Bianca Mendoza takes a solo moment at rehearsal of Alive & Well Productions’ new piece. (Courtesy Zoe Schiffer)

‘From Ash’ grapples with destruction and redemption

Choreographer Annie Kahane creates new world in dance-theater piece

By Zoe Schiffer

Dancers emerge from darkness and disaster to create a vibrant, evocative world in “From Ash,” a new dance-theater work by up-and-coming choreographer Annie Kahane.

Onstage at ODC Dance in San Francisco Thursday through Saturday, the piece, a project by Kahane’s Alive & Well Productions, combines urban dance movement with spoken-word poetry by California Book Award Winner Tongo Eisen-Martin, to arresting effect.

In rehearsal, the story appears to be about destruction and redemption, and how to move on from disaster. Kahane, the daughter of acclaimed pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, defines it as a response to “the current historical moment, when humanity is picking up the pieces after disaster and learning how to remain vibrant, in spite of personal and cosmic pain.”

While Kahane’s signature style combines verse, theater and dance, the use of Eisen-Martin’s poetry is a bold choice. An organizer who works on issues of mass incarceration and police brutality, his work is charged and highly political.

Perhaps to avoid an overly literal narrative, Kahane chose abstract pieces from Eisen-Martin’s 2015 collection “someone’s dead already,” for “From Ash.” At times, the dancers speak the poems, interweaving movement with their words. At others, a recorded voice narrates in the background as the performers respond onstage.

This would seem like a lofty goal were it not for emotive dancers Bianca Mendoza, Jhia Louise Jackson, Courtney King, Kyle Limin and Alexandria Diaz De Fato. These five have chemistry; in the piece, they come together and break apart and their words and expressions are the throughline. The performance opens with recorded narration as the dancers move slowly through flickering light, and ends with all-out urban-style movement that covers the entirety of the stage.

Mendoza, who has performed with Alive & Well Productions since 2014, is fluid, precise and riveting. She says working with Kahane requires more than just a technical background: “Annie’s work isn’t theater. You have to be able to go there, to fall into places that might be uncomfortable.”

There’s also a quality of starkness to “From Ash” that allows a rich storyline to emerge without ever feeling too chaotic.

Kahane, whose work evokes Nicole Klaymoon and choreographers at Joe Goode Performance Group, began choreographing in 2006, though performing arts have long been a part of her life.

She says, “As a performer, I could never find a place where I fit. I’m not gonna be in a big dance company, I never really wanted to be a slam poet,” though she was in Youth Speaks as a teenager.

Feeling dissatisfied, she founded Alive & Well Production” in 2013, and has been producing her own work ever since.

IF YOU GO

From Ash

Presented by Alive & Well Productions

Where: ODC, 3153 17th St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 25-27

Tickets: $18 to $26

Contact: (415) 863-9834, odc.dance/FromAsh

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Bianca Mendoza, Jhia Louise Jackson, Courtney King and Kyle Limin rehearse “From Ash,” onstage this week at ODC Dance. (Courtesy Zoe Schiffer)

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