How do we leave someone dear? How do we confront, absorb and accept situations that force us into the unknown? Liss Fain and her dancers explore these questions in the performance installation “Close the Door Slowly” onstage at Z Space.
Concerned with “how the alteration of a simple object can mark a transition into the surreal,” veteran choreographer Fain, who formed her company in 1988, employs familiar items “imbued with the lives of past inhabitants” in the piece; a desk, faded hardback books, an antique standing lamp, an old wooden chair and a stool figure prominently.
Translucent curtains in designer Matthew Antaky’s set suggest doorways and rooms of an old house. Stained glass windows and red crown molding suspended from the ceiling give the space an intimate sense of enclosure.
Oakland-based composer Jordan Glenn’s string-and-percussion score ranges from barely audible creaking noises to lyric melodies that support the dancers as they intertwine in dense formations, soar in unison or writhe in angry solos.
Projected images of wood, plaster and cursive handwriting further the sense of intimacy and nostalgia, while Mary Domenico’s simple white costumes allow the dancers to inhabit a variety of roles.
Fain has said she created “Close the Door Slowly” in the wake of dealing with her husband’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease nearly 10 years ago, and haunting indeed pervades the piece.
Anna Greenberg enters alone, and sits unmoving, like a ghost.
Slowly, she is joined by Keryn Breiterman-Loader, Sonja Dale, Sydney Franz, Megan Kurashige and Shannon Kurashige, who carry and drag the furniture and books, setting up what appears to be an office space.
The recognizable configuration, however, is not sustainable, and the dancers run wild, turning the desk on its side and hiding behind it, tumbling with the stool, piling the furniture together in incongruous combinations.
Occasionally, the dancers fling the stool across the floor, like angry spirits.
Impeccable technique and inventive partnering have long been trademarks of Liss Fain Dance. All six performers are strong; they support, lift and carry each other with consummate grace and skill.
In one moving segment, the dancers carry the lamp around the darkened set as though searching for something. They pick up the old books, flip through them, shake them, then put them down, disappointed at not finding anything useful.
The effort, seeking and struggle are ultimately rewarded with a kind of reconciliation: Franz and Megan Kurashige perform a duet of longing and resistance, then embrace and separate.
The furniture is once again arranged in its familiar pattern, although transposed to a different part of the set.
Franz sits at the desk calmly but with a sense of resignation. Then she gets up and deliberately walks away.
Liss Fain Dance
Where: Z Space, 470 Florida St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. May 4, 2 p.m. May 5
Tickets: $18 to $35
Contact: (415) 626-0453, zspace.org