10 Years of XOs

Written by Charles Slender-White

In preparation for the premiere of death, Slender-White wrote a blog about his current project and the return of the FACT/SF XOs.

death premieres September 27 - October 13, 8p at CounterPulse in San Francisco.


Catherine Newman in  The Consumption Series . 2010. Photo by Ariel Soto-Suver.

Catherine Newman in The Consumption Series. 2010. Photo by Ariel Soto-Suver.

A Brief History of the XO
In January of 2008, I made my first XO. Or, rather, my sister made my first XO on me. The XOs (as they’re now named, pronounced like the letters “x” and “o”), are the translucent tape mannequins that have made numerous appearances in past FACT/SF productions.

Liane Burns & LizAnne Roman Roberts in  Remains . 2017. Photo by Gema Galina.

Liane Burns & LizAnne Roman Roberts in Remains. 2017. Photo by Gema Galina.

Six XOs were featured in 2017’s Remains, which you might have seen in San Francisco at ODC Theater or in Los Angeles at the LA Theatre Center. In 2010, we danced with XOs in The Consumption Series (2010). Even before that, and before I moved to San Francisco, the very first XO premiered in a 2008 work called REMNANT, which I made as a commission for Acid Rain, a contemporary dance company based in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

XOs for  death .

XOs for death.

Over their 10 year history as a major design element of my work, the XOs have at different times symbolized loss, absence, presence, the presence of absence, desire, dreams, history, and time. I keep coming back to them and the love affair is far from over. The XOs will return for our upcoming premiere, death.

How We Make XOs
The XOs are made by wrapping the dancers in layers of packing tape. First with the sticky side out, and then with the sticky side in. Once the entire dancer’s body is taped, we cut them out of the form. Then, we use more tape to fix the seams. What we’re left with is a full-body, translucent cast of the dancer. We call them XOs because they are a sort of exoskeleton, but also because of the affectionate relationship each dancer develops with them. It now takes us about 45 minutes to make each XO, and we work in teams of 3 (one person being taped, two people doing the taping).

Origin of the XO

Slender-White (center) with Provincial Dances Theatre in  Wings at Tea . 2006.

Slender-White (center) with Provincial Dances Theatre in Wings at Tea. 2006.

In early 2008, I was spending time at my family’s home in Oceanside, California, after a grueling (and beyond amazing) 18-month stint as a company member with Provincial Dances Theatre in Yekaterinburg, Russia. I had originally planned to dance in Russia for 5-7 years, but it didn’t work out. I had a nervous breakdown and needed to come home. I felt like a failure. I was grieving the career goals I had abandoned when I left the company, and thinking deeply about what would remain from that short experience. What had I left behind? What would I carry forward? What happens when someone, or something, ‘goes away’? My feelings about leaving Provincial Dances spiraled into broader feelings about other things, and people, I’d left behind. And, that expanded even more broadly into thinking and feeling about people who had left me, either because they had died, intentionally ended a relationship, or had more amorphously somehow slipped away from my life. Generally speaking, I was thinking a lot about absence and what happens when one, for whatever reason, cannot continue.

Slender-White with Provincial Dances Theatre in  Post Engagement P. 1 . 2007.

Slender-White with Provincial Dances Theatre in Post Engagement P. 1. 2007.

Even though I’d already left Provincial Dances, I still had six months left on my Russian visa and I was in conversation with three different dance groups about creating new work for them. Nothing was finalized yet, and I was stuck waiting to see what would happen. I knew, though, that I wanted to use one of these new works as a way to explore absence and loss. I had no idea how to do it, but I was eager to figure something out.

During this same period, in early 2008, I spent time reconnecting with childhood friends who were still in San Diego. One of them was dating a high school art teacher, and the three of us hung out a few times. We started talking about my upcoming project, and she told me about one of the activities she did with her students. The students would tape each other to make casts of their bodies, and then stuff those casts with newspaper and dress them with clothes. She used this project with her students as a way for them to explore art making, craft, identity, and aesthetics. It sounded cool to me. So, one day I bought a bunch of tape from Costco, asked my sister Kelsey if she was free, and had her tape me up. It worked! We created the first XO. Back then, we just called him ‘Tape Man.’

The XOs on Stage

Just a week after Kelsey and I made Tape Man, I got confirmation on all three of the commissions in Russia. I bought a plane ticket, flew to Chelyabinsk, and started working on a new piece for Acid Rain, REMNANT.

Natalia Podkovyrova in  REMNANT . 2008.

Natalia Podkovyrova in REMNANT. 2008.

REMNANT premiered just about ten years ago, in spring 2008. The 40-minute work featured an 8 dancer cast, plus one Tape Man that we made on my body. This time, the Tape Man got a new name, Lovely. Lovely featured prominently in the work as a 9th performer, as a prop and set piece, and a symbol of desire, unfulfilled hopes, loneliness, and the absence of companionship.

Shortly after REMNANT premiered, I decided to move to San Francisco and start my own dance company. We made a few works in 2008 and 2009. Then in 2010, FACT/SF premiered our first evening-length work, The Consumption Series. I was 26 years old, and very much in the throes of figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be. In The Consumption Series, each dancer had their own personal XO to perform with. In that work, the XOs functioned as extensions of ourselves, and as a way to play with and explore identity, history, and the passage of time. Whereas in REMNANT the XO stood in as a device for the exploration of one’s relationships to others, in The Consumption Series they functioned more as a way for us to explore our relationships to ourselves.

Slender-White in  The Consumption Series  during our Trans-Siberian Tour. Vladivostok, Russia. 2012.

Slender-White in The Consumption Series during our Trans-Siberian Tour. Vladivostok, Russia. 2012.

We gave 6 performances of The Consumption Series in that initial run at the now-closed Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory. Then in 2011 we performed the work again in Portland, Oregon and locally in the SF International Arts Festival. In 2012 we toured The Consumption Series across Russia, making a new batch of XOs before every performance and discarding them before traveling on to the next city. It’s odd to think of the many XOs of ourselves (versions of ourselves, really), that are still buried in trash heaps across the entirety of Russia.

The XO returns

In 2016, while in the Balkans working on Platform with Liane Burns, I decided that I wanted to make a piece about death. Or, more precisely, a piece about the aggrieved...those of us who have been adjacent to the dying and the dead many times, and who accumulate more grief and more loss over time. The news cycles in fall 2016 were filled with reports of Black Americans being killed by police and thousands and thousands of people dying in the war in Syria. Just months before, in spring 2016, FACT/SF premiered (dis)integration - a work about the history of Roma Diaspora which also, sadly, is a history full of genocide and death. My family, too, has been in a perpetual state of grief since my mother was killed in 1984. So...the subject matter was both close to me personally and also everywhere I looked.

death began with these considerations and contexts in mind, and I began the exploration by creating a series of shorter works in 2017 and 2018. For Remains in 2017, I decided it was time to bring the XOs back. Now, more than anything else, they would represent the absence left behind when someone dies, the memories that live on, and the real and imagined relationships that the living have with the dead.

FACT/SF in  Remains . 2017. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

FACT/SF in Remains. 2017. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

As we lead into the premiere of death next week, the FACT/SF team is continuing to explore what this all means and how to share our perspectives and experiences with you. We want to create a work that is an opening for conversation and collective mourning, and to honor the dead as well as the living.

This is a big project, and one I’m thrilled and humbled to get to share with you over the upcoming weeks.

With love,
Artistic Director, FACT/SF

death premieres September 27 - October 13, 8p at CounterPulse in San Francisco.


Charles Slender-White is the Artistic Director of FACT/SF. He has created dozens of original dance works, is a Certified Countertechnique Teacher, and has performed and taught across North America, Europe, Russia, and in Hong Kong and Australia. Slender-White started his career with Provincial Dances Theatre (Yekaterinburg, Russia), and received his BA in English Literature and Dance & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley.

2017 in Review, P.2: PORT

This blog is the second in Slender-White's 3-part series of reflections on his work with FACT/SF in 2017.

Written by Charles Slender-White

Just a few months ago, I wrote about the promise of PORT (Peer Organized Regional Touring). I tried to place PORT in the context of FACT/SF’s previous touring experiences, explained why the West Coast contemporary dance sector desperately needed an organized structure for regional touring, and described what I hoped PORT would do. We published that blog on August 21, 2017.

PORT launched in San Francisco from September 14-16, and in Los Angeles from September 29-30. We worked in collaboration with the LA Contemporary Dance Company and ODC Theater. And, it’s exciting for me to report two things:

1.) PORT was a massive success.

2.) Over 80% of PORT’s expenses were covered by FACT/SF’s individual donors. 

Remains  for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

Remains for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

PORT’s Success (The Program)

From a quantitative point of view, PORT 2017 included:

  • 3 performances in San Francisco
  • 2 performances in Los Angeles
  • 1 community meeting
  • 2 master classes
  • 3 world premieres
  • 4 regional premieres
  • Paid work for more than 20 artists

PORT deftly accomplished its main goal of creating a new way for two companies and two cities to come together. It provided FACT/SF with the opportunity to bring our work to Los Angeles, and gave us the chance to expose our Bay Area audiences to work from the LA Contemporary Dance Company. It created dialogues about the aesthetic and cultural differences of our regions, and brought artists directly together so that they could learn from each other. PORT provided significant benefit to everyone involved. Our concerts received critical praise, too. Here’s a review of the San Francisco performances by Heather Desaulniers, and here’s one of the Los Angeles performances by Jeff Slayton.

We did it!

Remains  for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

Remains for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

PORT’s Success (The Supporters)

Whenever I imagine something new for FACT/SF - a new piece of choreography or a new initiative - I’m immediately confronted by the need to find the money. Sometimes it’s a lot of money and sometimes it’s not, but it’s always a reality that must be dealt with. Finding the money is the most persistent challenge that FACT/SF faces.

For programs that have yet to launch, finding funding is especially challenging. Private foundations and government agencies are reluctant to take a risk on a program’s pilot year because there isn’t yet a solid track record. And without initial funding, it can seem entirely unclear how to get started in the first place. Though we did not receive any grants to support the first year of PORT, I knew it was worth doing and I was determined to make it happen.

This is where the FACT/SF Family comes in.

Remains  for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

Remains for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

Each of our Family members provides significant resources. They buy tickets to the shows and bring their friends to witness what we’ve made. They give us money throughout the year to support our work and broaden our impact.

These resources, and this Family, provide the support for me to take creative and organizational risks. As FACT/SF’s Artistic Director, I feel consistently and continuously fortified by our community. And, PORT is a perfect example of the power of working together. The FACT/SF Family underwrote 80% of PORT’s expenses - there’s no way we could have done it without you.

The FACT/SF Family offers money, and they offer confidence and encouragement, too. Confidence in my abilities and knowledge, and encouragement for me to continue imagining how things could be both different and better. Our community, our artists, and our partners are accomplishing great things together. It’s such a privilege to be working amongst such brilliant, dedicated, and generous people. Thank you for turning PORT, and all of the other FACT/SF dreams, into something real. 

Remains  for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

Remains for PORT 2017; Photo by Gema Galina

PORT 2017 offered five performances and a whole lot more. Going forward as a model for exchange, PORT also offers a radical shift for the dance communities in Southern California, the Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle. It’s pretty thrilling to realize that we’re developing an important and unique model, and creating new touring capacity for the entire field. We’ll start rolling out PORT up and down the West Coast in 2018.

Get excited, and stay tuned.


Charles Slender-White is the Artistic Director of FACT/SF. He has created dozens of original dance works, is a Certified Countertechnique Teacher, and has performed and taught across North America, Europe, Russia, and in Hong Kong and Australia. Slender-White started his career with Provincial Dances Theatre (Yekaterinburg, Russia), and received his BA in English Literature and Dance & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley.

2017 in Review, P.1: Dance Advocacy Conference in Belgrade, Serbia

This blog is the first in Slender-White's 3-part series of reflections on his work with FACT/SF in 2017.

A wee bit of dancing at the dance conference.

A wee bit of dancing at the dance conference.

Written by Charles Slender-White

I first got to go to the Balkans in 2015 to conduct research for my project, (dis)integration. This was funded by Movement Research and the Trust for Mutual Understanding, and made possible by the insightful Julie Phelps, CounterPulse’s Artistic Director. Julie connected me to the funds, and to artists and arts workers in Serbia and Bulgaria. That first trip in 2015 went well, and FACT/SF was invited to return in 2016. This time, Liane Burns and I went together for five weeks to teach, make choreography with the local dancers, and develop our own duet, Platform.

And then, earlier this year, I was encouraged to return to the region yet again. Arts organizers from Belgrade’s Station: Service for Contemporary Dance invited me and a dozen other Americans to attend their Nomad Dance Advocates conference. As in 2015 and 2016, this trip was also funded by Movement Research and the Trust for Mutual Understanding, in collaboration with local partners.

Sit, listen, learn. Mid-way back, L to R: Barbara Bryan (Movement Research), Tania Gordeeva (Vaganova Academy), Jeanne Pfeffer (CounterPulse), me (FACT/SF), and Marya Wethers (Movement Research)

Sit, listen, learn. Mid-way back, L to R: Barbara Bryan (Movement Research), Tania Gordeeva (Vaganova Academy), Jeanne Pfeffer (CounterPulse), me (FACT/SF), and Marya Wethers (Movement Research)

The Nomad Dance Advocates conference brought together about 50 arts workers from the US and Europe to address one question: how can the artists in Belgrade and throughout the Balkans build sustainable, accessible, equitable, and well-funded spaces for contemporary dance? The Germans, Swedes, and French shared models from their respective countries, the Eastern Europeans explained the economic, political, and cultural situations they were dealing with, and the Americans talked about the fundamental role individual donors and private foundations play in our ability to create work and engage with our communities. We all listened attentively to each other, took notes, and spoke up when we thought we might have something to contribute.

During breakfast in the morning, we would convene over coffee and omelettes and talk about the previous day’s discussions. Throughout our lunch break, we would get to know each other more personally. And, after the conference ended each day, we’d go together to a local theatre to watch a performance. We’d talk more on our walk back to the hotel. In between all of this, we’d gather in a more formal and organized ways for discussions, lectures, debates, presentations, etc. The conference was just four days long, but jam-packed full of revelations, proposals, counter-proposals, radical transparency, and real solutions to very complex problems. This was perhaps the most impactful experience I’ve ever had where talking led to action, where conversations were well-balanced between learning and sharing, and where imaginative thinking lent itself to practical solutions.

Sharing thoughts about existing power structures and proposing how we can work to change them.

Sharing thoughts about existing power structures and proposing how we can work to change them.

We covered many topics in those 96 hours, including:

  • the role of dance in society,
  • the relationship between the government, its people, and art as a public good, and
  • the importance of aligning dance education and community outreach with both the values of the arts sector and the needs of a local population.

Big stuff. Heady stuff. Necessary stuff.

Jeanne Pfeffer was there, too, representing CounterPulse. Jeanne and I worked arm-in-arm from 2009-2014 to build FACT/SF in those early years, and she’s currently on our Board of Directors. On a personal level, it was fulfilling to get to spend time together in a far away place. On a professional level, it was incredibly rewarding to get to witness each other as the arts professionals we have become - literally at the table with dozens of experts and feeling like we, too, had valuable insights to share.

Me and Jeanne getting situated on our first day in Belgrade, Serbia

Me and Jeanne getting situated on our first day in Belgrade, Serbia

Throughout the conference, we did all we could to adequately represent the Bay Area and the many different types of work (and ways of working) found in our region. People had heaps of questions for us, and we’d toggle between sharing anecdotes and strategies from our own organizations, and providing insight about how the contemporary performance field more generally functions in Northern California. We received a lot of new information, too, and we're currently in the process of reflecting on all that we learned and are writing down some of the major take-aways. Our ultimate aim is to start new local conversations and make positive change in the Bay Area dance ecology. You’ll be hearing a lot from us about this throughout 2018 - stay tuned!

This trip was significantly different than the others I’ve gotten to take. I didn’t teach or perform, and I wasn’t there to convince anyone that my choreographic vision was superlative in some way. Instead, this conference afforded an open and inquisitive type of field-wide exchange that seems both rare and necessary. It was inspiring to learn how others are thriving and struggling. It was reifying to realize that I had a set of knowledge and experiences that others wanted to know about. It was empowering to gain a palpable sense of community and inclusion, and to reinvest yet again in the importance of taking action.

All the 2017 Nomad Dance Advocates 

All the 2017 Nomad Dance Advocates 

Charles Slender-White is the Artistic Director of FACT/SF. He has created dozens of original dance works, is a Certified Countertechnique Teacher, and has performed and taught across North America, Europe, Russia, and in Hong Kong and Australia. Slender-White started his career with Provincial Dances Theatre (Yekaterinburg, Russia), and received his BA in English Literature and Dance & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley.

On PORT & FACT/SF's Touring History

FACT/SF, Photo by Kegan Marling

FACT/SF, Photo by Kegan Marling

PORT (Peer Organized Regional Touring) is an initiative by FACT/SF and the LA Contemporary Dance Company aimed at increasing exchange and touring opportunities for contemporary dance companies throughout the West Coast. We’ve been working on PORT for over two years, and we’re thrilled that its launch is finally here!

PORT is a significant program and a major part of FACT/SF’s 10th season. I've been reflecting on why touring and exchange became important to me, how FACT/SF has pursued different opportunities over the years, and what I hope PORT will change about how the contemporary dance field operates.

I started FACT/SF back in 2008, after working in Russia for two years with a touring contemporary dance company, Provincial Dances Theatre. Through my work with Provincial Dances, I got to travel all over Russia, and perform in cities throughout France, Poland, and Latvia. During that same period, my best friend and dear colleague, Emily Woo Zeller, was working in Hong Kong – so I got to perform there with her, too. And, prior to my 2006 move to Russia, I had wonderful opportunities outside of my native California to study, perform, and audition in Durham, Seattle, New York City, Pittsburgh, London, and Brussels.

LA Contemporary Dance Company, Photo by Taso Papadakis

LA Contemporary Dance Company, Photo by Taso Papadakis

These varied experiences instilled in me a deep desire to travel and exchange with others – essentially, to be in a community that values continued, comprehensive learning and sharing. FACT/SF was born out of this desire for exchange and community.  Over the past nine years, FACT/SF has benefitted from a variety of  touring engagements. Some were funded, some were supported in-kind, and all were worth the effort.

For FACT/SF’s first tour, in 2009, we performed at every WalMart in California. In 21 days we drove nearly 10,000 miles in a Board Member’s donated car, visited 173 stores in 150 cities, and found sleeping accommodations in the homes of generous friends and family throughout the state. It was our most boot-strapped tour, a grueling effort, and an experience that challenged many of my preconceived ideas about my home state.

In 2011, Danielle Ross (a fellow Berkeley grad) invited FACT/SF to share an evening with her in Portland, Oregon at Performance Works NW. We received a small performance stipend, got a discounted rental car through a cousin who worked at Enterprise, and slept in three different homes that Danielle’s community opened up to us.

FACT/SF at Lake Baikal, Russia

FACT/SF at Lake Baikal, Russia

In 2012, with massive support from the US State Department and the Trust for Mutual Understanding, we spent 7 weeks touring 8 cities across Russia. We made two new works on local companies, taught 32 master classes, and gave 9 performances.

Slender-White & Burns in Bulgaria

Slender-White & Burns in Bulgaria


And, just last year, Liane Burns and I spent 5 weeks in Bulgaria and Serbia (with support from Movement Research), creating a new work on dancers at Derida Dance in Sofia, teaching at Station in Belgrade, and sharing excerpts from our duet, Platform.

In 2015, while attending APAP in New York (a massive and unwieldy annual dance conference), Christy Bolingbroke connected me to the artistic and administrative leaders of the LA Contemporary Dance Company. We shared our frustrations at the heavy-lift that tours require, and our surprise that the major cities on the West Coast aren’t better connected.

While Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego all maintain robust contemporary dance communities, there’s relatively little interaction between them. Each region (and each region’s artists) are too-often re-inventing the wheel over and over again, unnecessarily expending capital in the pursuit of ‘figuring it out’ on their own. So, in an optimistic spirit of collaboration, we decided to work together and see if we could design a better way for companies to share resources and provide more opportunities for each other. At the very least, we wanted to find a way forward that worked for our two companies, with the hope that it might work for others, too.

What emerged is a relatively straight-forward program, where each company takes on the responsibilities of hosting the other in their own hometown, in exchange for the opportunity to be a fully-produced, visiting guest in the other.

Marketing and PR efforts are shared to reduce costs and increase impact, and the choreographers are given freedom to present whichever works they feel best represent their aesthetics, their desires, and their companies. From September 14-16, FACT/SF and ODC Theater will host LACDC in San Francisco, and two weeks later LACDC will return the favor by hosting us in Los Angeles.

From an economic side, this makes a lot of sense. Many of FACT/SF’s expenses for producing a show are fixed, and it costs us little extra to add more works from a visiting artist to our evening. And it makes sense from an audience engagement perspective, too. If we self-produced in Los Angeles, it is unlikely that many people would attend the show because few people in LA are familiar with our work. By working with a local company as host, their own communities will turn out for the event, with the added bonus that those audiences will get to see something new and different, too.

2017 is the inaugural year of PORT. We have full confidence that we’re set up for success, but obviously do not truly know how it will actually go. Once the September shows have finished, we’ll evaluate the program’s strengths and identify areas that need improvement. After that, we’ll develop a platform for other contemporary dance companies to work together, so that the knowledge we’ve gained from this experience can be of benefit to artists, companies, and artists up and down the West Coast.

Charles Slender-White is the Artistic Director of FACT/SF. He has created dozens of original dance works, is a Certified Countertechnique Teacher, and has performed and taught across North America, Europe, Russia, and in Hong Kong and Australia. Slender-White started his career with Provincial Dances Theatre (Yekaterinburg, Russia), and received his BA in English Literature and Dance & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley.

Reflecting on Platform

Written by Liane Burns

As Charlie and I make the final changes to the piece, the production team perfects the intricate lighting, video, and set design for the work, and we all gear up for Platform’s world premiere, I feel fortunate to take the time to reflect on how it all began.

Photo by Kegan Marling

Photo by Kegan Marling

Since moving to San Francisco in 2012, I have been a part of FACT/SF’s many unique, creative processes and performances as both dancer and collaborator. Each of us in the company helps shape the work by generating material and providing feedback, with Charlie as the director with final veto power. Platform’s process was significantly different for both him and myself, as we agreed to equally share creative input and authority throughout the creative process. Having been on the dancer/collaborator side of the relationship for so many years, I had my own concerns for myself and Charlie. Would I feel comfortable speaking up? Would Charlie be able to loosen the reins and share the responsibility with me?  

In 2015, sitting at a bar and sipping sangria, Charlie (my boss, colleague, and someone who would become a dear friend and creative partner), asked if I had listened to Holly Herndon’s latest album, Platform. I could tell by the enthusiasm in his voice how completely stoked he was about the music. Having danced in FACT/SF’s Relief to one of Herndon’s tracks from her first album, Movement, I shared Charlie’s appreciation for Herndon’s genius. Charlie already knew I had a desire to choreograph my own work, and asked if I would be interested in co-creating a duet to Platform, the album. I was like, “Hell yes!”

Without a budget, plan, or premiere date, we both committed right then and there at the bar, not only to make a duet together, but to use every single track on the album. What seemed like two simple guidelines at the time turned out to be both a challenge, and a wonderful way of pushing us to make new choices together that we might never have made on our own. Platform’s journey has been an exciting and adventurous two years, due in large part to Charlie’s experience and knowledge as a director and dance maker, to the team of creative advisors and designers who generously agreed to help shape the work, and to FACT/SF’s supportive community. I am forever grateful to both Charlie and the Company for believing and trusting in me.

Over the last two years, iterations of Platform have been shown in San Francisco, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Platform v.1 was created and performed in San Francisco for FACT/SF’s JuMP 2016. These first three sections took the longest of all 10 tracks to make, largely because Charlie and I had to learn how to co-create a work together. This process was slow, tedious, and considerate, resulting in 2 of the most intricate and detailed sections of the work. Soon after closing JuMP 2016, Charlie and I flew to the Balkans for a creative residency in Bulgaria and to teach and perform in Serbia. I found our 5 weeks traveling, teaching, and performing in the Balkans to be the most significant part of the overall process. Not only were we given the time to focus solely on dance, but we lived, worked, ate, drank, and shared an apartment together. In this time, I got to know Charlie as a person and a friend, not just a boss or colleague. The Balkans trip provided us with a deeper and more comfortable working relationship and a completely new audience, which allowed us to make more risky and unapologetic choices for Platform v.2.

Photo by Andrew Weeks

Photo by Andrew Weeks

What I love most about Platform is that it is made out of collaboration. Darl Andrew Packard and Delayne Medoff, two lighting designers with a history of working with FACT/SF, have co-designed the lighting for Platform. Monique Jenkinson (Stylist) and Keriann Egeland (Costume Designer) collaborated to give us our looks. Cara Rose DeFabio (Dramaturge), and James Fleming & Maurya Kerr (Creative Advisors), are all familiar with FACT/SF’s work and provided feedback and insight throughout the creative process. This fantastic team significantly helped me and Charlie shape Platform.

What a journey! Each iteration and performance of the work gave us the opportunity to test out ideas on a live audience, and to then learn and reflect on the choices we had made and where we wanted to go next. From its first performance in JuMP 2016 to its premiere this Friday and Saturday, Platform has developed into something I am both honored and proud to share with each of you who come to support and witness. I know I can speak for both Charlie and myself when I say we are ready and excited to share the little dance baby we made together called Platform. See you at the show!

Liane has spent the last four years working in San Francisco as a company member and collaborator with FACT/SF and detour dance, and as a guest artist with Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations, RAWdance, LEVYdance, and Christine Bonansea. Liane is the Lead Instructor at Elevate Group Fitness, and corporate Group Fitness Instructor with City Move’n Fitness. Liane received her BFA in Dance and Performance from Chapman University, and completed her postgraduate studies in Israel at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. While living in Israel, she additionally apprenticed and performed with Amir Kolben's Kolben Dance Company. She has both performed and created work in Orange County, San Francisco, Israel, Bulgaria and Serbia.


[Editor's Note: FACT/SF invited Platform collaborators to write about their experiences witnessing rehearsals and contributing to the development of the work. In addition to the writing above by Platform Co-Choreographer, Liane Burns, FACT/SF has also shared reflections from James Fleming (Creative Advisor), Maurya Kerr (Creative Advisor), Cara Rose DeFabio (Dramaturge), and Charles Slender-White (Co-Choreographer). In offering these thoughts, questions, observations, and impressions, FACT/SF aims to provide some insight into our creative process and a bit of context for Platform's conceptual considerations.]

The Body as Machine

Written by Cara Rose DeFabio  

Platform  Album Cover

Platform Album Cover

When Charlie first mentioned to me that he and Liane were interested in making a dance to Holly Herndon’s album Platform, I was thrilled and excitedly asked which track they would be using.

“All of them”, he replied.

Sixty full minutes of dancing onstage sounded like a challenge to begin with, but the full ambition of the project is hard to know unless you’ve heard the album. Platform, the album, is both driving and haunting, employing the full spectrum of Herndon’s rhythmic and vocal skills to great effect. Each track chews on a different aspect of our digital lives, laced with all the hums and whirrs of machines known and unknown. The album in its entirety is a bit like a sonic puzzle, begging the listener to re-listen and sort through the debris to make sense of it all. It is controlled chaos, lush in its layering, and at times impossible to count.

These dancers have met that challenge head on and completely changed the way I hear this music. Specificity is the currency of both in ways that enliven and enrich one another. Every time I watch Platform, the dance, I hear new things in Platform, the album. Even more remarkable is that now every time I hear the music I can see the sounds as gestures, as if they were made by the grinding of metal gears, or air passing across plastic pipes. There is a mutual exchange here that is exciting to take in.

Photo by Kegan Marling

Photo by Kegan Marling

Herndon’s palette is wide, using dripping water, warped start-up sounds, and metallic clicks, as well as her skilled and filtered voice. Each of these sounds jockeys for attention and asks the listener to distinguish between natural and unnatural sounds. What is flesh and what is fiction? The choreography echoes this same question, at times by insisting on a unison so exact it brings to the foreground every minute difference in the bodies onstage - these infinite organic differences that make us so human.

Behind the scenes, the structure of the choreography is meticulous. Charlie and Liane have made movement phrases like building blocks: stacking them high, knocking them down, and turning them so the audience against each wall gets a different view like a giant Rubik's Cube twisting towards a solution. Even some of the improvisational structures use an ‘if, then’ logic that is not unfamiliar to computer programmers, creating decision trees for the dancers that retain a sense of urgency. You could even call this live processing: choices made in the moment, a trigger and a response. The more I think about the structures of formal choreography, the more dances begin to look like any human designed system, adjusting levels of order and chaos until you reach the desired outcome.

Photo by Kegan Marling

Photo by Kegan Marling

Computer logic has become THE way of understanding our world. As we try to build systems that capture the world around us, we can only capture what we can categorize; everything that doesn’t fit into the system is left out. What systems of knowledge might we be leaving behind? Where does the body fit into the digital world we are building up around ourselves? Our computers have nearly become appendages. Our hands now feel empty without their cell phones, and I can’t even imagine what a Holly Herndon track would be without the sophisticated layering and processing her machine provides.

But, what place do our physical bodies have in a world augmented by technology? This work answers by examining the body as machine, pushing towards exhaustion, and showing that work on the platform of the stage is as valuable and varied as the work hours spent running software on any computer platform.


Cara Rose DeFabio is an artist, writer, and event producer focusing on how technology is changing our lives. 

[Editor's Note: FACT/SF invited Platform collaborators to write about their experiences witnessing rehearsals and contributing to the development of the work. In addition to the writing above by Platform Dramaturge, Cara Rose DeFabio, FACT/SF has also shared reflections from James Fleming (Creative Advisor), Maurya Kerr (Creative Advisor), Cara Rose DeFabio (Dramaturge), Liane Burns, (Co-Choreographeand Charles Slender-White (Co-Choreographer). In offering these thoughts, questions, observations, and impressions, FACT/SF aims to provide some insight into our creative process and a bit of context for Platform's conceptual considerations.]


Platform Poems by James Fleming

These poems were written during work-in-progress showings of Platform. The poems serve as a sort of looking glass into the progression of the performance, and seek to create a linguistic lineage or record of the movements. They remain unedited to more accurately portray the unique space between language and dance. 

Poem 1
Platform WIP: Charles Slender-White and Liane Burns
Written by James Fleming

Happy caramel redwood floors
barefoot, heat sitting on the chest
life an embarrassing introduction

the dancers drink diet coke and
seem to defy the languid uncertainty
of Sundays at noon

Balkans, 5 weeks
platform V.2
so much cooler in the US
to say this, the project premise
a hand brings up the foot legs splay
out as a splash of water
the film: us doing the piece
“this is true so far?”

indoors, outdoors, the setting
all is change, that’s it
today this section is all front
is not oriented to the cardinal
proscenium and
there is no projections
but other elements, what else
is missing?

relationship to the piece, each other,
to space/desire to do the
space, the main things
and we don’t know, without force,
our relationship to each other

different times, different places
our hope, more stuff, steps,

a lofty industry to the music
the wind, the frown
10 tracks, new ones the
last ones
knowledge wreathed in
the sweat and delight
of bodies in motion

the frame is a central
wetness through the shirt
the frame is an idea

a body can flow in any
direction if the heart, the hip
is willing. knee to wood.
hand up swinging, sip, the neck
as a stork in hunger, how
mechanic the doings of nature.

heel up heel down
i had more grace than a queen
a rest at throne

tap atop the crown of the foot
nodding and the right hand
a foundation for the stoic frame:
a body can be a monolith
if one slows breathing to nadir

complex motion, limbs are fans
whipping up a froth into the air
roll the shoulders back
I saw charles steal a glance at liane
did she, did she ever know?

can you snatch a glance not for you outta the blue?

fetal rest a thesis on automation
the angle of the arms to
swinging pendulum of foot

the duet is a solo is a duet
hallowed on the ground
a sopratice beat
have you ever seen a hundred
women calling for a digital spectre?
I have
how does a machine cry?

the artifice suddenly the body
and the heat turned angry
the limbs routing a precise, stolid
measurement of form in motion

god the beat!
          liane stared

and charles stared
pinser/grab the foot as one
does a rifle, a cig, a glass of cab
the scarf of the gaze sweeps behind the shoulder
rearing up the haunch//

found the rotation again both
measuring the stroke of standstill
only evidence is the breathing

honey / steel / monks and a tenor preening the plunk
of rain from out their throats to cool the room
sad spectre: sound.

the body seeks the language of action, choice
O if movement ever was so sweet
        I would die to see them float
and light is a galeful bounding thought
to wash hands across the back, face, abdomen
straight legged mewling, pucker sop and grind
ply the cotton skin off to wrack the burning floorboards in sweat
       if only the body could sex the beat
pulled up from the floor as
to wrest in the air poised
as bird before flight

liane grabs charles’ shirt
they don the wet-wracked
cloth of the other and
the body seeks a renewed association
with the other

I begin to fall I begin to fall
belong - repeats and a mimicry
of semiotics, a semiotics of the body
seeks a shared motion
as each dancer
grabs at neck held, head
pressed to hand, bent
turned swept up to thigh
cheek breaking against the fist

liane smiles to a tune
turning about more quietly
I would wrack my body to speak to them
finding the pure sources
of meat at talk

charles follows suit, a moment
behind till his feet
slide out and he is gone

she is speaking
now to the comparative silence
we have all known this silence

of cement walls and the ambient
track of life outside passing

exits and I shudder
do I take up the mouth of the dancer
in flee

back to land through

an earlier choreography
of fans, swinging petals, rotating
through the root of the foot
to roll, spread, wire and spin
an entire room in the chordant
sweeping flush of wind

if i were to stay alive
if I were to stay
back back into you
raining a circle, and charles
sees her, liane standing ahead

a dancer breathes with their eyes
a look beginning in the base of the spine
to inform an entire ecosystem of musculature,
the skeleton, poised into the wild-toothed shot
or a blade of green reposed in morning frost

can you be, in dance, everything you wanted

how does meat mimic industrial clamour?
moments of great precision
are shared through a look
eyes searing the dialogue
of the body at work
      the body
hand over hand
the squeak at sweatpants on floor
water breaks
                   no diet coke
                  that’s it.


Poem 2
Platform Practice: Charles Slender-White and Liane Burns
Written by James Fleming

when do I drop out

white skin on grape silk
movement is clockwise, a round
a flow, precision
as it were the body a mechanism

monastic quality of cloth
tabard tabard
poses repeated perhaps why
open shoulder is it seductive
or ill-fitting, negligent

motion continues between songs
which gives the impression the body
is not a mechanism to/of the song

the twirling is exact (thoughtful)
an immense equality (subsuming, like a pitched fall or a bed sheet lost to the wind)
the rotations
attend to the limbs
and mostly I am in awe.

they begin to respond,
bodies at talk
tka tka tka go birds of paradise
or clops of a heel on repeat
over gravel, a crunch or call
universally satisfying.

adjacent seeming unison
focus, an animal at performance

my attention drifts
and the music turns to mush
after all, synthetic clamor on repeat

regained my eye when they flushed out their limbs onto the floor
dashed as a loosed armful of wood or stones thrown down a shoot,
fetal, all was a reprieve. and suddenly silence.

movements between constant sounds useful -
babies sigh in silence between sobs, susurrations must
slip away if they are to remain a lure -
a certain physical solidity, no gravity to
dance prone as a lip of water lapping the shore

so heavy your body, charles.
they are sweating.

refrain - most noteworthy song?
silk wrinkles across wet skin
molting into primordial red

undertones of the skin, pink beneath
the skin is a compliment to purple.

complicated talk
when on the ground
on your back.

I thought momentarily on the project of sex

stillness almost always is welcome
love it on the chest.

hymn - high, formalist
poses to pupa
a human form

all this humming
harmonies apparent
as they are in good food, sceneries, conversation

flapping of wind into calls,
scratching a terrible gasp
birth, language, la!

sticky slip about the ground
as skins is purged
the wind is a boiling, adolescent crush
ripping across my ear

a pain, things hurt (often, most places you go)
a penance, likely considering
a chrysalis left to the uplift
of a new body, limbs breathing
through a gentle extension to be
thrashed in rain, silence.

put into exact reflection
leaning is discovering
as in to a mirror, the self

hard gaze in the morning sun
the skin the skin
a bugle calls

kneeling prostrate, prim
chins turn toward chins
exchange of soaked shirts back onto the body

who casts glass casts
far more particular exchange
of motions of language, sophisticated

I am thinking of whenever we (humans) decided
enough of grass huts it is time to sow seeds and
stroke metal

more and more words adjacent to rhyming, meaningless almost
but closeness
returns to unison.

who casts longest?
articulation of the face
skinned fruit, after all.
pound the belly, claimed
paws clapping walks in circles
liane's hair all down - what a sight!

rain, breaks of matter
a whipping, a creaking.

I could be grieving.

why then to the neck,
core movements.

lost attention thought of sara's work

arms spread, legs spread

out and circular
I need other words than circular
to describe the ways a dancer can
inspire the cusp
of oranges, cherries, slices.

I had forgotten their clothes
there seems to be a great
deal of looking going on these days.

wild as the willow; as the
whicker in mom's hand on a mare;
as a sister's eye.

hi hi welcome
papers shuffling
they feel lucky

yes yes yes

affirmations abject rambling
agreeableness is rarely a quality worth its salt

so much hollow noise.
I'm going to touch you now

compulsive thought:
is the losing of virginity always like this?

susurrations of the phrase
you are great repeating
almost as if sand paper on the wind

what is happening - so many
between noises of the body
I am sickened with
this excitement of new movement.

ululations of limbs in spin, howling
their breath louder:
eye contact leaves me exhausted, hungry.

motion drag between synchronicity
and complete breakage

how many times I felt that way
thank you charles, thank you

dance in silence
the breathing, slapping
brought me to the sounds
the speakers, love really,
growing so apart.


James Fleming is a poet and curator. He is particularly interested in the intersection of semiotics, performance, and digital art. James currently leads artistic partnerships across creative teams at Facebook, while curating new works with collaborator Kelly Lovemonster. 

[Editor's Note: Choreographers Liane Burns and Charles Slender-White invited Platform collaborators to write about their experiences witnessing rehearsals and contributing to the development of the work. These two poems, written by Creative Advisor, James Fleming, are in response to the Platform creative process. In addition to the poems above, FACT/SF has previously shared reflections from Slender-White and Maurya Kerr (Creative Advisor), and will be sharing writings from Cara Rose DeFabio (Dramaturge) and Liane Burns. In offering these thoughts, questions, observations, and impressions, FACT/SF aims to provide some insight into our creative process and a bit of context for Platform's conceptual considerations. ]

Critical Questions for Platform

Written by Maurya Kerr

I am a fan of meaning, coming into an understanding of essence. Questions, wondering. 


1 she spoke her brilliance from the platform: a raised level surface on which people can stand, a stage.

2 the left’s platform of compassion: policy, program, party line, manifesto, plan, principles, objectives, aims.

I stand on a platform to express my platform… of otherness? From the stage I pronounce a manifesto of difference?

Photo by Kegan Marling

Photo by Kegan Marling

Most of my observations of rehearsal were about what I perceived as otherness, honing in on its presence, wanting further exaggeration and exaltation. To become (not do) that other with specificity, to become that specific other so thoroughly and deeply as to leave no question, only confirmation.

So my overarching note is: “even more other.” Encourage the alien. How timely. (All of us, we who believe in freedom, are fundamentally other to the thuggishness of the great white right.)

Some questions:
How does otherness manifest into thoughts into body into life onto the platform of Platform?

How to not perform otherness, but instead be, in the performative space of the stage?

Does be-ing other evince in the gaze, the hold of the fingers, exemption from gravity or fatigue?

Am I noiseless?

Do I preempt music?

What do I see, and how do I see it?

Is my discernment haptic, sensate, visual, aural?

Am I quicksilver shape-shifter, able to experience and reveal centuries of textures in a second?

What is my connection to the other other beside me? Is it like an invisible umbilical cord?

Can our bodies reveal that cord thickening, waning, even disappearing?

Does that potential disappearance result in our loosening or fusion?

Photo by Kegan Marling

Photo by Kegan Marling

Are we similar or dissimilar in our otherness? (Is ‘similar otherness’ oxymoronic?)

How to foretell independence (separation) versus connectedness (unison)?

Are we already one, but just in ways the non-others can’t recognize?  

Is departure from unison revolutionary? Or is commitment to connectedness even more radical?

As a woman-gendered other, what does it mean to be in simultaneity with a male-gendered other?

(And although not the case here, as a black-raced other, what is simultaneity with whiteness? Is it even possible?)

As a woman-gendered other, can my witnessing of those witnessing my nakedness be subversive? (Do animals in a zoo gaze upon our flabby, unadorned skin with pity?)

How can I perform coupling and avoid sentimentality? How to gaze upon my chosen without falling into the trap of romance?

Why leave the space?

Why stay?

Why move when I could be still?

How to show departure from the small into expansiveness? Is that break violent, welcome, or both?

What does silence mean to me, the work? Is it loud, meaning does it effect, produce affect, alter? Does my otherness become more pronounced, profound in that quiet vastness?

When do I settle my gaze upon the witnesses? Is it only when I myself become witness (to them [witnessing me])?

Can I offer an otherness so deeply embodied that its witnesses become more emboldened in their own distinctiveness, so that otherness becomes the norm and a comfort, instead of a technique of distancing?

Am I ever no longer other?

How does my privilege inform that possibility of un-other-ing?


Maurya Kerr founded tinypistol after a twelve-year career with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Her choreography has been honored by numerous awards, grants, and commissions, including a 2011 Hubbard Street National Choreographic Competition award, a 2012 CHIME grant, a 2014 University of Minnesota Cowles Visiting Artist grant, and selection to Whim W’Him’s 2015 Choreographic Shindig. She is an ODC artist-in-residence, on faculty with the LINES Ballet Education Programs, and recently completed her MFA through Hollins University.


[Editor's Note: Choreographers Liane Burns and Charles Slender-White invited Platform collaborators to write about their experiences witnessing rehearsals and contributing to the development of the work. In addition to the writing above by Creative Advisor, Maurya Kerr, FACT/SF will also be sharing reflections from James Fleming (Creative Advisor), Cara Rose DeFabio (Dramaturge), and Liane Burns. In offering these thoughts, questions, observations, and impressions, FACT/SF aims to provide some insight into our creative process and a bit of context for Platform's conceptual considerations.]

Platform is coming

Photo by Andrew Weeks

Photo by Andrew Weeks

Written by Charles Slender-White

It’s time, good people, for another premiere!

Platform is coming your way June 2-3 as part of the 2017 Walking Distance Dance Festival at ODC! A contemporary dance duet that Liane Burns and I co-choreographed, Platform is inspired by and in response to Holly Herndon’s 2015 album of the same name. Over the two-year arc, from initial concept to premiere - Platform will have taken the efforts of more than 20 contributors, 5 community partners, 5 funders, thousands of hours of work, 9 work-in-progress showings, 1 international residency, and more than $35,000.

Platform is FACT/SF’s 31st work in 9 years, and the 36th work I’ve made since I started off on this crazy career. It’s also one of only two dances I’ve ever truly co-choreographed. The first one, The tents past tense, was created with Emily Woo Zeller in 2007 for The Fringe Club in Hong Kong.

Reflecting on more than a decade of dancing and dance making, I’m yet again struck by the enormous amount of work, time, talent, faith, energy, and support that goes into the creation of every dance. It’s always a wild ride, it always takes a lot of people, and embedded within every project is the hope that we’ll do something meaningful for the audience, for those people who courageously choose to spend an evening with us.

As we head into the Platform premiere, I thought it could be useful to provide some context around the work. Like every piece we’ve produced, this one has its own special backstory.

Liane and I began brainstorming about this duet right after Holly’s album came out, in May 2015. FACT/SF had just premiered Relief, I knew that Liane was interested in making choreography, and I had become increasingly desirous of working alongside another choreographer in the creation of a new work. I also wanted to perform more. I asked Liane if she wanted to make a duet together, and confessed that my proposal came with no secured funding, venue, or premiere date. Despite the circumstances, she was game.

In summer 2015, I went to Bulgaria and Serbia to do on-the-ground research for (dis)integration. While there, I made some significant connections with the local dance communities, and the wonderful folks at Derida Dance Center in Sofia invited me for a three week residency in fall 2016. I accepted the offer on the condition that I could bring a collaborator, confirmed with Liane that she was interested in going, and just like that, we had a creative residency to look forward to.

By the end of 2015, I had casually talked with a few people about the project. Christy Bolingbroke, who at the time was responsible for curating performances at ODC Theater, offered to include Platform in the 2017 Walking Distance Dance Festival and to formally commission the work from us. At this point in our timeline, about six months after the project was initially conceived, we had secured performance dates, a venue, and some financial support. Over the next 9 months, we would go on to gain further support from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Movement Research, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, CounterPulse, LEVYdance, and the Zellerbach Family Foundation. About a year after we had first talked about making Platform, we found ourselves with a fully-funded project, a production timeline, and a lot of work to do.

Platform .v1  - Photo by Kegan Marling

Platform .v1 - Photo by Kegan Marling

We decided to roll out Platform in a few different iterations, so that we could try out ideas, get feedback, and make edits. We decided to perform sections from Platform, billed as Platform v.1, in August 2016 as part of FACT/SF’s JuMP Program. In January 2016 we started working on the first section, and debuted it at a LEVYdance Salon. I spent February 2016 in Canada teaching, and after I got back we built the second section. Then I went to Australia for a month-long Countertechnique intensive, and just before the JuMP 2016 performances we finished the third section. That August, Platform v.1 premiered at CounterPulse in JuMP 2016, alongside Katerina Wong’s Speck.


At the end of September 2016, Liane and I flew to Bulgaria for what would become five weeks of living and working together. We lived in the same apartment, shared meals together, and discussed and worked on Platform every day from about 8a until 10p. These long working sessions were punctuated by larger conversations about life, art, love, and politics, hangouts with the local dancers and our new friends, and short trips to go hike a mountain or see a nearby city. Liane and I finally got to know each other as people, after working together as colleagues for the previous 4 years. While in Sofia, we also taught 15 classes and made a new work on local dancers, traveled to the Black Sea, to Hungary, and to Greece, and picked up additional work teaching and performing in Serbia as part of Belgrade’s annual Kondenz Festival. We premiered Platform v.2 in Sofia at the end of October.

Upon returning from the Balkans in November 2016, we had a working rough draft for about 70% of Platform.

In December 2016, we held a work-in-progress showing at ODC, and invited numerous colleagues to check it out - this was the first time we really engaged our larger creative team. Since then, the production elements have really started to come together. We have our gorgeous costumes in hand, we completed an 8-location video shoot, we finished choreographing the work this past Wednesday, we’ve started installing our set, and I’m currently in the process of editing together our video footage which will accompany the live performances. This upcoming Sunday, we’ll start hanging our projectors and lights.

From the beginning, we knew that making a duet on ourselves would bring with it the significant challenge of not being able to ‘see’ the work from the outside. So, we invited a veritable dream team of collaborators to help us make Platform.

Cara Rose DeFabio is our dramaturge, we’ve got styling by Monique Jenkinson and costumes by Keriann Egeland, Mark McBeth did our videography, and Darl Andrew Packard and Delayne Medoff are collaborating together on lights and the show’s technical components. We’ve had helpful feedback from more than a dozen of our colleagues, and Maurya Kerr and James Fleming, our Creative Advisors, have seen the work throughout its development and have offered key insights and suggestions along the way. Both Maurya and James have crafted written responses to our work, and we’ll be posting them over the next two weeks alongside perspectives and commentary from Cara and Liane. And, on May 24th at 6p, FACT/SF will be doing its first ever Facebook live - an interview between Jeanne Pfeffer, Liane, and myself.

Two weeks out from the premiere, we hope that these writings, thoughts, and conversations about Platform help to provide a bit of useful context and information about this project, which has been a major part of FACT/SF’s work since 2015.

I’ll see you soon,
Artistic Director, FACT/SF


Charles Slender-White is the Artistic Director of FACT/SF. He has created dozens of original dance works, is a Certified Countertechnique Teacher, and has performed and taught across North America, Europe, Russia, and in Hong Kong and Australia. Slender-White started his career with Provincial Dances Theatre (Yekaterinburg, Russia), and received his BA in English Literature and Dance & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley.