Not just another number
The Meridian Gallery is located in a narrow, elegantly designed Victorian at Powell and Sutter streets in San Francisco. Not simply a gallery, the lively Meridian also houses a student intern arts program, a musical concert series and a dance series. This past weekend, members of the Taipei-based dance group, 8213 Physical Dance Theater, presented a series of short choreographies as a world premiere titled “Hello, My Name is Joe.”
Based on a children’s song, in which the players push, pull and turn buttons as directed by the “boss”, the program choreographed by Casey Avaunt and Jack Sun is described as “an investigation of the overt and subtle ways humans and their bodies confront power structures. In a highly physical and emotional battle, the dancers negotiate their freedom in a site-specific work.”
True, but not really the whole story.
With three excellent dancers and choreographers, this mini group—part of a larger company in Taiwan—paces through short recognizable narratives of contemporary worker-drone life. In “It’s not too late” two workers mirror each other in repeating patterns of wiping their brows, taking notes on their palms, and diving toward bells they ring to switch on revolving lights. During short interludes, an increasingly thuggish-looking man in a suit distributes oversized bills to the exhausted, post-frantic workers. In a second sketch, “Conversation Doesn’t Work,” a couple revels in competitive parodies while engaged in short meaningless “conversations”—the wife speaking English, the husband Chinese.
Nevertheless, all the sketches are done with such absurdist humor and wry light-heartedness, that the political pill is easy to swallow. The result is less a critique of the small and large cruelties of our capitalist world than a sly nudging and a rueful glance at the limitations of our lives, a sort of we’re-all-in-this-together session of sympathizing.
This sense of mutuality is underlined by the group’s interaction with the audience, which is frequent and frequently comic. The dancers pass out playground items, from tennis balls to soccer balls, to unsuspecting audience members. Avaunt wanders through the audience trying out various articles of clothing, this time taken from those bemused audience members: a purse—“doesn’t this look good on me,” she asks—or a jacket, which she redistributes to someone else in the audience—“this would look good on you too,” she adds. Or she sits on an audience member’s lap, only to burst into tears on the woman’s shoulder. Following close behind her is Colin Epstein, who hands out money and apologies left and right.
It wasn’t all just comedy though. These are talented and skilled dancers, and each took the opportunity to display their technique: Avaunt with a percussive dance that was more reminiscent of break dancing than modern dance though it partook of both; Epstein, whose acrobatic movements were remarkably fluid and athletic; and Jack Sun with some extraordinarily graceful Chinese operatic movements that morphed into the repetitive anxieties of exercises like jump-roping.
The choreography was done in response to the print show, “In Extremis,” now on view at the gallery, with work from familiar local artists, such as Jos Sances, Doug Minckler and Rik Olson. Exquisite small etchings filled the rooms of the second floor. Black and white spit-bite aquatints by Jessica Dunne showed shadowy images of bicycles and cars on freeways, and Sarah Newton’s multi-plate color aquatints presented flashes of cityscapes at night, reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” David Avery’s etchings added a piquant touch of the whimsical and the ironic.
“In Extremis” continues through July 30, at the Meridian Gallery, 535 Powell St., San Francisco. For information, call 415-398-7