Liss Fain troupe dances with literary legs 

click to enlarge Performance: Megan Kurashige appears with Liss Fain Dance in a world premiere this week. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Performance: Megan Kurashige appears with Liss Fain Dance in a world premiere this week.

Liss Fain Dance just might be the most bookish dance troupe ever.

Novels, poetry and short stories have influenced Fain’s work for years.

Last year, she used literary superstar Lydia Davis’ short stories. She continues on the short story trajectory, using Jamaica Kincaid’s unnerving tales in “The Water Is Clear and Still,” a performance installation debuting Thursday at Z Space.

“A wave of nostalgia rushed over me when I heard Kincaid’s name in association with this piece,” says Val Sinckler, who first read Kincaid in elementary school and will read stories from Kincaid’s “At the Bottom of The River” as part of the installation. “She’s also considered a Caribbean author, and there is a wealthy reservoir of Caribbean culture in my family, so there is a personal resonance for me.”

Sinckler, a San Francisco actor who has worked with We Players, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and Stanford Summer Theater, began her theater training as a dancer, making her collaboration with Fain apropos.

“This group of dancers is stellar,” Sinckler says. “There is something about this particular cocktail of bodies, personalities and energies that makes them a pleasure to watch. We’ve been rehearsing daily, and I could watch the movements a million times over — it never gets old.”

Fain’s choreography is both innovative and tied to geometric symmetries at the heart of ballet. She also welcomes audiences to either move around a piece, or, in the case of “The Water Is Clear and Still,” into it, allowing them to explore the 60-foot-deep performance space during the show.

“The connection between the text and the dancing is inextricably linked,” Sinckler says. “It’s not pantomime or literal, but the words are enhanced and augmented by the movement. In turn, I’ve seen the dancers infuse their movement with their growing familiarity with the stories.”

“The Water Is Clear and Still” strives to evoke a natural setting, like the woods, emphasizing nature’s surprising fluidity. On her blog, Fain says Kincaid’s stories, with unexpected twists and turns, made her want “to create the feeling of a forest, not knowing what will be around a corner, a boulder or a tree.”

Sinckler also senses Kincaid’s spooky surrealism: “The writing reminds me of Tim Burton,” Sinckler says. “There is something about the familiar, slightly deviant, slightly dark, gorgeously sinister, heartfelt way of relating a tale that Kincaid employs.”


Liss Fain Dance

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25

Contact: (800) 838-3006,

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Lauren Gallagher

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