Liss Fain Dance interprets Virginia Woolf

Choreographer Liss Fain’s literature-inspired work mixes the conventional (movement that doesn’t stray far from ballet vocabulary) with the unconventional (installation pieces staged in atypical spaces).

Her latest foray into the literary world, “After the Light,” premiering this week at Z Space, takes its cues from “The Waves,” Virginia Woolf’s prose poem-novel set in the 1940s. The book was written as a series of interior monologues from six characters whose lives intertwine from childhood to old age.

Like many of Woolf’s readers, Fain admits she initially found the language difficult to get past, but she eventually became hooked.

“There’s an incredible energy — an ecosystem between the characters that affects each other’s worlds,” Fain says. “When they get older they each realize how their lives have been influenced by all the people in them and by the things that have happened to them.”

Spoken dialogue from the book accompanies composer Dan Wool’s score.

Still, Fain doesn’t approach her work as a linear narrative. “I always use literature as a jumping-off place,” she says. “It’s not just the situation or the characters but the language itself that very much feels to me like dance.”

That’s probably a good thing, as the book has a very depressing ending. But Fain chose a quote from Woolf about the ephemeral nature of life as the inspiration for her own ending: “That is what makes all images too static, for no sooner has one said this was so, than it was past and altered.”

Although Fain hasn’t entirely given up on the proscenium stage, this piece, as much of her recent work, is performed in a set that allows audience members to choose where to sit or stand and how to view the movement.

“I like the immediacy of having the audience in the space. It creates an opportunity for different ways of perceiving,” she explains. “The audience members are seeing each other walking around. So, peripherally, they become a part of the performance.”

To create the sense of having a window into the character’s interior lives, set designer (and longtime collaborator) Matthew Antaky came up with the idea of having a series of archways that define the large rectangular performance space.

Fain was delighted with the concept.

“Archways are very inviting,” Fain says. “They make you feel that you want to walk through them. They even suggest a cloister you walk around with a courtyard in the middle.”


After the Light

Presented by Liss Fain Dance

When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

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

Tickets: $15 to $35

Contact: (800) 838-3006,, www.

What is a reasonable work accommodation?

Employees with disabilities may have more options than ever before

‘We need a place to take a shower and feel welcomed’

Tenderloin linkage center opens one month after Mayor Breed’s emergency declaration

100 years of the San Francisco Opera

Centennial season opens with world premiere of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ by John Adams