courtesy photoLocal dance troupe Sharp & Fine adapts Neil Gaiman’s poem “Queen of Knives” for the stage in a production debuting at Z Space on Thursday.

‘Queen of Knives’ taps Gaiman for magical inspiration

Magic tricks are made for the stage, but with the exception of Drosselmeyer in “Nutcracker” productions, sleight of hand is rarely paired with dance.

San Francisco dance troupe Sharp & Fine is poised to set a precedent with the world premiere of the evening-length “Queen of Knives,” debuting at Z Space on Thursday.

“I really, really like magic shows,” says dancer-choreographer Megan Kurashige, who, with her sister Shannon Kurashige, heads the troupe.

The work is based on British author Neil Gaiman’s storylike poem of the same name. It’s a dark, intense tale about a pair of grandparents, their grandchild, a magic show, love and its consequences.

“I’ve liked the poem since I first read it,” Megan says. “It has amazing ways of talking about love and the things you can be really afraid of, and really want in love, but through this crazy story about magic shows.”

Gaiman, who gave the Kurashiges permission to use his work, only had one stipulation about a contemporary dance staging of his poem: a woman had to get into a box onstage, and disappear.

To devise “Queen of Knives,” Sharp & Fine — in this production, seven dancers — researched magic. Penn and Teller, old Cardini videos, David Copperfield and other books on illusionist history were resources and inspiration.

As performers with the hyper-literary troupe Liss Fain Dance, the Kurashiges have incorporated text with dance before. But “Queen of Knives” posed a new challenge — to stage a work with distinct events and a story with a beginning, middle and end.

“We don’t do stories very often in contemporary dance,” Shannon says. “We thought working with a strict narrative would be really easy, but it turned out to be more difficult, and richer than we expected. The last time I performed something with a story was when I was doing classical ballet, a long time ago. I have a new set of eyes and skills now. It’s interesting to look at narrative again.”

As in previous works “A Thousand Natural Shocks” and “Love Songs,” Sharp & Fine created “Queen of Knives” as a collaborative effort between the Kurashiges and the dancers.

“Our dancers have amazing imaginations,” Megan says. “They really shaped this work, and found other things within the poem that we never saw and didn’t think of when we began the piece. That’s what I like about doing this work, is to see how it changes so drastically from what you initially imagine it to be.”

IF YOU GO

Queen of Knives

Presented by Sharp & Fine

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

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

Tickets: $25 to $30

Contact: (866) 811-4111, zspace.org, www.sharpandfine.com

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