S.F. dance troupe explores that sinking sensation

On opening night, director Eric Kupers was sweating, stuttering and hyperventilating as he introduced Dandelion Dancetheater. But as it turned out, he was just putting on a show.

“Drop,” onstage at Cellspace in San Francisco through Sept. 2, subverts expectations, challenges preconceptions and makes people in the audience feel uncomfortable by dropping them into the unknown. Inspired by Buddhist teachings about the transitory nature of the self, this multidisciplinary, grassroots avant-garde performance explores the feeling of “having the rug pulled out from underneath us.”

The story line is very simple: a psychic tells a guy at a party that at exactly 12:08 he will fall. “Where? How far?” he asks. “I can’t tell you everything,” she replies. The unlucky fellow’s anxiety and sense of groundlessness form the backdrop for the subsequent vignettes, dances and musical numbers.

In one provocative scene, an ensemble of dancers clad in black dresses and blood red pantyhose twist and writhe on the floor while two men (Kupers and Bob Webb) stand in the forefront and carry on an everyday conversation. In the most casual manner, they undress to reveal bras, pudgy stomachs and hairy legs in fishnets. As in Kupers’ widely recognized “The Undressed Project,” nudity is used to confront societal prejudices about beauty, as well as our own idealizations of the human body.

Besides being innovative, the dancing is also first-rate. Mantra Plonsey moves with agility and precision in a warrior dance based on body percussion, performed to live drumming on a metal trash can.

Some scenes border on the nonsensical, or just seem arbitrary, perhaps due to the absence of a concrete theme. For example, a syncopated chorus of “I’m sorry/excuse me,” though emotionally charged, is difficult to interpret. Similarly, a 10-minute bowing session, while obviously mocking the high-culture tradition, doesn’t really tie together with the other skits.

Yet other absurd elements work wonderfully. A bearded, bespectacled man on a bicycle appears at random moments, riding around the set and honking. The result is a sort of circus feeling, where the audience never quite knows what will show up onstage.

A swinging stage light and a downpour of photographs in the finale create a surreal feeling of things falling in slow motion.

There is nothing traditional about the performance: it’s raw, organic and unpolished, and the sheer emotional intensity makes a very powerful impression.

Drop

Presented by Dandelion Dancetheater

Where: Cellspace, 2050 Bryant St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays; closes Sept. 2

Tickets: $10 to $20

Contact: (415) 648-7562 or www.dandeliondancetheater.org

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