In an upstairs gallery at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last Saturday afternoon, museum goers lined the walls, floor, and doorways as Muriel Maffre moved through remembering the choreography of yesteryear. As she glided through steps from “Giselle” and later slunk through the tall girl from “Rubies,” I couldn”t help but do double-take after double-take.
Here was Muriel Maffre, one of the most prominent ballerinas in San Francisco Ballet history, going through the motions of her career, clad in dark-rinse skinny jeans (although they looked quite flexible; maybe they’re jeggings?), charcoal tank top, plaid button-down shirt, and awesomely rad fashion sneakers, all while plunked in the middle of a gallery. She’s sans music, lighting, tulle, or wings (on her back or as part of her eye makeup), and her only real adornment was her bleach blond, short shaggy haircut and the photographs on the walls around her.
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street
When: Sat, Dec 11, 6-8PM
Tickets: included in YBCA gallery admission; general admission, $7/students, seniors, teachers, $5/free for YBCA members
Without a leotard or pointe shoe in sight, Maffre danced through Nina Beier’s conceptual piece, “The Complete Works.” The idea behind it: that she dances “all the moves she has danced throughout her professional life–in chronological order.” Reading the press release, my first thought was, “Holy crap. That’s a lot of moves.” But my second thought made up for the first, “I’ve got to see this!” And last week I did.
Gallery 3, up in the corner of the Museum, is a quiet space. With stark white walls and some blueish overhead lighting, this space was obviously never intended for dance: it’s an exhibition room. And here Maffre was, on exhibit for all to see as she stepped nonchalantly into a modern passé (bending of one knee) with a smoothly curved back or leaned forward into a small lunge with her arms draped across her chest and her head bowed low. Museum visitors are invited to watch, reflect, peruse the rest of Beier’s photography installation, and come back for more Maffre. And standing toward the back, watching her think through her own personal ballet history, I felt inspired as Maffre scratched her head, marked a few steps, and then out of nowhere, dazzled us all with a soft leap accompanied by round, regal arms reaching out at a “V”.
The intent here isn’t to relish in the choreographic nuances; it’s to absorb all that Maffre has to offer. She’s an amazing technician and incredibly intelligent, and even after moving on to teaching, academic studies, and guest appearances, she still dances her heart out with a blazing combination of aristocratic refinement and quiet solace. But there’s a fine line between celebrating greatness and fueling narcissism, and I can’t quite put my finger on where the actual intent of “The Complete Works” lies. Either way, spending a few hours with Maffre as she catalogs her professional career is a retrospective treat.
“The Complete Works” is set within Beier’s larger exhibition, “Agents of Change: What Follows Will Follow II“, which encompasses Maffre’s solo, a music performance by Great Willow (Dec. 9 only), and a visual arts installation of Beier’s photographs. Berier’s work “focuses on shared actions, experiences and histories that bind people together in close relationships, temporary groups or abstract communities.” While the photo exhibit continues through January 23, 2011, the two live components aren’t so frequent. Maffre’s second and final performance is on Dec. 11 from 6-8PM.