Eight dancers enter the space, a trail of whisper-white skirts floating delicately behind them. Their arms snap to attention, slicing through the air in violent defiance as they kick and leap against the sharp plucks of a nearby cello. At once rigid and taunting, their bodies lift and collapse in lanky disobedience, threatening to both bend and break at any given moment. Illustrating a glorious reconciliation between will and submission, the dancers’ unraveling is layered with significance.
When Brenda Way and KT Nelson set out to choreograph boulders and bones — a 60-minute manifesto about the laborious stages of the creative process — they knew they were plunging into a river of complex variables. As co–artistic directors of San Francisco’s 46-year-old dance company ODC/Dance, this would be their first foray into collaborating on an evening-length piece, and they were at a point in their careers where change seemed like an inviting prospect. “We’d been doing independent pieces next to one another for years,” said Way, “so there was already a foundation of respect for one another’s work. Finding common ground became an altogether new experience, challenging in the best possible way.”
During their one-year incubation process (in which they would create more than 150 separate dances before settling on their final incarnation), Way and Nelson discovered a shared affinity toward landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy’s site-specific work, finding commonality in the impermanence of his nature-based sculptures and the ephemeral qualities of dance. When Way learned that a friend of hers had commissioned Goldsworthy to build a piece on her property, she jumped at the chance to bring him into the project.
“We had all agreed to create a dance based off of the sculpture’s different stages of development — from conception to excavation to completion,” recalled Way. “When we learned the sculpture was going to be a Stonehenge, the nature of the movement suddenly had to reflect a bolder, more resilient theme than the one we had originally intended, so things went south for a while.” Add to that the digital component of videographer RJ Muna’s stop-action capture of the sculpture’s construction (photographing the site every 10 seconds for two months) and an original score composed by esteemed cellist Zoë Keating, and it became clear that this multimedia collaboration contained a dizzying array of moving parts. “It was a tumultuous process, to say the least,” laughed Way.
Way has certainly proved herself capable of bearing the weight of an elaborate project, as the founder of ODC Theater, the dance company’s wholly owned and operated center for the creation and presentation of contemporary dance. The organization’s headquarters, located in San Francisco’s Mission district, is made up of five cooperative components: a school that services 15,000 students year-round, a state-of-the-art theater, a clinic where dancers can tend to their bodies with immediacy, a gourmet café, and a professional touring company. “I tried to combine the insulated benefits of a college setting, where dancers can focus their energies on all of the detailed aspects of their art, with the inspirational energy and diversity of an urban environment,” she stressed.
This weekend, the UCSB Arts & Lectures series will host a much-anticipated presentation of boulders and bones in Santa Barbara before it makes its prestigious debut as a headliner for New York’s BAM Next Wave Festival. Audiences will be treated to a live musical performance by Keating, and what Way refers to as “living program notes” in the form of Muna’s time-lapsed film, setting a clear thematic tone and potentially engaging a broader audience in the process. “Let’s face it: Contemporary dance tends to appeal to a mostly female crowd,” she laughed. “Maybe the visual of bulldozers and excavation will draw more men in.”
ODC/Dance will perform boulders and bones Tuesday, October 17, 7 p.m., at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu