Known Once: Update #2


After our second session with the seniors at The Redwoods and our third session with the students at 826 Valencia, here are some words from Liss and some videos of our inspiring collaborators:

“This project gets more and more fascinating and surprising. We’ve spent three weeks sharing the worlds of middle schoolers at 826 Valencia and seniors at The Redwoods through stories and movement. The seniors, who in their 90’s we thought might be afraid to move much, are just the opposite. Last week, they all brought in objects and photos to describe and move from. Their memories, decades-old, are filled with detail and feeling. Charles rolled to the floor and described the serenity of lying on the deck of a schooner, moving with the ocean. Toba made the most lovely, fluid motion with her arms and torso when describing her beautiful grandmother, who had a duel fought over her. There is so much to tell and so much movement waiting to unfold that we’re extending the workshops for two more weeks.”

[This is Charles describing the feeling of lying on the deck. He had already rolled on the floor, beautifully, several times, so he chose to sit down this time.]

“At 826 Valencia, the kids moved to ‘texture’ words before writing to individual prompts. They each had a texture, then taught the group their movement. Natalie made an astonishing switch when she used the movement she had created for ‘burning,’ and changed it from a frenetic movement into a joyous one to reflect her story. There was something wonderfully genuine about each story which translated into movement. And there is so much energy.”

[This is Natalie working with the movement she made for the word “burning.”]


Help make Known Once: we’re fundraising to support this project that brings together storytelling and dance for kids and seniors. Make a tax-deductible donation of any size HERE.

Known Once: Update #1



For the past two weeks, Liss and the LFD company dancers have been visiting 826 Valencia in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood and The Redwoods in Mill Valley to work with middle school students and seniors on creating personal stories and movement for Known Once (if you haven’t heard about our Known Once project, check out the details HERE). After one session with the seniors and two with the kids, we’re sharing some thoughts from Liss and each of the dancers.

Sarah Dionne Woods-LaDue (LFD dancer):

I am fortunate to be in research and process with the generous and fascinating seniors at The Redwoods and youth at 826 Valencia. Something happens when a young person gets to interact with another person over 90 years old… I have no living grandparents myself and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to share in the exchange of histories and memories, and ideas about art and expression with people of that generation. It’s been a missing piece I didn’t know was missing. And what a beautifully odd situation to be thrown into! I’m discovering so much after just two brief hours spent with this community.

Working with the kids is a totally different speed. They’re just as willing to dive in as the seniors (and have just as much to share!), but we better keep things moving. The young ones seem to enjoy being thrown into idea after idea, while the seniors have a knack for leaning back into a moment and letting it play out without any expectation as to what might be coming next.

Sonja Dale (LFD dancer):

I had a wonderful time working with Maria, who told me about living in Argentina during the time of Los Desaparecidos. Her daughter met an American Marine while on vacation in Italy, and went to the US and stayed with his family, saving her from what could have been a terrible fate, and beginning the slow migration of Maria and her family to The United States.


Shannon Kurashige (LFD dancer):

On working with the kids at 826: One of my workshoppers had a memory that she couldn’t remember but was a story that her mother had told her about when she was around 2 years old. It is unbelievable  (it involves swinging an iguana like a lasso). It is set in an exotic location. It was full of detail and humor and has been shaped overtime into a story perfect for telling. I imagine that it is very much a part of who she is and who she thinks she is, but she doesn’t remember it. I started thinking about my own “genesis stories” and how they could very well be works of fiction but they are so important to who I believe I am.

On working with the seniors at The Redwoods: Listening to Marge was fascinating. She was describing a time when she was scared. She told me a story she has probably told many times before. In the telling she surprised herself with little details because she was telling it to a stranger who doesn’t know when to laugh or when to pre-empt the anecdote. Somehow upsetting the rhythm of the familiar story opened the door to details she thought she had forgotten. It seems funny that we can tell our stories so many times that you can forget what was actually there. It’s like when someone asks you to draw a $1 bill. You think you can until you sit down and try to. Which way does George face? Are there number ones on each of the four corners? I don’t even know what is on the back… But, maybe these are two separate things.



Megan Kurashige (LFD dancer):

There were two moments that struck me hard in our sessions with the seniors and the kids. Walter, one of the seniors who I worked with, told me the story of how he met his wife, Doris. “She was working at an organization for progressive politics,” he said, “and I was walking past and saw this beautiful young girl sitting on the floor by a mimeograph machine and she had ink on her face, black mimeograph ink, and I must’ve had this look of awe on my face. How do you make a movement that means ‘awe’?”

Anna, one of our 826 kids, was working on a description of the bedroom she had when she was six. She told me that it was a tricky thing to do because “I have the room in my head and I know what it’s really like, but I can’t control what happens in your head when you read these words, no matter how many things I tell you about it. It might be a different room for you.”

Liss Fain:

On working with the kids at 826: The kids always begin shyly and end with exuberance.Viva’s story about allowing her little sister to smear Vaseline all over her hair, which her mother then cut really short, was a movement comedy; and Rachel had all of us jumping off chairs. I love gathering everyone at the end in a group activity where we share what was created.  We played the name game, with each kid doing one of the movements they had just made and all of us repeating it. I love watching and listening to their take on their worlds.

On working with the seniors at The Redwoods: I did not expect to be so moved and excited. What a trove of memories–the seniors took us back decades to glimpse their lives. Lette, writing and talking about college, said “You remember the intensity of the 30’s”! I think she still has that intensity and energy. One of her movements was an explosion.



Help make Known Once: we’re fundraising to support this project that brings together storytelling and dance for kids and seniors. Make a tax-deductible donation of any size HERE.

Announcing a new project!

The Imperfect Is Our Paradise by Liss Fain Dance | 3LD Art & Tec

We are thrilled to announce a new project that brings together storytelling and dance. Known Once partners LFD with 826 Valencia, a San Francisco organization that supports writing and literacy in young people, and The Redwoods, a mixed-income residential community for seniors in Mill Valley.

Known Once builds on the personal stories of people from three age groups–students ages 10-14, seniors, and the LFD company dancers–to explore how events and memories shape a person’s moral sense and what it is in an individual story that grabs a listener emotionally.

In September and October, Liss Fain and the company dancers will work closely with students at 826 Valencia and seniors at The Redwoods to develop stories and movement in intensive workshop sessions. The company will then take the stories and movement into the studio and start weaving them into highly physical, emotionally resonant choreography.

Known Once will premiere in San Francisco in spring 2017. We are honored to bring these stories to the stage with us.

This is the first project for LFD that will draw on the words, movement, and experiences of people we work with. We can’t wait to get started and will be documenting the process here on the LFD blog! You can read more about the project on the LFD website.

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.

LFD Summer Reading: Liss

The LFD dancers have been sharing the books they’ve been enjoying over the summer (see: part 1 in the 2016 LFD summer reading posts, with recommendations from Katharine Hawthorne and Sonja Dale) and today we have two recommendations from LFD director and choreographer Liss Fain.

liss summer reading
Liss in the Tetons.


Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home is about change and forgiveness within oneself, a family and a community. In a small Iowa town, the adult son of an elderly dying minister returns home after a twenty-year absence. A reprobate without any particular malevolent intentions, the son questions his father, his sister (who also has returned home), and his father’s best friend (another minister) about whether you are born evil, uncaring, criminal. Is it possible to change or have you destroyed too much trust; and can you be forgiven for your choices. Predestination versus free will; where does one end and the other begin? Can you understand what in yourself is compassion, hypocrisy and blindness?”

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is written as a monologue—the letters of a dying minister, John Ames, to his seven-year-old son. Ames’s random compilation of observations, thoughts and autobiographical stories create a portrait of a man with a depth of kindness, astute observations of nature and people, and a jealous anger he cannot resolve. The non-narrative fragments are the perfect structure for Robinson’s poignantly poetic, insightful, and astutely human prose.”

LFD Summer Reading: Katharine & Sonja

LFD is on a break from the studio, which means the dancers are busy traveling and catching up on other work and reading. They’ve been kind enough to share some reading recommendations from the books they’ve been enjoying, so if you’re looking for something to read as we head into the end of summer, consider these books. First up, recommendations from dancers Katharine Hawthorne and Sonja Dale:


From Katharine (pictured above):

On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City by Erick Lyle

“A portrait of late 90s SF from the author of the zine Scam. It’s poignant to read about the evolution of the city before the first dot-com boom, and to understand the parallels (and differences) to what we’re experiencing today.”

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit

“This book was written in the Bush era and helped me appreciate how much the world has changed (how much I have changed!) since then. An important read for right now, which certainly seems like a dark time on our national and international stage.”



From Sonja (pictured above):

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

“It’s a story about an old married couple who go in search of their long-lost son, but they can’t remember where he lives or even what he looks like. It’s set in old England, just after King Arthur’s reign. There is a strange “mist” that is wiping out everyone’s memories. It’s a story about human nature, and love, and memory, and adventure. All the good stuff!


“I also have been thoroughly enjoying Miss Marple murder mysteries.”


Kazuo Ishiguro got caught up in a minor uproar in the writing/publishing world when The Buried Giant came out. Many people seemed baffled or annoyed that he had written a “fantasy” novel. Neil Gaiman, after reviewing The Buried Giant for the NY Times, invited Ishiguro to have a conversation about genre snobbery and stories. The conversation was published in the New Statesman and it has a lot of delightful back and forth. Both authors seem intrigued by each other’s work and enchanted by the idea of stories as long-lived entities. Give it a read: “Let’s Talk About Genre: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation”


Photos of Katharine and Sonja 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.

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:

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.

The Installation Environment

In the company’s performance installation works, the performers are always inside the installation and visible, whether or not they are actively dancing. The dancers use the architecture of the installation to travel between areas, without disappearing from view. Because the audience sees the dancers who are watching and waiting, the relationships between the dancers are a part of the work. The way the dancers stand and watch, how they approach one another and move away are thought-out. In the background, they add emotional depth to the work. The concentration, passion, vulnerability and resolve of the performers stay with them as they quietly watch.