Troupe defies categorization

Mary Carbonara, choreographer, dancer and founder of her own acclaimed Bay Area contemporary dance company, is first to admit that math has never been her strong suit. Still, the concept of statistical data and how it relates to the world has become a fascination of hers lately.

“There’s this accumulation of information that’s used to define us and organize us into groups, but do we really know any more about who we are when we’re reduced down to some statistic?” she asks.

Carbonara’s question became the foundation of her latest work, “Every Second,” which examines how labels and instant categorization affect the human condition. Performances are today through Saturday at the ODC Theater.

The idea behind “Every Second,” Carbonara says, was indeed abstract. In order to translate it into a dance production, she had to expand her creative team. Normally, she works with a group of five to seven dancers, but to bring such a lofty idea to life onstage, she called upon 10 performers.

Carbonara wanted to know how matters of perception had an impact on her dancers, so she posed the following question to them: “What is the most common way in which you are aware other people perceive you?”

Answers ranged from “people think I’m Spanish, but I’m really Eastern European” to “people think I’m gay because I’m a dancer.”

“It’s easy to fall into this act when you’re confronted with a group or even with just another person. You want to find a way to associate or disassociate,” she says. “There are subtle ways that this happens; for me it’s a simple flash in my mind. I see someone and make an instant assessment. I certainly categorize as a means to organize information and understand how people fit in relation to my world.”

“Every Second” also has been a unique experience for Carbonara in that it’s her first work as a new mother. While she will not perform in the production, Carbonara says that having daughter Clarajean along for the process has been incredibly motivating.

As “Every Second” explores society’s quick-fix philosophy of applying instant labels to the world around us, Carbonara hopes the piece will be a reminder about the reality of humanity.

“I don’t want to sound like a Hallmark card, but behind each statistic there is a human being. These numbers aren’t taking into account the individuality of a person,” Carbonara says. “The same goes with snap assessments. When you’re on the bus or walking down the street and make a quick assessment of someone, you’re not accounting for the uniqueness of a person. For all you know, the person sitting across from you on the bus could be an incredible opera singer.”

Mary Carbonara Dances

When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday

Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., San Francisco

Tickets: $20

Contact: (415) 863-9834 or www.odctheater.org

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