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‘Walking Distance’ fest serves up lovely dancers

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From left, Aline Wachsmuth, Katie Faulkner and Maurya Kerr (downstage) appear in The Foundry’s “Deep South.” (Courtesy Oxana Ermolova)
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Gorgeous dancers, plentiful videos and themes with indeterminate messages characterized the opening weekend of ODC Theater’s sixth Walking Distance Dance Festival.

Last week’s premiere of FACT/SF’s “Platform” and local premiere of The Foundry’s “Deep South” (in two locations, walking distance apart) both boasted accomplished performers at the top of their game, accompanied by unending images and varied, often electronic music.

The outcome: A mostly engaging experience, yet not wholly satisfying.

Dancer-choreographer s Liane Burns and Charles Slender-White’s dynamism, endurance and ambition were evident throughout the nearly hour-long “Platform,” performed at ODC Commons, set to an incomprehensible electronic album of the name by Holly Herndon.

While the creators were inspired by the eclectic soundtrack — complete with noises like storms, water swishing, wailing vocals and a female voice speaking in what seemed like a therapy session – it left this viewer confused, trying to figure out the meaning — detracting from what would have been an evocative piece if it were set to more traditional music.

“Platform’s” production is enticing; the athletic yet graceful dancers, often in unison, sometimes complementary, sometimes in conflict, wearing flowing tops (which they take off at one point), are in the center of the square room, the audience, up close, surrounding them on all sides.

Videos and stills of the duo performing in Bay Area locations, sometimes doing the same moves as the live ones, flash on all four walls, keeping patrons busy trying to focus throughout.

In contrast, the aim of “Deep South” (performed at ODC Theater) and created by The Foundry’s Alex Ketley and Miguel Gutierrez, is clear: It’s an attempt to come to terms with the differences between urban Northern Californians and rural Southerners.

This enterprising work, danced and narrated wonderfully by Manuelito Biag, Katie Faulkner, Robyn Gerbaz, Natalie Grant, Maurya Kerr, David Maurice, Katie Meyers and Aline Wachsmuth, is the result of a research trip Ketley and Gutierrez took to rural towns between Texas and Virginia.

The performers, wearing street clothes, are beautiful, dancing around a set with video screens, a table and, inexplicably, a plant that looks like a wheat stalk.

At the outset, the stories they tell, describing their encounters talking about dance with small-town folks — in barber shops, churches, gas stations and more — are of interest.

Yet as the piece progresses, the accompanying videos and photos become less illuminating, paling in comparison to the live performance.

Although its creators intended to bridge gaps in “Deep South,” in the end, the piece, with its voyeuristic tone, does the opposite, emphasizing cultural divisions rather than commonalities.

The festival continues this weekend with a different program featuring the premieres of Monique Jenkinson/Fauxnique’s “C*NT, or The Horror of Nothing to See” and tinypistol’s “PoemAnthemSong.”

REVIEW
Walking Distance Dance Festival
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St.,; ODC Dance Commons, 351 Shotwell St., S.F.
When: 7 and 8:30 p.m. June 9-10
Tickets: $30 to $50
Contact: (415) 863-9834, wwwodc.dance/tickets
Note: The festival also includes a free presentation by Zaccho Dance Theatre and artists from the Black Choreographers Festival at 12:30 and 3 p.m. June 10.

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