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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Contemporary Dance Takes A Dark, Erotic Turn In Harrowing

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 4:00 PM

  • Elvira Lind

Under the umbrella of “contemporary dance,” movements and concepts are often recycled. Though there is always something to be said for the talent and work that goes into a performance, it’s not uncommon to walk out of away from a show with a slight disappointing feeling of déjà vu. Yet Bobbi Jean Smith (formerly of Israel’s acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company) in her new piece, Harrowing, does something pretty exceptional: She manages to surprise the audience. Though the premise seems simple (a male and female work through various obstacles in their relationship) the delivery is anything but easy. Choreographed and performed by Smith at the intimate San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, the piece is a little dark, a little sad, and refreshingly erotic.

In one of the more provocative moments, an irritated Smith drags a sand bag she has been given across the room, stares at it for a moment, mounts it, and brings herself to orgasm on top of it. The act is a jolt that plays out for an extended moment that walks the fine line between uncomfortable and fascinating. Watching such intimacy in such close proximity isn’t something you come across every day. But it’s a feeling most people can relate to.

“I’m saying, ‘I will be true, I will be true, I will be true,’ and he leaves in the middle of that,” Smith explained. “I start to take things into my own hands and find pleasure with what ways me down 
 but then when I start to come, he walks in. He approaches me, and it’s strange. Really, you show up now?”

click to enlarge ELVIRA LIND
  • Elvira Lind
The partner she’s referring to is her costar and only other cast member, former Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer, David Harvey. And although he’s probably sick of being compared to a cat, it’s impossible not to see his slinking movements as "feline" — often punctuated by little flashes of decisive indifference. It’s a nice combination, one that always leave us wanting more. One of the his best moments is a solo section that revolves around repeatedly falling down and standing up  over, and over, and over  and all without the use of his hands and arms. It’s a rigorous task, yet it’s unexpectedly hypnotic to watch.

In fact, aside from the occasional misguided choice, 
most of Harrowing is surprisingly hypnotic to watch. (The mix of folksy tunes from bands like Stars of the Lid, Magnolia Electric Company, Tim Hecker, and Set Fire to Flames isn’t offensive, but it’s definitely Smith's least dynamic choice.) Filling an hour with only two performers is tricky. Smith and Harvey make it a treat.

Harrowing, April 17-19, 8 p.m., at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, 301 Eighth St. #207, 640-7009.
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Laura Jaye Cramer


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