Performers in hot pink T-shirts, black shorts, red knee socks and masks looked like dots amid the grandeur and greenery of San Francisco’s Glen Canyon Park in “Diffusion,” a celebratory new piece by contemporary dance troupe FACT/SF.
The invigorating, abstract 45-minute piece was served up in eight performances over the weekend in the spectacular urban park (just a 10-minute walk from the Glen Park BART station) where company founder and choreographer Charles Slender-White led small audiences of patrons wearing masks on a contemplative yet fun and extremely scenic mile-long nature walk.
Mother Nature indeed supplied the magnificent set design and sound — birds wonderfully chirped loudly and incessantly — for the show, which featured FACT/SF’s seven androgynous dancers in varied smaller, always moving, groupings along the way.
They started in the distance on an athletic field near the park’s entrance at Chenery and Elk streets. Then they neared, and were seemingly popping up all over the place: on the main gravel path, on the hillside, running up steps, or balancing on short wooden ledge. At one point, one dancer chased a passing jogger decked in fluorescent chartreuse togs down the path. Was it or was it not planned?
The walk dramatically came to a stop inside the canyon, as audience members looked up at several massive boulders to witness dancers’ arms waving from behind the huge rocks in the distance.
Making their way on the trip’s loop back, the dancers once again were up close and personal, doing their thing amid park visitors of all ages, and dogs, too. The performers scooped up gravel on the path, and gathered on the lawn near the rec center building. At one point, with their faces clearly visible, several seemed to looking quizzically at the audience while their arms and legs were in motion.
As Slender-White and the patrons returned to the field where the show began, far across the expanse was yet another group of the magenta-shirted FACT/SF performers waving colorful ribbons in rhythmic gymnastics fashion, signaling an end to the perfectly pleasant journey.
In creating the intentionally abstract piece in collaboration with the dancers — Eric Garcia, Emily Hansel, Meegan Hertensteiner, Samuel Melecio-Zambrano, Katherine Neumann, Wiley Naman Strasser and Erin Yen — Slender-White said its primary function is to “bring people together in real space and time” while considering “transitions and perspective, and how both particles and people diffuse from densely packed situations into environments with more space and possibility.”
Created nearly two years after FACT/SF’s last in-person performance, “Diffusion” follows a series of nifty digital presentations the troupe made during the pandemic, including the short films “Detour-19a” and “Detour-19b” in response to COVID-19.
But earlier this year, as Slender-White began to plan for another virtual performance, he had a change of heart: “After a few rehearsals I just couldn’t bear to stare at the computer screen any longer. I thought, ‘If I’m so completely done with online art, maybe other people are over it, too?’” he said.
It gave him the idea to make a dance set in his neighborhood, a place he and his family and friends visit regularly.
“I’ve always appreciated the park as this sort of hidden gem in The City, and only recently did it occur to me that it could be a fun and inviting site for public performance. The whole creative process in the canyon, with each other and amongst the other local residents, has been amazing for me and the team — the simple act of being in proximity with one another has never felt more profound.”
To watch FACT/SF in action, visit http://factsf.org/.