Sarah Griffin, Andre Silva and Peter Franc appear in Amy Seiwert’s “Instructions,” part of the “SKETCH 6” series. (Courtesy David DeSilva)

Amy Seiwert Imagery’s dances take chances with words

Choreographer Amy Seiwert admittedly has been challenged by her upcoming world-premiere “Instructions,” which is inspired by Neil Gaiman’s poem of the same name.

The founder of the San Francisco-based contemporary troupe Amy Seiwert’s Imagery says she was pushing herself “way out of her comfort zone” by making a dance piece that is narrative and literal, following the poem’s words.

She adds, with a laugh, that the “highly uncomfortable” process is “the point of the SKETCH series.”

The sixth installment of the series, which was created in 2011 “to foster risk and innovation in ballet- based choreography,” is onstage this weekend at Fort Mason. With the theme “Use Your Words,” it includes world premieres by three generations of Bay Area dance makers: Seiwert, San Francisco Ballet’s legendary Val Caniparoli and emerging choreographer Nicole Haskins, of Smuin Ballet.

The choreographers are using text — poetry, lyrics and literature — for the basis of their pieces; Imagery’s excellent dancers Sarah Griffin, Rachel Furst, James Gilmer, Annali Rose, Scott Marlow, Peter Franc, Beth Ann Maslinoff and Andre Silva are interpreting those words in performance.

Seiwert was introduced to “Instructions” a few years ago, when she and her husband read Gaiman’s work to each other over a campfire during a trip to California’s Giant Redwoods.

“Instructions” impressed her as a great poem: “It could be used to describe navigating the underworld, a fairy tale, or a science fiction novel,” she says.

In her dance, the text of Gaiman’s poem is interconnected with Benjamin Britten’s “Suite for Cello No. 1, Op. 72,” performed live by Bay Area native Michelle Kwon.

When asked about her choreography and its relation to storytelling, Seiwert says, “of course dance is language,” and that there is an implicit story when two dancers are onstage together. Yet she views her works as gifts, and wants audiences to have their own experiences with her piece, and take away from it what they will.

Seiwert, who is known for her refreshing and original dances, became choreographer-in-residence with Smuin Ballet upon her retirement from the company in 2008 after a 19-year performing career.

She has been named one of “25 to Watch” by Dance Magazine, and her first full evening of choreography was named one of the “Top 10” dance events in 2007 by the San Francisco Chronicle.

An artist-in-residence at ODC from 2013-15, she won a 2015 Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for “Back To,” a premiere at SKETCH 5 last summer.


Amy Seiwert’s Imagery
Where: Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: 8 p.m. July 8-9, 7 p.m. July 10
Tickets: $25 to $40

Amy SeiwertAmy Seiwert’s ImageryDanceInstructionsNeil GaimanNicole HaskinsSKETCH 6Val Caniparoli

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