‘Rock & Mortar’ takes audiences on a journey through memory

Epiphany Dance Theater’s performance art piece transcends time

Ten nameless women vigorously remember and reimagine their pasts and ancestors in “Rock & Mortar,” a sprawling performance art piece presented by Epiphany Dance Theater and Z Space.

The moving show is a series of evocative, if not necessarily concrete, vignettes that take place throughout Z Space. The former can factory is not only a cool warehouse-like theatrical setting, but also a presenting organization developing experimental work since 1993.

Choreographer Kim Epifano, Epiphany Dance Theater artistic director and founder, collaborates to dramatic effect with nine performers as well as experts on sound, video, music, costumes, rigging and dramaturgy in “Rock & Mortar.”

The show, a “collection of site-specific short stories traveling through our matrilineal memories,” according to program notes, initially was inspired by a visit Epifano made to her ancestors’ home in Italy.

Yet she and performer-collborators Heather Arnett, Allegra Bautista, Nuria Bowart, Bianca Cabrera, Shaghayegh Cyrous, Jhia Jackson, Nehara Kalev, Jenny McAllister, Lucrezia Palandri and Kaylamay Paz Suarez create an inclusive and expansive, often dreamlike journey that transcends time, place and ethnicity. Still, it’s based on real stories from their own unique backgrounds.

It begins with “The Gathering” in the lobby, where a clothesline is stretched across an upper level; on the floor, the women, in flowing skirts, dance and sing while bells ring and images of the sea flash on a back wall. A vast piece of fabric on the floor represents a house; the performers envelop themselves in it, and other laundry, in the calming and beautiful segment. There’s also folk dancing, the tune “Beautiful Dreamer” and evocations of a love potion.

The action contrasts in the second scene, “Under the Church Steps,” which takes inside the theater, under the bleacher seating, where the performers hang from metal bars, stuck in a cage while the soundtrack intones, “There’s not enough space” and “This is the church I was promised.”

Next, in “Mountain,” atop the bleacher seats, which are covered in a big white cloth, the women take on animal and bird-like forms, climbing the stairs and chanting; at one point, someone says “A spirit is an unknown not to be feared.”

The main stage takes on a naturalistic tone in “Olive Grove,” where some dancers climb a rope ladder that hangs from a ceiling as images of greenery flash on the back wall.

Things take a darker turn in “Fire in the Grove/Evil Eye,” with haunting electronic music, scenes of crashing waves and galloping horses, and conjuring potions. The performers ferociously, violently wield fabric in the nightmarish segment, finally quelling the holder of the evil spirit in swaths of black fabric.

Performers interact with audience members as they walk through “Revolution in the Kitchen,” a block of scenes (cleverly filling out Z Space’s dressing rooms) set in a busy home: a woman plays a piano in a parlor, others frantically set a table for a meal and others do laundry, while one, in shadow, primps.

It’s truly a hive of energy, one that pays justice to the work women do, their frustrations — and their dreams, too.

IF YOU GO

Rock & Mortar

Presented by Epiphany Dance Theater and Z Space

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

When: 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 6-7, 4 p.m. Dec. 8

Tickets: $30

Contact: (415) 626-0453, zspace.org

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