Hien Huynh, bottom, and Allegra Bautista appear in Kristin Damrow & Company’s “Impact,” premiering Jan. 31. (Courtesy RJ Muna)

Brutalism inspires Kristin Damrow’s choreography

Bay Area choreographer Kristin Damrow has set her new evening-length premiere “Impact” in a near-future dystopia filled with bold Brutalist architecture, a world she calls “similar to our own.”

Admitting that her investigation of how different social classes strive to survive together is “heavy,” she adds that her intention with the piece isn’t to take people down.

“I’m hoping to leave audiences with a sense of hope and hope for the future,” says Damrow, who opens the show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in The City on Jan. 31.

The dance, featuring 15 performers — including five main characters (each with their own musical theme) and an ensemble of 10 — takes over the space of YBCA’s Forum, where the audience will be seated on three sides around the cinematic action.

Damrow calls her collaborators crucial: London-based designer Alice Melia’s set has concrete-like structures suspended from the ceiling; Rita Park’s deliberately stressed costumes are inspired by Brutalist principles (including repeating patterns); lighting designer Allen Wilner’s cool gray, blue and whites create the dystopian mood, and composer Aaron Gold, who lived in Soviet-era Prague among examples of Brutalist architecture, has written an electronic score inspired by sounds of such buildings.

Damrow says her interest in the architectural style, popular from the 1950s-70s and exemplifying egalitarian and utilitarian qualities of the Soviet Union, was first sparked in 2010 when, living in Berkeley, she was deciding where to perform for the community Dance Anywhere project.

“I wanted to be outdoors and I came across this building of concrete; it created such a cool backdrop. It sends your eye to the sky,” she says, describing the former UC Berkeley Art Museum; the 1970 building by Mario Ciampi is among the most notable local examples of Brutalism.

At the time, she didn’t know much about the style; she’s since learned that it’s characterized by the use of natural, raw concrete. Structures often are of epic size, and have repeating columns, pillars or window holes.

“They are monolithic; they leave an impression on you,” says Damrow, adding, “Sometimes they even look upside down.” They also have a bit of a timeless appeal.

“Impact” is Damrow’s second work that connects design with movement. Her 2018 premiere “EAMES,” about the life and work of furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames, was well-received; she was turned on to the topic by her fiancé, designer Rick Riemer.

It was a departure from her first full-length work, “Swallow,” a 2016 piece she calls “an abstract journey through my emotional life.”

Damrow, who established Kristin Damrow & Company in 2010, describes her choreography style as “highly physical contemporary dance,” came to the Bay Area in 2009 after graduating from Columbia College in Chicago, where she studied dance.

When San Francisco came up as place to land following some research, she says her mentor Liz Burritt, an original member of Joe Goode Performance Group, told her, “Go! You’ll be great.”

“I had never visited; I came on a whim,” says Damrow, who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin and was a figure skater before she turned to dance.

Kristin Damrow & Company
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 702 Mission St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 31 to Feb. 2
Tickets: $25 to $60
Contact: kristindamrow.com/Impact

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