Known Once comes to life

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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.

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Photos: RJ Muna (top), LFD

A Space Divided: Q&A with guest choreographer Christian Burns

Christian Burns with Katharine and Jeremiah
Christian Burns with LFD dancers Katharine Hawthorne and Jeremiah Crank

A Space Divided is an evening-length performance event featuring three new works by Liss Fain, Amy Seiwert, and Christian Burns, each created on the dancers of Liss Fain Dance and in response to an immersive installation designed by Matthew Antaky. A Space Divided premieres at Z Space in San Francisco April 9-12. More info HERE.

Q: Why did you decide to do this project?

Christian Burns: I accepted the invitation to participate in this project because I wanted a new challenge and this presented a new access into creating for non-traditional performance environments. I have worked within installation-based constructs before, and I sensed this project with LFD would stretch my choreographic abilities. Being able to collaborate within such a large scale installation environment has afforded new considerations about how to explore craft, perspective, and the engagement of the 4th wall.

Another reason was my desire to shift gears and mix up the types of projects I am working on. Since 2009, I have primarily focused on my solo improvisational practice while developing a supportive body of work with other dancers and musicians. This project is allowing me to return to craft and sharpen my choreographic blades while still existing within a non-traditional format.  I found this to be a really perfect project for me right now, and I have already gleaned some new insights into my process and craft.

Q: What have you found most interesting, exciting, and/or challenging about this process?

Christian Burns: Uncertainty, as a subject in and of itself, is the most interesting and challenging topic of all within this project. There are so many different factors determining multiple outcomes – moment to moment – most of which can’t be controlled by any one artist. This can become either frustrating or, for me, absolutely exciting and fascinating. I love the risk it represents and the opportunity for pushing our abilities.

Additionally, the proposal of three different choreographers responding to the same sculptural environment and woven into a single evening of dance while performed by the same ensemble of dancers, was in itself a very interesting and exciting prospect.

The primary challenge for me was to create a piece that could deliver a strong choreographic point of view, while flexibly allowing for the alternative perspectives of an autonomous audience who are free to engage with the dance on their own terms. The opportunity to craft with control by completely relinquishing control has been humbling and absolutely exciting. I can’t wait to experience the evening myself and see what connections reveal themselves that couldn’t have been preconceived.

Q: What is something that you hope the audience will experience or notice during your piece?

Christian Burns: I want the audience to feel at home within the installation and comfortable with allowing the piece to come to them, to observe what they want, not feeling worried that they might miss something, or not get something. There will be many elements to take in, physical and ephemeral, that offer brief or sustained moments of choreographic clarity unique to that moment. I want the audience to enjoy this opportunity to observe, notice and let their own critical and associative thoughts to float.

My piece is abstract and non-representational; it’s not ‘about’ anything, but is embodied with precise and intentional physical and emotional dynamics. The dance will energetically rise and fall, shift and turn and be supported by a strong musical composition infused with historic and contemporary references. I want the audience to be equally interested in a dance sequence up close immediately in front of them, or far away through the distance, sometimes looking actively to see an event, and sometimes sitting still and allowing events to pass in front of them.

Christian Burns is the director of burnsWORK and co-founder of Parsons Hall Project Space (Holyoke, MA). He choreographed his first dance at age sixteen and in 1994, one year after his training at the School of American Ballet, became hooked on Contact Improvisation. His choreography, improvised performances, and dance-for-camera works have been presented throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. As a performer, he was a guest artist with The Forsythe Company and a company member with Alonzo King LINES Ballet and James Sewell Ballet among others. He has been awarded the Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange (CHIME, mentor), Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship for Choreography, National Choo-San Goh Award for Choreography, Paula Citron Award for Choreography for Camera (Moving Pictures Festival, Toronto, CA), and a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Dancers. burnsWORK is a Company in Residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. For more information: burnswork.org

A Space Divided: Q&A with guest choreographer Amy Seiwert

Amy Seiwert with LFD dancers Jeremiah Crank and Shannon Kurashige
Amy Seiwert with LFD dancers Jeremiah Crank and Shannon Kurashige

A Space Divided is an evening-length performance event featuring three new works by Liss Fain, Amy Seiwert, and Christian Burns, each created on the dancers of Liss Fain Dance and in response to an immersive installation designed by Matthew Antaky. A Space Divided premieres at Z Space in San Francisco April 9-12. More info HERE.

Q: Why did you decide to do this project?

Amy Seiwert: I am utterly fascinated with installation work and work in non-traditional settings. I like the viewer being able to see things close, allowing them to become fascinated with a dancer’s artistic nuance that might never be seen across a proscenium. I also love that the work can be seen from all sides, which presents the challenge of losing a back and front choreographically. It has required a mental shift in my creation process.

Q: What have you found most interesting, exciting, or challenging about making work for an installation environment?

Amy Seiwert: Limitations can often bring about new pathways. I think that’s happened here, but I won’t know for sure until I see the work in the space with an audience. The audience is a real part of the work, and I can’t know how that’ll actually affect how it’s viewed until people are in there. That’s a bit scary, which is wonderful.

Q: What is one thing you found enjoyable about the process? What is one thing you found particularly challenging?

Amy Seiwert: The dancers. This is a great group of intelligent artists who I have really enjoyed spending time with. The challenges–dealing with me being sick, then my psoas spasm, then some dancer injuries… But even with all this, I think we’ve made something special.

Amy Seiwert, Artistic Director of Imagery, was mentored under the wing of the late Michael Smuin, and keeps a relationship with Smuin Ballet as the Resident Choreographer. She has been commissioned by Ballet Austin, BalletMet, Smuin Ballet, Robert Moses KIN, as well as the repertory ballet companies of Washington DC, Atlanta, Oakland, Sacramento, Colorado, Louisville, Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Dayton and Milwaukee, among others. Her work has earned exuberant praise: “[Seiwert] is quite possibly the Bay Area’s most original dance thinker, taking what some consider a dead language and using it as a 21st century lingo to tell us something about who we are” (San Francisco Bay Guardian). She is honored to be an Artist in Residence at the ODC Theater. www.ASImagery.org

A Space Divided: Q&A with artistic director Liss Fain

photo by Eugene Borodin
photo by Eugene Borodin

A Space Divided is an evening-length performance event featuring three new works by Liss Fain, Amy Seiwert, and Christian Burns, each created on the dancers of Liss Fain Dance and in response to an immersive installation designed by Matthew Antaky. A Space Divided premieres at Z Space in San Francisco April 9-12. More info HERE.

Q: Why did you want to do this project?

Liss Fain: I wanted to work in a completely different way than I have in our previous installation works, to push myself in an uncomfortable direction. Creating a piece that is rooted in Matthew Antaky’s ideas and installation design, rather than my ideas driving his installation design, has been challenging and really interesting. I’ve taken the root of his underlying concept and found an idea for my piece that I wouldn’t have come upon otherwise. The process has been a struggle and a surprise for me. Also, I wanted to include other choreographers in LFD’s installation work, and this project puts the three choreographers on equal footing—we all went into this not knowing what Matthew would present us with.

Q: What are you most excited about? What has been most challenging so far?

Liss Fain: We are going to join the three pieces with very brief movement segments, to create an evening-length performance event. And Dan Wool is unifying the scores for each piece into a seamless whole. I’m determining the order, creating the connecting movement, and finalizing the sound design the week before we go into the theater. I’m really excited to see how this will happen.

The most challenging aspect of the project has been the short time frame for creating a piece, defining and fleshing out the depth of an idea.

Q: What is one thing about your own piece that you’ve found inspiring or difficult?

Liss Fain: It has been both inspiring and difficult to work with the idea of our private and personal stories, the hidden stories—how they evolve and where they lead. My piece, Secret Stories, is about the individual dancers. The text, from a variety of writers, is non-fiction, reflective impassioned fragments. I’m trying to press a little further the individual stories.