Hope Mohr Dance, Manifesting

Leigh Donlan reports from ODC Theatre in San Francisco:

Hope Mohr Dance in Manifesting, with Tara McArthur (in red)  (Photo: Margo Moritz)

Hope Mohr Dance in Manifesting, with Tara McArthur (in red) (Photo: Margo Moritz)

Hope Mohr Dance premiered Manifesting on Thursday night, marking their ninth home season at ODC Theater. A meticulous, postmodern mix of theatre and dance, the piece takes issue with artist manifestos, referencing such notable creeds of Antonin Artaud , Arthur Rimbaud, Jiro Yoshihara, Guerilla Girls, and postmodern choreographer Yvonne Rainer, who wrote her No Manifesto in 1965 as an exercise in discovering just what one should say Yes to in the process of creation. Mohr agreed that, after all the talk settles, “shoulds” boil down to desire and pleasure.

Clothed in black, white or red, six dancers work as mad scientists from behind paper animal masks in attempts to craft the perfect manifesto, grasping at whatever rules seem foolproof to their creative process while utilizing the tools of ritual, mechanics, order, and ultimate destruction. Papers are shredded and blown about the stage, dancers run in circles and flop like fish on the floor. “You need a manifesto to mask your fears” someone says. There’s no music, only phones ringing, busy signals, external sounds of disconnect. Finally, one female unravels into a quivering ball, angry and terrified in the encounter with uncertainty. She cannot run away from her fears, as the others empathetically swoop in and surround her, singing “we are radioactive” and providing strength until she comes to her senses (the beautiful a capella songs are written by Beth Wilmurt.) And the process starts all over again. Phones ring, busy signals blare, calls are placed on hold as they pace about like starved animals. Another unraveling, a violent punch to someone’s face, then a hush. Slowly, the dancers find song again: “I follow each rule to stand self-reliantly.”  A welcome calm permeates the space and they begin to couple, crawling away to work it out, so to speak. And it’s intimacy – human connectedness – that offers a reprieve from the insane quest for certainty. The phone lines suddenly clear, messages can be left. They lull another song: “become something you can’t see.” The piece closes with an operator’s voice requesting the caller to “please speak louder or speak directly into the telephone to ensure a fair recording.”

James Graham in Hope Mohr's Stay (Photo: Margo Moritz)

James Graham in Hope Mohr’s Stay (Photo: Margo Moritz)

The well-paired revival of Stay (2015) closed the program with the technical dance vocabulary that was mostly absent in Manifesting. This emotionally driven piece was created by Mohr in response to the paintings of Francis Bacon. With an industrial score designed by Theodore J.H. Hulsker, the unraveling that occurred here was less intellectual than emotional, as couples come together only to tear each other apart. There is a sense of drowning, and blatant vampirism as Parker Murphy ravenously bites the neck of his lover, Michael Galloway, leaving him bewildered and drained. The dancers move like warriors on the hunt. Lindsey Renee Derry’s serpentine energy was palpable in her ruthless dance of seduction with Jane Selna. Murphy and James Graham perform a final pas de deux, Murphy slowly spinning Graham like a clock on Graham’s delicately arched foot. Love is rejected. They separate, but are thrown back together by unseen forces. The scene closes with an exhausted Graham lying face up atop Murphy, as if crucified on Murphy’s cross.

An exquisite blend of intellectual and emotional response to environment, Mohr’s creations initially appear extremely philosophical. But there is a soft underbelly, a sensitivity to human frailty that is consistently honoured throughout, with a wicked sense of humour to boot. Mohr is an artist’s artist, and certainly a humanist who creatively visualizes what separates us and what unites us.

 – Hope Mohr Dance runs through June 11 at the ODC Theater in San Francisco. Tickets and information here. –

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