I Don’t Know and Never Will Dancing in the Soil

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 Don’t Know and Never Will

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.

We have a new website!

LFD Website

LFD has a new website! We designed this one ourselves with the help of the wonderful Squarespace website building platform. We wanted to make the navigation clear and we wanted to make it easy for visitors to find more information on the company’s various projects. We also got to add more of the beautiful photos that RJ Muna and Benjamin Hersh have taken of LFD over the past few years.

Check out the new website HERE. We’d love to hear what you think! Leave a comment here or drop us a line via our new contact page!

Website building by LFD dancer/projects manager Megan Kurashige. Photo on the LFD homepage by Benjamin Hersh.

Some summer reading with Liss Fain

Literature is a huge influence on and inspiration for the work that Liss Fain Dance does, particularly for the company’s recent pieces that have incorporated text from writers like Lydia Davis, Jamaica Kincaid, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner. Liss is a voracious reader. She’s been reading piles of books for both fun and research for her next piece, which will premiere in October. Here are some titles that she recommends.

h is for hawkH Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
This is so multifaceted—a precise and poetic description of hawks and the history of falconry, the natural world, the author’s grief, her training of and communication with her hawk. Her language embodies the strength and single mindedness of the hawk and of herself.

at night we walk in circles

At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

war by candlelight
War by Candlelight by Daniel Alarcón


Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
I know this is old, and I read it many years ago, but it is more poignant reading it again now—about choosing what we value in the world, how and why we (the characters in the book) choose what to do/to be.

what is the what What is the What by Dave Eggers (about Valentino Achak Deng)
Now here is a vivd story about fortitude, ingenuity, will, luck, great faith and compassion that I can’t come close to describing except to say that it is humbling.

Another Observation: The Imperfect is Our Paradise

The Imperfect is Our Paradise is structured around relationships, and the continually changing context that drives their evolution. The unanticipated juxtapositions of duets and groups throughout the work establish the underlying questions and energy that infuse our lives with excitement, introspection, courage, sorrow, resolve.

The work began with my interest in the way the trajectory of history shapes peoples’ lives; how they adapt to, push back against, get pulled into the personal, political and social forces that create their environment. The title—from a line in the Wallace Steven’s poem The Poems of Our Climate—sums up, to me, the circumstances of our lives. The text is from The Sound and the Fury.

As I worked on the movement and on incorporating text from The Sound and the Fury into the score, I felt that I needed to make the juxtaposition of duets, solos and groups more erratic and unexpected, to reflect the way Faulkner has memories interrupt ongoing conversations and thoughts–you feel the energy created by their unannounced intrusion.

That rawness, introspection and fearlessness became the source of the structure and the movement of The Imperfect is Our Paradise.

Progress Update—the Imperfect is Our Paradise

We’ve been in rehearsal for two weeks now. As I work on the piece and think about using text to ground it and add depth, I keep returning to Faulkner and The Sound and the Fury. There are sections that are driving my ideas, however the language is both too abstract and too specific to the characters to use as large excerpts. Dan Wool had a really interesting idea of how to use the text and not get bogged down in too much text/narrative/dialogue. His suggestion is to take some longer passages from The Sound and the Fury where the imagery and cadence of the language support the movement, and have them read as if the audience was hearing something in passing—so that in the beginning the words are hard to distinguish, as if coming from a distance, then they become clearly audible and fade out. The effect is of dropping into and out of an ongoing story, experiencing some of the language and ideas and not expecting to get the narrative.

So that is where we now stand with Faulkner.

This is a section I love; it begins “The three quarters began…..” and then goes into “and i it doesn’t have to be even that long for a man of courage and he do you consider that courage and i yes sir don’t you and he every man is the arbiter of his own virtues whether or not you consider it courageous is of more importance than the act itself than any act otherwise you could not be in earnest ………”

The Imperfect is Our Paradise: Installation for ODC Theater September 2014

I’ve begun working on The Imperfect is Our Paradise, the new installation work we premiere in September at ODC. I’m thinking of using text again, and have read and re-read The Sound and the Fury, which is more powerful and startling each time. Faulkner constructs sentences that rip open the emotional core–having memory intrude into the narrative unexpectedly, in mid-thought, making time exist on multiple levels simultaneously. There is seldom punctuation to the memories. The sentences and fragments have no real beginnings or endings; I don’t always know who is speaking when dialogue is recounted. So I feel exactly like I am in the character’s mind, experiencing the rawness, relentlessness of his emotions. The triple negatives drive home the emotional confusion. The language moves like a river with strong and gentle currents, eddies, whirlpools—what is on the surface moving differently than what is below. Faulkner swirls the two together, abruptly bringing memory to the front in the middle of sentences.

I typed out some sections to see how the excerpts read–the trouble is that the narrative is continually threaded through, with lots of characters, and the narrative is complicated.  Taken apart as excerpts, it doesn’t make sense.

So I am now listening to a recording of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens. I like the image of the blackbird, I like the blackness and I like the way Stevens uses colors–colors represent vibrancy and life to him—it is stark and thoughtful and vibrant. Not restrained and not lush.

Meanwhile I am choreographing movement and designing structure. Variations of duets and solos will reappear unexpectedly, like the inseparable and intertwining past and present.

After the Light….almost at the end

I just listened to the recording of the actors, Val Sinckler and Marty Pistone, speaking the text, from The Waves, that will be in the piece. Listening to this felt like a moment of reckoning—does the text, short fragments from the novel, convey images of people looking at their lives, themselves and their friends, from different perspectives of time, and of the force of nature moving everything forwards with unstoppable momentum. The text and the characters’ voices become the internal thoughts and the back story for the dancers. The actors aren’t onstage; their voices are part of the score.

I’ve used the text as a scaffolding to build the dance on. I’m interested in the characters’ reflections on what they see in each other and themselves, and on time passing.  Virginia Woolf’s writing unfolds the vivid energy of the present moment that exists in childhood, the forceful and confident energy of people who feel they own the future, the quiet assessment of what is and what was and what will and will never be, the layers of life that become apparent over time.

 Now I am close to the end of After the Light and I’m thinking about where it will go, what I feel the energy and final images should be. The continual coming and going and the emotional images of the movement are leading to this point. I want to combine the forcefulness of the imagery—“Darkness rolled its waves….”—with the quietness of the darkness. So far, I haven’t figured this out.

After the Light, our newest installation piece

After the Light, our newest installation piece, uses passages from The Waves, Virginia Woolf’s experimental prose poem/novel. Written as interior monologues by six people whose lives intertwine from childhood through old age, The Waves follows their lives, their shifting relationships and changing perceptions of themselves and each other over time. I had begun reading the book several times and put it down. This time I decided I was going to keep at it, and I became enthralled. Delicately and powerfully, the writing moves between emotional reactions and thoughtful and pointed observations.

Unfolding inside an open space and surrounded by the audience and the installation, the architecture of the dance is striking. Matthew Antaky has designed a continuous series of archways that encompass the large, rectangular performance space and the audience. Dan Wool’s score incorporates the voices of the two actors, Val Sinckler and Marty Pistone. Their voices, sounding sometimes like people talking and sometimes like far away observers, intensify the feeling that the audience has entered a world with us.

There is not one character After the Light is built around, there are no distinct short stories. The characters’ brief, intermittent or ongoing relationships, the different directions the characters move in, the ineluctable force of life that pushes them on drove the creation of the dance. Descriptions of light and the sea—from daybreak to dark—which act as section breaks in The Waves, are used to heighten the emotional momentum in the piece.

We are now working on the ending, about transiency. I love this quote from Virginia Woolf: “ That is what is indescribable, that is what makes all images too static, for no sooner has one said this was so, than it was past and altered.”

Gearing Up

The false and the true are one
photo by Eugene Borodin

We are slowly gathering ourselves up for the company’s return to the studio in September and the beginning of some exciting new projects, both for the stage and in our outreach program.

Before we go on, we’d like to point out that a full video recording of The Water is Clear and Still, beautifully shot and edited by Rapt Productions during our May performances at the YBCA Forum, is now streaming online.

If that embed doesn’t work, you can watch it on YouTube or Vimeo.

On Wednesday, August 21st, we will be holding an audition for a male dancer to join the company for the creation of a new piece that will premiere at Z Space in San Francisco in January 2014. We are looking for a dancer who is comfortable with working in a collaborative process and has strong partnering skills. The working period will last approximately 12 weeks, from late September-January 12, 2014. There are generally 20 hours of paid rehearsal per week. Compensation is competitive. The audition will take place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance from 12:30 PM-4:30 PM. If you are interested in attending the audition, please send an email to megan[at]lissfaindance.org. Please include your CV and contact information.

That’s our biggest and most pressing news for the moment… Check back soon to hear more!