At center, Christian Burns carries Sarah Woods-LaDue, and, from left, Sonja Dale, Shannon Kurashige and Megan Kurashige appear in “Just Ahead is Darkness” at Z Space. (Courtesy Stephen Texeira)

‘Just Ahead is Darkness’ looks at love, loss and memory

Sharp & Fine premieres poignant ‘dance play’ at Z Space

It might be reasonable to think that a show called “Just Ahead is Darkness” would be downright depressing.

But Sharp & Fine’s world-premiere “play for dance,” while admittedly sad at moments, is mostly a poignant, touching piece about the beauty of everyday life, the power of family love and the complex pull of memory.

Onstage at Z Space in San Francisco, the 90-minute production is another elegant presentation by Japanese-American choreographers (and sisters) Megan and Shannon Kurashige and terrific collaborating dancers and musicians.

The sisters, who wrote the text, play the Aunties, supporting front-and-center Father (Christian Burns), Mother (Sarah Woods-LaDue, in a flowing red dress) and Child (Sonja Dale). They’re smooth, sleek dancers, often leaning on each other and lifting each other, physically providing a metaphor for the family’s trust and interdependence.

Loosely based on the Kurashige’s memories of attending bon dances in Hawaii to honor ancestors (a Japanese tradition), “Just Ahead is Darkness” begins with lovely flutes played by Steve Adams and Cory Wright, who composed the mostly soothing (but jarring at appropriate times) original score.

At the outset, the performers each select someone from the audience to join them in a brief pairs dance onstage, backed by the full band; guitarist John Schott and percussionist Jordan Glenn break into lively, jazzy accompaniment. This repeats at the end of the show, too.

The narrative begins with a ghost story at a beach – ending in confusion because the Child failed in an exercise to write down something about someone important in the Child’s life — followed by scenes of contented domestic life.

Yet tragedy strikes with the introduction of Death (imposing Tristan Ching Hartmann, in black), who attacks Father. He’s covered in a white sheet, and he turns into a ghost. His family mourns him, remembering a story he told about a boy who couldn’t swim, and drowned while trying to hold onto a rock.

With lines such as “I’m afraid I’m not going to remember things the way they happened, especially the small things,” “Just Ahead is Darkness” offers food for thought and simple loveliness.

The dance-theater piece is followed by a performance by Maui Taiko, a dance-drum group maintaining 100-year-old folk traditions. Founder Kay Fukumoto, artistic director Brian Nagami and Jen Sumida invited the entire audience onstage in “Fukushima Ondo,” a song sung annually during Obon, a Japanese Buddhist festival of remembrance.

REVIEW

Just Ahead is Darkness

Presented by Sharp & Fine

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 8, 2 p.m. Feb. 9

Tickets: $30 to $35

Contact: www.zpace.org

Dance

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