Maurya Kerr, choreographer and artistic director of the San Francisco-based troupe tinypistol, has created a body of stripped-down, sometimes disquieting work based on the concept of otherness and focusing on ways in which people feel as though they don’t fit in. She calls her philosophy “anti-pretty.”
Her work could also be described as anti-ballerina, which is ironic since she built a career dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Fort Worth Ballet, and for 12 years as a principal dancer with Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet.
This week, she presents the world premiere of “beast” at ODC Theater, in which she casts a feminist eye on what the words “pretty” and “ugly” imply. She quotes Oscar Wilde: “The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty never.”
The dance’s title refers to a different kind of beauty – that inspired by the animal world. Her goal is to open understanding into the deeper beauty found in humans’ animal nature. She says, “I watch animals a lot and they are incredibly beautiful and profound. I found deep truth in and connection with them.”
Throughout her years in ballet’s lofty world of princes and princesses, Kerr found it troubling that female performers were mostly very thin, very tall and typically Caucasian. She became fascinated with people’s perceptions of what is beauty and the degree to which women are chained to those concepts.
“I feel it’s important to have different role models represented in public places and on the stage,” she says. “In earlier times, buxom women were considered beautiful. Today they are considered fat. We’ve moved away from our true selves and our true animal nature. We’ve become egos in bodies.”
This week’s performances also include the reprise of Kerr’s “Wantful,” a series of six duets featuring eight dancers performed to ambient and atmospheric scores.
Although Kerr calls the duets unromantic, they do express hope and nostalgia. She says they step away from the sanitized and often un-relatable romantic ideal of relationships that are so much a part of the ballet repertoire: “I don’t enjoy much of what I see on the [ballet] stage. Real relationships are pretty messy. I want to see myself – I want what I create to resonate with my experience,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Where: ODC Theater, 3157 17th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Tickets: $18 to $25
Contact: (415) 863-9834, www.ODCtheater.org