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PUSH Dance Co. explores race, history in ‘Mothership’

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“Mothership (Part I), a premiere by choreographer Raissa Simpson, is part of PUSHfest at ODC Theater. (Courtesy photo)

With an upcoming three-part world premiere, and the start of her troupe PUSH Dance Company’s 11th season, San Francisco choreographer Raissa Simpson is busy looking ahead.

“I’m not very nostalgic, not caught up in events of the past. I’m looking at what I can do today, what my life will look like tomorrow,” says Simpson, whose “Mothership (Part I)” is on Program A of PUSHfest, a two-performance showcase of mostly new works by 19 local and visiting contemporary dancemakers this week at ODC Theater in The City.

As socially-conscious as all of her works, “Mothership” addresses cultural and historical issues about race in the U.S., asking the question, Simpson says: ”How are people of color included in the national dialogue when it comes to being essentially American?”

In the nine-minute, eight-dancer “Mothership (Part I),” Simpson — along with longtime collaborator composer-cellist Unwoman (aka Erica Mulkey) and lighting designer Grisel Torres — looks at the founding fathers. “The audience will see my spectacular cast in old-style wigs,” she says, emulating the men whose political decisions reached far and wide for people of all backgrounds.

Parts I and III, which go on to investigate slavery and possibilities for the future, she says, will be “completely different.”

“I’m drawn to this notion of what makes America great, how our founders imagined the future, and how we might imagine the future,” Simpson says, asking “What cultures and histories have we ignored and how can we imagine the identity of blacks in the future?” Will there be blacks in outer-space?“

Simpson, who grew up in San Jose, studied dance at Syracuse University’s acclaimed conservatory in Purchase, N.Y. and has danced locally in Robert Moses and Joanna Haigood’s companies, feels for fortunate to be able to tackle difficult themes in her work.

“Social topics aren’t that prevalent in dance,” she says, not interested in creating simply pretty pieces. “Why would I want to do something that’s already been done?” adding, “For me, dance isn’t just something that can be done in a proscenium space; dance holds a lot of cultural knowledge.”

To that end, she’s also seen a shift in her perspective in recent years, after establishing PUSH Dance as an outlet to stage her own material.

But 2012 saw the troupe in a transitional phase, and its artistic director finding a different focus: on sustenance, educating youngsters, and greater collaboration with company members and colleagues.

Today, she’s also more interested in process, rather than product, and is asking herself, “How can I nurture?”

The goal of her dances is not to push an agenda or impart specific meaning, but instead, to “bring us on a journey and take us somewhere different from where we’ve been before.”

Where: ODC Theater, 3173 17th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 23-24, 2 and 7 p.m. Sept. 25
Tickets: $15 to $50
Contact: (415) 863-9834, www.pushdance.org

Program A: Works by Raissa Simpson, Mary Carbonara, Amy Foley, Joslynn Mathis Reed, Liv Schaffer, Mariah Steele, Shreelata Suresh, and Alyssandra Katherine Wu are onstage Sept. 23 and 4 p.m. Sept. 25.

Program B: Dances by Todd Thomas Brown, Ashley Gayle, Noah D. James, Angela Dice Nguyen, Kameron N. Saunders, Casey Lee Thorne, Lalli Venkat, Vershawn Ward, Javan Wilson and Katerina Wong are onstage Sept. 24 and 7 p.m. Sept 25.

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