Sharp & Fine dancers provocative in 'Love Songs' 

click to enlarge Sharp & Fine perform the feisty sophomore work "Love Songs" at Z Space on Tuesday. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Sharp & Fine perform the feisty sophomore work "Love Songs" at Z Space on Tuesday.

When Sharp & Fine debuted last year with "A Thousand Natural Shocks," the dancers moved with wit and aplomb rare for young performers. The company's latest piece, "Love Songs," ups the ante.

A powerful tribute to life's most complex and unpredictable experience, the piece, onstage earlier this month at Z Space, is getting an encore performance, paired with burnsWORK's "sonorous figures," on Tuesday; the show is part of the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance's Summer Dance Series.

As in "A Thousand Natural Shocks," "Love Songs" uses an array of musical accompaniment, with many tunes brought to life by Ina Rae, a young and vibrant soprano who sings Mozart and Handel arias as adroitly as Meredith Willson's iconic "Till There Was You."

But Rae doesn't stand side-stage in a dim spotlight. She is pushed, shoved, choked and hauled around by the dancers, fully incorporated into the choreography. She is largely treated as a sound source more than a personified entity. Much of the tension in "Love Songs" is created by Rae's fluctuations in delivery, either impeded by dancers or of her own volition.

Only rare artists can take a hackneyed theme and transform it into a revelatory experience, but Sharp & Fine — a seven-member company spearheaded by sisters Megan and Shannon Kurashige — do it, recasting the saccharine "Till There Was You" into an acrid ballad.

The metamorphosis starts in a romantically charged duet with Shannon Leypoldt and Carson Stein. The choreography suggests unrequited love, and Rae's vocals are fractured to the point of discomfort, much like the dancing, which is laced with brutality and possession.

Confusion and intensity abound, and "Till There Was You" turns into a song about life before and after love: normal and sane before, crazy after.

In another sequence, the dancers line up and face the audience and hit themselves hard, slapping themselves silly while Rae sings "Wooden Heart."

Jane Austen wrote that the idea of one's happiness depending on one person is "bewitching." Sharp & Fine suggest that it is also terrifying, traumatic and droll.

In burnsWORK's "sonorous figures," the lithe and nimble Christian Burns fuels heartbreaking pathos to Bach's preludes, fugues and English suites. His face painted like a clown, Burns lopes around the stage with an eerie ease as a depressed down-and-outer graced with compassion and beauty.

Accompanied by Donald White and dancers Emily Jones and Leypoldt, Burns performs a work of nuanced and exquisite movement worth seeing again and again.


Sharp & Fine and burnsWORK

Presented by San Francisco Conservatory of Dance

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

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Tickets: $30

Contact: (800) 838-3006,

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Lauren Gallagher

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