On Thursday, ODC/Dance founder Brenda Way inaugurates the company’s 41st spring season by revisiting a theme from an early repertoire work, called “Ladies in Waiting,” about compliant women in the “Mad Men” era. But in “Breathing Underwater,” she brings the audience forward a few decades.
Choreographed for four women, the title suggests women’s ability to survive under impossible circumstances.
Way explains a darker meaning.
“It’s about being in a very constrained environment that you don’t realize is suffocating you,” she says. “Ultimately the dancers break that constraint through gentleness, a traditionally female quality.”
It’s an interesting perspective coming from this artist, entrepreneur and CEO, who for 41 years has kept ODC/Dance relevant and built her own theater (and health clinic for her dancers) while raising four children.
“Typically female skills have real power,” she says. “I accomplished it all by being interested in other people. What it really says is that I know how to enlist people.”
The haunting score, evocative of the underwater experience, is provided by avant-garde cellist Zoe Keating, who appears with members of the Magik*Magik Orchestra.
The piece, along with ODC/Dance Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson’s premiere “Transit,” appears in Thursday night’s opening gala, as well as Program A.
Program B features another Nelson premiere, “Cut Out Guy,” set to music by Australian composer Ben Frost. The provocative counterpoint to “Breathing Underwater” is inspired by what she experienced at her son’s wrestling matches.
“You would see these big guys crying because they just lost their match and couldn’t hide behind anything,” she says. “I thought about how people present themselves: They don’t tell you completely who they are or what’s true about them in the beginning. They offer an image, and as you get to know them you find a real self — you hope.”
To explore the idea, Nelson charged her male dancers with developing a movement sequence around events in their lives no one knew about. The material they came up with exposed both vulnerability and raw power.
“I think with boys that really raw energy is fun; it’s not mean or hateful. They’re just using that yummy aggressive power that is an expression of how they feel about their bodies. When my dancers found that I decided to explore it more.”
“Transit” is Nelson’s tribute to urban life. “I wanted people to want to be downtown with their kids, hanging out, going to museums, to the park — not the mall,” she says. The piece features some tricked-out bicycles by mechanical engineer Max Chen and music by Nico Muhly. “It’s very upbeat, happy music. I wanted to make it joyous.”
IF YOU GO
When: Thursday through March 25
Where: Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., S.F.
Tickets: $15 to $55; $150 and up for gala
Contact: (415) 978-2727 or www.odcdance.org
Gala: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Program A: 8 p.m. Saturday and March 23, 7:30 p.m. March 21, 4 p.m. March 25
Program B: 8 p.m. Friday and March 24, 4 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. March 22