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ODC Theater Hosts “Wrecking Sessions” to Celebrate 40 Years

ODC Theater

Oct. 18–30

If you hear people say they got “totally wrecked” during ODC Theater’s two-week Welcome Home @ 40 celebration, they might not be talking about a drinking binge.

It’s true, the events honoring the theater Oct. 18–30 include pre- and after-performance revelry, an exhibition opening, and a Rouge Dinner Oct. 18 that includes a meal with drinks at a sponsoring restaurant and admission to the theater’s Oct. 21 Red Prom. And what’s a prom without booze? Even so, a person who’s been wrecked might not have participated in marathon martini drinking.

Instead, a “wrecking session” is likely involved and you can blame it all on Christy Funsch, the San Francisco-based choreographer and artistic director of Funsch Dance Experience. The East Coast native’s clear, concise work and creative collaborations have earned residencies at ODC Theater, the Djerassi Ranch, CounterPULSE Theater, and others. Funsch was named one of “25 to Watch” by Dance Magazine in 2014.

But in her role at ODC during the sessions, Funsch could be named “wrecker in chief” or “someone not to watch,” because the task ahead involves her primarily stepping out of the way.

During the open-to-the-public session Oct. 23, ODC Resident Artist Gerald Casel’s work will be wrecked by artists Amy Seiwert, Kimiko Guthrie, and Christian Burns. On Oct. 24, audiences will observe as project.b.’s Tanya Bello has her work wrecked by Alma Cunningham, Maurya Kerr, and Krissy Keefer.

“These two choreographers are good candidates for wrecking,” says Funsch, which might lead a person to assume their choreography needs “fixing,” an entirely unrelated matter.

Wrecking has nothing to do with “ripping someone’s work apart” or fixing it — and everything to do with rearranging, reordering, or recasting a work in progress. The newly realized piece challenges the choreographer to look at their own work through “fresh eyes.” Developed by New York choreographer Susan Rethorst in 1995, the practice allows artist colleagues to manipulate the existing material in a dance, while requiring that the end “product” is repeatable and that it establishes the wrecker’s vision, choices, and style. For the wreckers, it’s an opportunity to learn and better understand internal impulses and tendencies.

Although it takes maturity for a choreographer to watch a favorite section disappear — that floor work that reminds you of a cat you once knew; or rebounding leaps that fit one of your dancers so well — being a good wreckee has nothing to do with age. Funsch has been wrecked throughout her career and has benefited enough to have adopted the practice as an ongoing process. She’s a self-wrecker, she says. “I schedule an hour of rehearsal time to follow a tangent. I tell myself while working that this is just one potential for the material. It encourages openness.”

Funsch says that Casel and Bello have receptivity, the primary marker of a good candidate. “There’s a having to let go. Dance makers can feel possessive and defensive about the choices they’re making. It takes that leap. They’re eager and open to letting three other directors take over their work.”

The wrecking sessions at ODC will follow Rethorst’s practices, with a few amendments. Each wrecker will work for 45 minutes on 10-minute excerpts — Rethorst’s wreckers often work for 2-3 hours. Unlike sessions that do not allow any new material to be introduced, Funsch plans to permit the addition of spoken text. “There are artists who have a central place where text resides for them. I’m accepting that.”

Funsch and co-curator Christy Bolingbroke use the skills of a matchmaker while fashioning the wrecker/choreographer clusters. “There’s deliberateness,” says Funsch. “We came up with a wish list, then saw who was available. [We asked ourselves] ‘What will two women who have a common certitude and sense of identity but come from different viewpoints do? What will someone with a strong dramaturgical and dance theater history bring to an abstract work?’”

Of course wrecking wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the remarkable dancers in the Bay Area. Not only is their physical prowess on display, their intelligence and cognitive adaptability often astounds even a dance veteran like Funsch. Dancers rely on the same memory as the average person and imprint on top of that the muscle memory their bodies use to efficiently retain complicated phrases. Choreography repeats itself, has loops with variations, or a phrase is sometimes so long that even remembering the original version takes extra effort. Imagine shifting gears from drive to reverse in a moving vehicle — without obvious grinding. The dancers reprogram themselves rapidly and make it look easy. “Seeing the multiplicity of what they do, it’s exciting and the main reason I like to make the actual sessions open to the public,” says Funsch.

For the audience, the payoff is a rare look at dance makers in action. The feedback from one colleague to the other is visible, direct, enacted — not a talkback session couched in gentle language or delivered in crumpling, spirit-killing critiques. Funsch says that people from all genres of art, science, invention, business, and other fields find the process stimulating.

If four people can experience art in four different ways — the choreographer and the three wreckers — we might picture a world in which everyone in the audience does the same thing. Maybe then, we can stop thinking of things as diametrically opposed either-or/good-bad arguments. Maybe we can open up to the reality of wrecking our way beyond simplicity to multiplexity.

So lift your glasses after all: toast ODC Theater’s 40 years — and just such a world.

Lou Fancher is a San Francisco Bay Area writer. Her work has been published by WIRED.com, Diablo Magazine, Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, InDance, East Bay Express, Oakland Magazine, SF Weekly, and others.  She is a children's book author, designer and illustrator, with over 50 books in print. Also a choreographer, ballet master and teacher, she coaches professional ballet and contemporary dance companies in the U. S. and Canada.  Visit her website online at www.johnsonandfancher.com.