches into my heart. His voice has energy, warmth and cadence. It is a wonderful problem to work on—how to convey his appreciation and joy, frustration and sadness in movement that is only slightly representational but also not overwhelmingly dancey.
There is a lot of gorgeous dancing in Known Once—thanks to the remarkable dancers. And we are nearly finished, with lots of detail-oriented work to do in the final weeks. Now I am thinking about how to make clear, when there is no spoken voice in the score, that the stories and movement we gathered in the fall underlie and inform the choreography. This is partly in the score. Dan Wool has brought in his first version of the first part of the score, and we realized it needed more of a sense of time and more voices to establish the human elements anchoring the piece.
I really like the back and forth of different points of view that happens all the time with a group of opinionated and assertive individuals in a rehearsal. Sometimes what I thought would work does not work at all; and I am not clear about the path I think the piece should take. With this last story, we are at that indeterminate place.
After the first month of intensive rehearsals for Known Once, artistic director Liss Fain shares some thoughts about how ideas change and how she is exploring the stories of the seniors and young people that the company worked with last fall.
From Liss: How to create a work about memory and perception, about connections with people that were lasting or transient, a piece that embodies the people we worked with in the fall? I’ve listened to the stories the seniors told us again and again. How do we convey the feeling in their stories and voices?
It’s been a month of intense rehearsals. I walked in with a lot of ideas that got changed quickly. As we developed the movement, my ideas about how to use the stories the seniors and students told us shifted, my original plan for the design of the installation turned topsy-turvy, and the tone I had thought the piece would take veered in another direction. This Wednesday was the day my concepts reset. The installation design shifted dramatically, becoming more fluid, less rigid, and the missing connections in the choreography became clear—more partnerings, shifting partnering, more large group movement sections.
The individuality of the dancers brings physical and emotional clarity to this piece. I am fortunate and thankful to be working with five strong, thoughtful and adventurous people.
“WOW!! I really was taken by the concept that all, not only professional dancers, can learn to express thoughts and feelings by body movement.” – Walter, age 92
A huge THANK YOU to our wonderful seniors from The Redwoods and students from 826 Valencia for diving into our workshops and our newest project, Known Once, with us. Their stories and movement are the seeds for this new large-scale performance installation.
Anna, age 13, about things she cared about and lost: “Sometimes it is alright to lose things… everything in life has a cause. Every mistake and success, every gift and loss, every choice you make effects you or who you want to be.”
Letty, age 93, about herself as a young child and her mother: “I loved being cuddled by her and held by her. But, mostly I didn’t see her. I’d see her through the plate glass while she was teaching.”
Charles, age 94, about living on a boat as a nine year old: “There were times at night–it was a great sense of power–we took watches… At night, the magical time, when my time at the wheel was up, I would make my way forwards on the boat and lie down on the deck. I would lie there for hours.”
Walter, age 92, about his dog Sadie: “The dog was a little, nervous, crazy dog. Sadie would be nervous, undisciplined, untrained. So, I had a conflict really: how do I exist with this kind of dilemma? I learned that I had to accommodate.”
Known Once premieres May 18-21 at Z Space, San Francisco.
We begin rehearsals this winter–drawing on the audio, video, and written text from our fall workshops, and developing our own movement stories. Along the way, we’ll be teaching more workshops and continuing our connections with our vibrant middle-schoolers and seniors.
Help us bring Known Once to life. Support LFD’s work in performance and with seniors and students. Donate via our website HERE
Sponsor: A dancer for a day – $80 Rehearsal studio rental for a day – $140 A dancer for a week – $400 One costume design – $500 The set design – $5,000 The musical score – $5,000 The theater rental – $6,200
Liss Fain Dance is a 501(c)3 organization. Contributions are fully tax-deductible
Watch the trailer of our 2016 premiere TACIT CONSENT:
Watch a video about our fundraising campaign to bring KNOWN ONCE to life in 2017:
“I have a clear picture of each of you moving in designs of such beauty and grace. You have left me with a magical memory I can slide out to rescue myself from stubborn moments of pain, loneliness, or complaints from others. I think of you as family.” – from Charles, one of the seniors LFD worked with this fall
When our work touches someone, we know to keep moving forwards.
LFD’s intensive workshops developing personal stories and movement with seniors at The Redwoods, a mixed-income residential community in Mill Valley, and middle-schoolers in a partnership with 826 Valencia, a San Francisco organization that supports writing and literacy in young people, are the roots of Known Once, a large-scale installation work that will premiere at Z Space in San Francisco, May 18-21, 2017.
Join us in bringing Known Once to life.
The support of our audience members and friends is essential to Liss Fain Dance. You make innovative projects like Known Once possible.
We are partway to our funding goal of $15,000. Help us reach 100%!
You can help make Known Once. Donate via our website HERE.
A dancer for a day – $80
Rehearsal studio rental for a day – $140
A dancer for a week – $400
One costume design – $500
The set design – $5,000
The musical score – $5,000
The theater rental – $6,200
Liss Fain Dance is a 501(c)3 organization. Contributions are fully tax-deductible