If you've ever said to yourself, "Self, we need to see a dance show inside a restaurant," head to Orson Tuesday or Wednesday. Wendy Rein and Ryan Smith, the leggy co-directors of RAWdance, teamed up with Elizabeth Falkner's spacious SOMA eatery for A Public Affair. At about 10 minutes long, this amuse bouche of a duet is free to anyone seated for drinks or dinner. It gets hearts pumping, then wraps up before your gnocchi goes cold. Plus, there's salad tossing. Seriously! They throw lettuce at each other.
When watching dance performances, it's often easy to forget that those are real people on stage. Not here. As seen last week, Rein and Smith are smart to begin while seated and chatting. When they start moving, still seated, it's as if real people simply started throwing lettuce and draping each other in napkins. (The opening probably works better if you have no idea what the dancers look like beforehand, and it might work best if you're unaware there's to be a show.) Each gesture lies somewhere between erotic and argumentative. You know that awkward thing when a couple nearby is having the quietest fight ever? That.
Soon, to a company-commissioned violin duet on the stereo, they move from the table to an open spot, whacking legs in the air and narrowly missing people being seated. (Orson removed a service table to make more space.) The early narrative seems to wander away. Still, these dancers are thrillingly close. My dinner partner almost got nailed. Later, they weave back to the table, sit down, and set aside their napkins. People applaud, and it's just a restaurant again.
As our waitress bumbled along with dinner service, I found myself wishing that I'd been walking by Orson only to glance through the window and see Rein and Smith midworkout. The novelty of the show, by virtue of a true surprise and distanced surreality, would have held stronger. I'd have been spared the flustered, mendacious staff, for sure. (I'll save the details for Yelp, but Orson's website and its manager take contradictory lines on happy hour pricing.) My gnocchi was delicious, but hardly as generously portioned as the movement. Do the pizza bianca.
Predictable kudos to Rein and Smith for expanding the ways in which audiences encounter dance. We next hope they'll do one for the Irving Café & Deli. That place is fantastic.