Smith/Wymore dancers take on technological overlords 

click to enlarge Sheldon B. Smith
  • Choreographer Sheldon B. Smith co-created “Number Zero (a space opera),” a world premiere by Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts onstage at CounterPULSE in San Francisco this weekend.
Sheldon B. Smith and Lisa Wymore, the husband-and-wife team of Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts, recently found themselves hopelessly lost when they depended on a phone app to navigate them to an address.

“The system couldn’t distinguish what we could clearly see with our own eyes. We could have just trusted our instincts to get us there, but the map was telling us something else. We stopped trusting our own instincts,” says Smith.

The experience underscores the subject of their latest work, "Number Zero (a space opera)," premiering Friday at CounterPULSE in The City. The storyline involves an imagined future in which actions are solely determined by a cloud-based operating system. The only hope for the human characters is through software upgrades they earn by feats of mental, physical and spiritual endurance.

One feature of the work is a computer operating system with protocols conceived and developed by Smith and collaborator Ian Heisters. In the spirit of Merce Cunningham’s chance dances, the dancers receive commands in real time, ensuring a constantly changing performance.

“What we’re doing in San Francisco will be a fully realized version of the piece,” says Smith, “but we’re really excited about the fact that the piece will never be the same in any performances. The computer — or the system — has so much control.”

The interplay of technology and dance is a natural for both choreographers, who ran a media and video company in Chicago, where they started dancing professionally. “In the late nineties when digital media became affordable we found that we could do projections and editing,” says Smith.

For Wymore. the lure of technology began early. “As a child I was always interested in electronic music,” she says. “My dad had one of the first video cameras and my mom was an artist, so I never felt dance should just be pure dance. With the addition of technology I felt the artistic poles of my life coming together and it became something we worked deeply with.”

In a previous work, the duo juxtaposed a live dancer with a virtual one whose projected image faded, and who then appeared live onstage. The engaging piece earned them the title of sexiest performance at a recent Glasgow dance festival.

The demonstration of the ephemeral nature of art also suggests the irony of the company’s name. “There are a lot of people who feel that performance art doesn’t disappear; that is remembered in the body,” says Wymore.


Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St., S.F.

Tickets: $15 to $20

Contact: (415) 626-2060,

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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