Last Sunday evening, at a tiny rehearsal space in the Mission (Really. It’s a studio space in someone’s apartment. I felt like I should have brought a bottle of wine and a handful of flowers), Elizabeth McSurdy passed out socks for her dancers. Dancing in socks can be dangerous, as they’re soft and slippery, and McSurdy sent her dancers off to break them in via scuffing them on the Valencia Street sidewalks.

As the women scurried down the stairs and outside into the cold night, McSurdy grinned while looking at her grayish/blue hands, which were still discolored from her foray into dying costumes with clothing dye (non-toxic, she assured me) earlier in the weekend. This is one of the final rehearsals before McSurdy and her dancers head over to ODC Theater to prepare for the culmination of ODC’s Pilot Program, Pilot Light. The Pilot Program, or Pilot as it’s known for short, is a well-known choreographers’ workshop that includes mentorship by a longstanding artist and a culminating performance opportunity.

What:ODC’s Pilot Program: Pilot Light
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th Street
When:Sat-Sun, Dec. 4-5, 8PM
Tickets: $12; purchase online, via phone at 415.863.9834, or at the door

Having moved to San Francisco earlier in the summer from Boise, Idaho, McSurdy is trying her hand (both gray ones, in fact) at choreography and hopes to incorporate this creative enterprise into her regular artistic routine. McSurdy was familiar with ODC’s stellar reputation and filled out the Pilot application with the intention that “it would be a good platform to start making art in the city. Meeting people, meeting dancers, and getting that ball rolling.” Upon being selected, McSurdy worked with mentor Lizz Roman and the five other program participants, auditioned dancers, found rehearsal space, and created her movement. The entire program lasts 11 weeks. McSurdy says that of her experience, “[I]t’s been really pivotal for me.”

McSurdy’s piece, untitled as of now, is about being a newcomer in a big city, finding familiarities in places unknown, and carving out your own space. The work isn’t specifically about moving to San Francisco itself, but watching the piece, it’s hard to miss the San Francisco-ness of the score. McSurdy captured local voices, dings, and swooshes from around the city like Muni buses, an event space lobby, and the streets of the Mission, and blended them into one urban soundscape.

Another Pilot participant is Raisa Punkki, who moved to San Francisco with the intention of staying for 18 months, but she and her husband loved it so much they’ve extended that time by an additional 6 years. Her movement is full of connective, flowing circles and upward momentum. Punkki’s gaining traction in the local dance community. Last year, her company, punkkiCo, performed to packed houses at Dance Mission.

Of her Pilot experience, Punkki says, “My favorite part has been having conversations about choreographing, dance and life with other choreographers. [The mentorship sessions] with Lizz Roman have been great.” Enthusiastically, she adds, “She rocks!”

Of what she’ll take away from Pilot, Punkki is incredibly thankful for the feedback and collaborative critiques, saying, “I have been enjoying having showings, where we have been getting feedback from each others and Lizz Roman. That has been really helpful tool to reflect my work and thoughts. I think I am going to start bringing in this kind of exchange to my future choreographic processes.”

This year’s Pilot, which celebrates its 20th anniversary, also features Nathan Cottam, Amy Foley, Daria Kaufman, and Charles Slender.

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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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