Several years ago, Marin-based choreographer Deborah Slater saw an untitled painting of three women between two bathrooms at Delancey Street restaurant in San Francisco and decided she wanted to make a dance based on it.
“Something about it just struck me,” she says. “The women have balls in their hands; they sort of looked like circus people.”
When she contacted the artist, Alan Feltus (a professor at George Washington University who had been living in Italy), to ask permission to use them, he told her, “Knock yourself out,” and gave her free reign to pick any piece that “spoke” to her.
What inspires Slater about Feltus’ realistic images is not only their portrayal of relationships, but how, she says, “he pulls the threads of time” yet manages to create timeless images.
That first artwork she saw evolved into a dance called “Trio (in the space between)” which premiered in 2004. Last year, she brought to the stage a critically acclaimed full-length work called “The Desire Line” based on 13 Feltus paintings.
Deborah Slater Dance Theater reprises the multimedia piece this year, due to popular demand, in performances Friday and Saturday at Fort Mason.
In the process of creating a seven-person dance based on two-dimensional art, she and her troupe began by trying to duplicate gestures that were physically impossible.
“The adaptations got funny. Some weren’t anatomically correct,” she says. But once they went outside the pictures’ frames and added motion, the piece became something that clearly was about relationships.
“We were looking for stories underneath the pictures,” says Slater, who didn’t know what those stories would be when she began. By the time the dance was finished, she says, the dancers made up complete back stories for all of the scenes.
Looking ahead, Slater isn’t focusing on gallery art for her next work. She’s preparing at site-specific piece that will be performed at Yerba Buena Gardens.
IF YOU GO
Deborah Slater Dance Theater
Where: Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Tickets: $18 to $26
Contact: (415) 345-7575 or www.artofthematter.org