Bears may be Stephen Colbert’s arch nemeses, but for choreographer Deborah Slater, they’re her creative muse. Or at least in this instance. Slater’s modern dance company (aptly named Deborah Slater Dance Theater) celebrates 20 years of dancemaking this year with the debut of her and Jayne Wenger’s Men Think They Are Better Than Grass.
When: Friday, April 30, at 8PM (Preview); May 1-9
Where: Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $20-25(discounts for seniors, students and groups); purchase online, via 1.800.838.3006, or at the door.
Of the piece’s origins, Slater reflects that starting out, “I’d seen the videos being posted [online] about the polar bears. And there was this polar bear swimming, trying to get onto this melted piece of ice, and it was really clear that he had no place to go. [Later] I realized that the power of it had a profound physical effect on me, and I just started thinking about the environment and the emotional response that I was having to it, trying to figure out some sort of artistic way to respond to that.”
Slater’s connection to the bear’s situation was more than superficial. Ten years ago, she was in a serious boating accident, and post-polar bear video viewing, she “realized that my response to this image was really visceral because of my own experience in being in the water. There was something very personal–it landed in a way that news that you get doesn’t always land. It just started making me think about the fact that there’s this world of information around me about everything that was happening, and I wanted to try and find some artistic way to respond to it.”
Slater and Wenger’s creative process is quite thorough. Stimulating their multiple senses, they talked, read poetry, and brainstormed at artist retreats, finally zooming in on deep ecologist W.S. Merwin‘s environmental poetry. Slater describes Merwin’s writing, saying, “His poetry is just beautiful. I’ve started reading it, and there are incredibly beautiful images that I can make move.” Then, Slater spent about a year generating these movement streams.
Bringing all of the components together, “[Jayne, my dancers, and I] spent the first part of the rehearsal process reading the poems and talking about what they meant, and then giving the dancers two lines from a specific poem and saying, ‘Write about this yourself.’ And then they’d bring their own personal imagery into it and use that to make movement. All the movement in the piece has been created out of the poetry, the dancers’ responses to it.”
Men Think They Are Better Than Grass, while shown in excerpts and works-in-progress in the past, will debut in its full form this weekend. May 1st’s performance includes a post-performance party.