Deep in the middle of the performance of “95 Rituals,” as you find yourself on the back of a dancer who is clambering over benches on the upper deck of a ferry boat at the Hyde Street Pier, it hits home that there is delight to be mined in the small moments of human interaction, and that we are all performers in choreography not always of our own devising.
That everything in life is part of a larger dance is a metaphor taken for granted nowadays, but if one could trace it back to its root, you would undoubtedly find the work of Anna Halprin. So it seems appropriate that “95 Rituals,” a perambulatory birthday tribute to the modern dance pioneer devised by physical theater and dance company inkBoat, which culminated in five performances at the Hyde Street Pier this week, should mix humor, introspection, playfulness and memory with fearless gestures and thoughtfully crafted drama.
Honoree in attendance
The indomitable Halprin, who turns 95 on Monday, July 13, was on hand Wednesday evening in a vibrantly patterned wool coat and Uggs. That lent an extra sense of occasion to the denouement of what has been a two-month series of experiments — played out in venues from the Fort Mason Center farmers’ market to Yerba Buena Center’s Forum toDavid Szlasa’s miniature studio that was parked at Market and 10th streets — and a two-year journey since the site-specific “95 Rituals” was commissioned by Dancers’ Group from inkBoat director and Halprin collaborator Shinichi Iova-Koga.
Iova-Koga’s concept employed a system of art creation developed by Halprin and her late husband, Lawrence, known as the RSVP cycle, in which collaborators gather resource material, develop a score or set of instructions, evaluate the work and perform. The resources included inkBoat’s core company of nine, augmented by guest artists, and dozens of scores — some inchoate ideas and others detailed choreography, submitted by artists including Margaret Jenkins,Amara Tabor-Smith, Joe Goode, Brenda Way and Jess Curtis, and then interpreted often abstractly by the performers.
If the synthesis of all that sounds tedious, the result was anything but dull. “95 Rituals” is, in a challenging framework, both theatrical and personal, the operatic juxtaposed with the everyday.
At 5 p.m. sharp on Aquatic Cove’s beach, Heekyung Cho balanced dramatically atop a surf-splashed log as a youngster wearing a T-shirt reading “You got this, girl” frolicked beside the log, oblivious to the performance. The audience moved up the street to the pier.
Under a light drizzle, a mother and child played in a rowboat exhibit, then suddenly realized they were in the middle of a dance, as Iova-Koga and Sten Rudstrøm bailed buckets of seawater into the bay, Yuko Kaseki sprawled against a fence and Dana Iova-Koga rose from the sand, plunged into the bay and vanished disconcertingly under the water.
Performers beckoned us into the Eureka Ferry, where the rest of the evening took place. Shinichi Iova-Koga danced a tribute to Halprin’s movement workshops, responding bodily as Rudstrøm intoned well-known Halprinisms. Seated on a bench nearby, Halprin rumbled her feet on the floor in giddy approval at the contortions, slapping her leg as he deadpanned, “Notice how that feels. Isn’t that interesting?”
Sense of awe
Dozens of miniature rituals, a few involving one-on-one interactions with audience members, others more group-oriented, were scattered throughout the space, eliciting a childlike sense of awe in discovering strange scenes around a corner, or running outside to follow the source of a peculiar noise.
Crow Nishimura interviewed people for moments of joy and burden to store in her suitcase; Kaseki flung goose feathers into the air, delighting young children, who happily helped her collect them in a bag; Dohee Lee ran through the crowd, cawing like a bird; and Halprin happily cawed back at her. Inevitably your very presence meant you became part of the rituals, and the slightly disorienting bob of the moored Eureka only added to the vague sense of being thrown pleasantly off balance.
Near the end, everyone gathered in the lower deck for an elegiac butoh performance by Oguri and Roxanne Steinberg, while behind them a squadron of pelicans swooped low across the bay, and an enormous container ship slid past Alcatraz. For the moment, all movement and sound felt like theater worthy of examination and appreciation. “95 Rituals” is not Halprin’s work, and yet her essence, the vitality, the curiosity, the provocative inner life and the sense that dance is everywhere permeates it, making it a fitting tribute to her legacy.
Mary Ellen Hunt is a freelance writer.
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