Arianne MacBean mixes words and movement 

click to enlarge present tense
  • From left, Max Eugene, Arianne MacBean, Angelina Attwell, Brad Culver and Genevieve Carson appear in “present tense,” which is onstage at ODC Theater this week.
If you’ve ever attended a dance performance and wondered, “How did they come up with those ideas?,” Arianne MacBean will tell you. With a whiteboard. And floor markings. She may even address you directly.

The director of the Los-Angeles-based The Big Show Co. brings her unique dance-theater troupe to ODC this week, presenting two pieces: “The People Go Where the Chairs Are” and the world premiere of “present tense.”

In “Chairs,” MacBean breaks the proverbial fourth wall between audience and performer to offer a peek into the creative process: “[In rehearsals] I’ll come in with some images or problems to solve. We title sections and sometimes they don’t make sense, but we decided to share that with the audience,” MacBean says.

The format for the work was inspired by Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town,” in which the narrator addres

ses the audience. “I’m strongly influenced by literature,” MacBean says. “I reread ‘Our Town’ and got really excited about what he wrote in his personal notes about the play. I wanted to ask similar questions about the meaning of art and about what is dance.”

Though that may sound heavy, the piece apparently displays the spirit and quirkiness that prompted one reviewer to call her “the Diane Keaton of dance.”

She says, “I realized I was moving away from ‘likability,’ as on Facebook ‘like this, like that.’ The pieces that I really enjoyed gave me options for alternate ways of being and thinking.”

MacBean also has come to terms with the fact that the written word inspires her more than dance.

“I consider myself a choreographer and still teach ballet, modern and jazz. And my work is highly physical. But I’m a lover of language,” she says. “At the end of a one-year mentorship with Margaret Jenkins’ CHIME program, I finally confronted my personal artistic voice … what it means to me for dance to live and die … and be born again.”

Her literary muse for “present tense” was short-story writer and linguist Lydia Davis, who uses sharp and poignant images.

She says, “One of her short stories consists of only two words. So I created a series of short pieces with the same kind of laser-like attention and focus.”

Although she describes it as being darker and more moody than “Chairs,” it never veers far from her signature: “It has a jumble of humor and neuroticism in it ... and beautiful handmade costumes and a wonderful original jazz score by my longtime collaborator Ivan Johnson.”


Arianne MacBean & The Big Show Co.

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

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Tickets: $23 to $28

Contact: (415) 863-9834,

About The Author

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer is a Berkeley-based author and journalist and former dancer who writes dance and arts previews for the San Francisco Examiner. She has just published her first book: Shopping for the Real You.
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