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.
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.