It’s an empowering celebration of boobs and hoo hahs at the Women on the Way (WOW) Festival, which starts this weekend and continues through the end of the month, and with 19 vastly different performing arts groups (theater, dance, spoken word, comedy, and aerial work), this festival covers a lot of ground. Artistic Director Mary Alice Fry says that Women on the Way tries “to help women break through to a place where they can recognize where their professional careers might be going and make a commitment to themselves.”

What: Women on the Way Festival
Where: ODC Theater, Shotwell Studios, and the Garage
When: January 14-31, 2010
Tickets: $15-20, Online or 415.289.2000

Fry describes today’s female dance and dance theater artists as “really fearless. They’re really available for themselves to dig pretty deep and find out what they really want to say. And not just just take what they learned at [college] or from their dance teachers… they build and compose and process and collaborate, into something that has their own imprint… Without even realizing it, they’re stepping into completely new ground of what we call dance.”

Anne Bluethenthal, who just celebrated 25 years of creating intricate dance here in the Bay Area, is presenting with WOW for the first time. She’s well recognized within the local dance community, and for years has worked out of Footloose‘s Shotwell Studios where WOW is also based. She says that she “really appreciates” WOW, as it’s a “grassroots organization that’s been supporting women’s work for all these years with very little [financial] support,” and she’s thankful for Fry and WOW’s “commitment to presenting new work and helping women to launch their careers.”

I see single men coming to these shows a lot because they know they’re going to see something very original and a little edgy and focused.Bluethenthal’s company, Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers, will be presenting a well-massaged version of “Pluto in Capricorn,” a work she debuted back in July 2009 at the company’s quarter-of-a-century celebration. “That’s the fun part of doing this; it really gives us an opportunity to sink into this. All too often we choreographers work for two years on a large piece of choreography and it lives for a few days. And so in a certain way, it never really lives because it hasn’t had the time to ripen and deepen and find what it needs to say, so I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of months of reworking and nuancing, and allowing the dancers that time to mature into the work. It is the same work, but it’s a more mature, riper, more seasoned ‘Pluto in Capricorn.'”

What is “Pluto in Capricorn” about? While approaching the anniversary season, Bluethenthal felt that things “were falling apart in the economy of our country and in the global economy. Things have been falling apart with our planet for a long time. But things were also falling apart personally around the support there was or wasn’t for the arts and the turnover of dancers and the ongoing struggles of trying to maintain an arts organization at a grassroots level at a moment when the support is really only going to the large institutions instead of the direct support to small arts organizations. I’d say there was a time of turmoil, and I found myself with a brand new company of very few dancers. And thinking of what it is to be aging in the form, to be trying to transmit a life’s work continually anew to young bodies, and how that is all connected to the collapse of the infrastructure around us and in the world.

Some friends told me, as a sort of consultation, Pluto is in Capricorn, and I thought what the heck are they talking about? But when a couple of them said that to me separately, I thought there must be something to that, so I did some research, and it was a perfect sort-of metaphor. I know that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. But nonetheless, I’m still calling it a planet! And it’s moved into Capricorn, where it’ll be for another 26 years, and Pluto is the planet of death, transformation, and rebirth, and as it moves into the constellation of Capricorn, which is all about systems and money and identity, it reeks havoc. You can say it’s about the destruction of those things or you could say it’s really about the transformation, so whatever hasn’t been working is going collapse. Whatever lacks integrity, as I say in the piece, will be destroyed.”

Miriam Wolodarski divides her time between the U.S., Sweden, and Spain. In her teens, she became involved in experimental theater, and went on to later complete an MFA in contemporary performance at Naropa University. She describes herself as “a touch eclectic,” also divulging that she once “managed to run away both to and from the circus.” For now, her main US base is the Bay Area. “I think I’m here now because my sister, Gabrielle, who is a visual artist, has lived in Oakland consistently for over a decade and I missed collaborating with her. Also the glorious ocean.”

Wolodarski’s new work for the festival, “ismene’s(a)wake”, combines some theater and aerial work, but she’s not big on classifying it as anything such. “It’s a solo piece, and I would call it theater, but I’m not particular about nomenclature. The piece is not conventionally narrative, and text is only one element in it. I compose with elements that delight me, in this case, my body, the space, a few objects: suitcases, a lightbulb, the rope, a few odds and ends. In the case of the aerial work, its function in this piece is not to display skill, particularly–the rope is an object and architectural element that creates image and spatial composition (vertical space!), which I have favored over virtuosity. In regards to the theme: I’ve been attached to the Theban plays for a long time; for a very long time thought I wanted to make a piece about Antigone, until I realized–Ismene. Passive, femenine, insightful: cowardly? Overlooked in plain view. Sensible? Hysterical? Apathetic? Realistic?”

Compared with Bluethenthal, who has been tweaking and reworking “Pluto,” Wolodarski has had her own challenges and experiences. “I moved here not long so ago from a much quieter, more contemplative setting. So having a solo piece in a festival is definitely daunting. Not only is the pressure up on the production end of things, but rehearsal time is limited and the city is full of distractions and doubts. On the other hand, it’s been a treat and an honor to meet the other artists in this year’s line-up, and I’m excited about the charge and influence of the Bay Area. I’ve always produced my work DIY style. It’s both challenging and electrifying to reach out to a wider community.”

But what about the men? Fry confirms that the performers span ethnicity, race, and gender, and of course, men are definitely welcome in the audience! “I see single men coming to these shows a lot because they know they’re going to see something very original and a little edgy and focused. Women have a very, very strong focus when they get up there on stage and they have something to say. And I think they [men] appreciate it from the art-making point of view. They’re coming to see good art.”

the author

Becca Klarin writes about dance. Her first stage role was at the age of four, where she dressed in a brightly colored bumble bee tutu and black patent leather taps shoes. She remembers bright lights and spinning in circles with her eleven other bees, but nothing more. Becca also has an affinity for things beginning with the letter "P", including Pizzetta 211, Fort Point, pilates, parsvakonasana, and plies.

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