Walking Distance dance fest diverse as ever

Bay Area premieres by visiting choreographers with eclectic backgrounds are among the wide and varied lineup of offerings in the third annual Walking Distance Dance Festival in The City.

On Saturday, award-winning New York choreographer Doug Elkins presents “Hapless Bizarre,” a piece for six dancers that explores the quest for romance. It's paired with Seattle choreographer Amy O'Neal's “The Most Innovative, Daring and Original Piece of Dance/Performance You Will See this Decade.”

Both are on Program C of the festival, a two-day, fringe-style event featuring three programs of paired artists, a book reading and a site-adaptive performance at ODC Theater and nearby venues.

Elkins' work pays homage to comedic icons of the silent film era such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as well as more contemporary comics like Jackie Chan.

“Physical comedians make very difficult things look easy and very easy things look difficult. They deal with what is the kind of joke of being in one's body,” says Elkins, whose wild background includes martial arts training from capoeira to aikido; club dancing with a group called the House of Ninja; and formal education in modern dance, art and philosophy at State University of New York at Purchase, where he was inspired by a teacher who also happened to be a yo-yo champion.

How do those influences play into Elkins' theme of romance? He answers, “A clown's bread and butter is in relationships.”

Meanwhile, O'Neal's hyperbolically titled dance addresses how people reconcile the need to sell themselves and their creative output in a culture that expects commerce.

In explosive, feminist choreography that combines ballet, modern and hip-hop, she examines issues of race, sex and control.

“I ask, 'Where is the line between power and empowerment?,'” says O'Neal, the former lead vocalist with Zeke Keeble's Seattle-based band Marrow. In this weekend's performance, she'll sing Cyndi Lauper's “Money Changes Everything.”

Like Elkins, O'Neal has a cross-pollinated background. She attended her first dance class in Turkey, near the military base where her family was based. But instead of Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies, her Turkish dance instructor had the class dance to Pink Floyd. The message went deep.

“It's about taking something that has been done and putting your own personal spin on it,” she says. “That's the heart of my work.”

If you go

Walking Distance Dance Festival Program C

Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $25 per program, $65 for pass

Contact: (415) 863-9834, www.ODCdance.org

Note: Program A begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Program B is at 4 p.m. Saturday.

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