The art of architecture is motion frozen in time to host the living present. Lizz Roman’s latest dance work DEEPER, just opened at CounterPULSE on Mission, explores a staple of the storefront architecture in this neighborhood, a twenty-five foot wide black box. CounterPULSE has inhabited the space between the bare concrete walls for a few years now, making some modest improvements along the way for an arts and culture center. The five dancers of Lizz embrace those building modifications enthusiastically as they present modern dance within the context of the building itself.
The four-member group Watersaw provides the driving rhythm and gritty urban undercurrent line that animates the dancers. With cello, electric bass, electronic loops, and muted vocals, the banda is positioned at what would ordinarily be the upstage end of the house, directly opposite from where risers have been constructed to accommodate patron seating. But no chairs are available there for this production. Some are set on the stage deck in rows facing the western wall, but you won’t get to sit still for long. Guides, including Lizz herself, will urge you to walk to another location to see dancers interpret areas such as the lobby, under the seat risers or the actors’ hallway.
One of the improvements at CounterPULSE is an enclosed service area running along the western wall and containing three rooms behind separate doors: a small kitchen and two toilets. You don’t get to pee during the show because dancers are enacting vignettes of human experience with suggested trysts in the unisex toilets.
Above the kitchen and toilets is an unimproved ledge of utility conduits and storage. Intimately pressing the ductwork, the dancers express angst, discomfort and fondness as they move along the top. Here some pin-spots or more colorful area lighting might have been more dramatic, but this cries out for a cliché: The building is what it is, a utilitarian structure from the last century.
Lizz Roman uses surprising transitions and performers hanging from doors like gorillas to express an emotional relationship to the obdurate physical presence of the building. Her vocabulary of movement and inflections specifically relate to the physical space. One solo piece gives a sense of anomie, performer lost alone in a space so vast he fears to inhabit. Other sections involve climbing the ductwork, an intimate look at the building’s innards.
DEEPER: Architectural Meditations plays through July 1 at CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission Street (nr 9th), San Francisco. Tickets ($20 to $25) are available online at eventbrite.com and www.counterpulse.org or by phone at 415.626.2060.