RAWdance Moves to Heal

Lou Fancher on January 18, 2021

Prior to COVID-19, RAWdance showed up everywhere: presenting hundreds of contemporary dance performances, dance films, and site-specific works on stages and in public spaces throughout the United States and Asia. Founded in 2007 and becoming bicoastal in 2019, the home company of ODC is in 2021 led by co-founders Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein, who now claim New York’s Hudson Valley as home base, with Katerina Wong as co-artistic director in San Francisco.

RAWdance Directors (L to R): Ryan T. Smith, Katerina Wong, and Wendy Rein | Credit: Elena Zhukova

It is a paradoxical construct that the pandemic has pinned the location-fluid company in one place — online — where most performing artists must reside in 2021. The Jan. 29–30 premiere of The Healer, a new quartet for four women choreographed by Wong, will include livestream screenings of the performance, a presentation by a healing practitioner, and a moderated talk with artists involved in the project. The conversations with the online audience are led by Yutian Wong, an author and professor of dance in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University. An optional add-on (now closed) will deliver a package with sensory objects — fans, scented objects, bags of tea, and the like — to extend and make the experience tactile during the performance.

Isolation, loss, grief, memory, traditional Chinese medicine, and various healing modalities were the original inspiration for the work Wong created in memory of a much-loved aunt. With four of the Bay Area’s most dynamic women dancers — Wong, Michaela Cruze, Juliann Witt, and Stacey Yuen — The Healer is likely to imprint audience memories with images of power, strength, fluidity, courage, tenderness, serenity, and resilience.

Composer Daniel Berkman

A score by Bay Area multi-instrumentalist Daniel Berkman blends electronic and acoustic elements that include a recorded lecture on energy healing given by Wong’s aunt, who was a renowned expert in the healing arts. Human breath in an opening section of the work is audible digitally as generated by the dancers — and live, in the homes of viewers invited to join the qigong-based breathing exercise. Qigong movement is gentle and believed to bring mental and physical health through guided breathing, sounds, and positions that generate soothing energy throughout the body. Berkman’s score comes with intriguing instrumentation and music of its own that includes piano and voice, but also an ondes Martenot (an electro-acoustic keyboard invented in France in the 1920s), the Chinese plucked zither known as a guzheng, a sheng (Chinese mouth organ), and the pipa, well-known Chinese plucked lute.

Scenic designer Chad Owens centers the dance in a garden that incorporates the five elements of traditional Chinese medicine; wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Among the three healing practitioners confirmed to appear and introduce the performances are experts whose work stretches to multiple modalities. Shawna Seth (Jan. 29, 6 p.m.) is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, trained at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, California. Rebecca KellyG (Jan. 30, 5 p.m.) works as an equity and justice consultant and interdisciplinary artist, and is a former civil-rights attorney. As the founder of Rebecca KellyG Consulting, she works to counter racism and support communities subject to oppression and inequitable institutional practices. KellyG’s appearances and published article focus on moving culture and society toward greater equity. Xan West (Jan 30, 8 p.m.) is the executive director of OneLife Institute for Spirituality & Social Change. She speaks on grassroots activism, queer rights, community healing, and is a preacher of Black Lives Matter and other millennial liberation theologies.