By Janice Steinberg
March 13, 2007
Elfin, with cropped white-blond hair, Leslie Seiters can look as whispery and childlike as the all lower-case name of her dance company, leslie seiters' little known dance theater. Just when your heart catches at Seiters' vulnerability, however, you become aware of her wiry strength, uncompromising gaze, and fierce playfulness – childlike, maybe, but a child raised by wolves.
Seiters, making her San Diego debut last weekend, moved here last summer to teach at San Diego State, after a San Francisco career that included Isadora Duncan honors for visual design as well as dance and work with leading Bay Area artists Sara Shelton Mann and Jo Kreiter.
Her appointment at SDSU reflects a significant beefing-up of university dance faculties. In the past two years, SDSU hired Seiters and Joe Alter (who has extensive experience in Eastern Europe) and created a BFA in Dance. At the same time, UCSD has added Liam Clancy and designed a master's program.
Ripples from the presence of new artist-teachers are revitalizing the contemporary dance scene and contributed to the buzz around Seiters' debut. Sponsored by Sushi and SDSU, the three works at SDSU's Studio Theatre (sold out both nights) displayed Seiters' brilliance at embodying simultaneous fragility and scrappiness, along with bracingly inventive choreography.
For the evening's most substantial piece, “Hypothetically She Would Find Her Here,” she and co-choreographer-performer Rachael Lincoln created an otherworldly set marked by four strategically-placed gray men's suit jackets, lit by Maureen Flemming in a dreamy haze.
Two jackets were suspended from ropes just high enough that when Seiters and Lincoln – her eerie double with identical blond urchin hair, their boyish torsos initially nude and white-powdered – slipped their arms into the sleeves, they dangled with hiked shoulders. (Like Seiters, Lincoln has also danced with Kreiter's Flyaway Productions, which uses “apparatus-based dances.”)
Jackets three and four yielded ropes that unreeled like a magician's endless stream of silk scarves.
To a score ranging from a clacking typewriter to Dawn Upshaw's liquid soprano in a Henryk Gorecki song, Seiters and Lincoln flopped in deceptively effortless unison, lay head-to-head like conjoined twins, and punctuated slow, delicate movements with percussive bursts.
They poured streams of flour to outline placements for a mad tea party where Lincoln kept sliding saucers at Seiters, who scrambled to push them into a straight line.
At the same time that “Hypothetically . . . ” abounded in images, there was something wonderfully generous about it, a way it invited one's own associations. Yet, for all the piece's spaciousness, every quirky visual and gesture had its own inevitable logic – going back to the installation outside the theater. Created by Seiters and Lincoln with artist Adele Mattern, it used flour to outline two table settings.
Another potent image introduced the solo “oxa.” A chandelier lit with five bulbs (though it looked like twice that many) swung in an arc as Seiters played with the horizontal slits in the sides of a stiff red dress, a terrifically kooky garment designed by Claudia Esslinger. To the sound of her own sharp exhalations, Seiters snaked her left arm through one of the slits (described as gills) and cradled her head. Her slashing arms propelled her into off-kilter turns. At times she simply stood and regarded the audience with that nakedly direct, wild-child gaze.
Seiters made “Hypothetically . . . ” and “oxa” before moving here, and Lincoln is a San Francisco buddy now based in Los Angeles. Her first piece with San Diego dancers, “Incidental Fear of Numbers,” uses nine tables that were stacked, lined up, and walked on. A big pile of “stuffed shirts” – white shirts with something pillow-like in the arms – got tossed around.
She asked for feedback about this work-in-progress, so: Yes to the sharp arm flings ending in dangling hands, and it could go on longer. No to Dina Academia counting down numbers as Amanda Waal and Justin Morrison grappled, which lacked oomph.
Yes to the cast of smart collaborators: Waal has done her own complex, highly visual work, Morrison is a savvy improviser who's studied extensively in Amsterdam, and Academia is young but promising, with some of Seiters' scrappy presence.
An emphatic yes to guest artist Pat Sandback regally deadpan, ripping pages from a phone directory and releasing them to be blown by a fan – though could you possibly re-create the delicious accident when a page plastered Sandback's face and she patiently angled her head until the fan caught it?
That's the thing about Seiters' work, however: There's a sense of spontaneity that in fact spoke of brainy artistic choices in this buzz-worthy debut.
Too much? Too little? What is the Question?
"the way to disappear"

Leslie Seiters
848 Community Space
November 7 2004
by Ann Murphy

copyright © 2004 by Ann Murphy
About a month ago, when a band of French presenters came to town, a couple of showcases were whipped together at ODC Theater, allowing a dozen or so companies to present themselves to the theater reps and diplomatic attaches. On its last day I met up with the group at the apartment of Keith Hennessey, when Hennessey, Jess Curtis (both formerly of Contraband) and Krissy Keefer (Dance Brigade) showed work via video. During a break a few presenters confided to me that they were taken aback by dance in San Francisco—that it was so, well, dancey. In France, they said, non-dance is the dance. The most exciting performance in the recent experience of one presenter was of a performer who came on stage and without moving expressed an array of emotion.
The mission, ostensibly aesthetic, was organized by the French government through the diplomatic corps to, as one diplomat present said, "build a bridge again with American dance." When I asked this diplomat if the underlying motive was political, she hesitated and said, no, for us it is aesthetic, but if the consul wants to make something political of it, that is up to him. In the face international fears of unchecked U.S. aggression abroad, and chilly relations between Presidents George Bush and Jacques Chirac, here were the French looking for a nongovernmental route into our nongovernmental psyche. They seemed disappointed not to find greater radicalism hidden here.
Curiously, Russian presenters happened to be passing through around the same time and attended John Jasperse's first Bay Area performance. Although intrigued by and even sympathetic to "California," these presenters nevertheless told Yerba Buena head Ken Foster: we could NEVER bring such dance to Russia-it has too little dance. Clearly, in their eyes, American modern dance is too radical.
There is no moral to the story, although the irony is wonderful. But I decided to use it as my lens as I viewed the work of Leslie Seiters a few weeks later. Did she present too little dance? Too much? (And what, precisely, do such questions even mean?)
In the last night of her run of "the way to disappear" at the alternative space Hennessey, Curtis and others founded called 848 (soon to move to Mission Street), Ms. Seiters used a modest movement vocabulary of what is almost a Bay Area argot of release technique and attenuated postmodernisms to deliver a quiet but beautiful wallop. It was a miniaturist world of intimacy and detachment, presence and non-presence. No doubt the tinyness of the jam-packed space where her show ran for two weekends had something to do with the evening's feel of a delicate miniature. But Ms. Seiters is a trained visual artist as well as a dancer, who works not only in movement but in visual media and conceptual art, and she used the space with ethereal, thoroughgoing sensitivity. There was little that felt decorative or extraneous, largely because she arrayed her material so that each element tightly refracted other parts until the whole shimmered lucidly (with help from lighting designer Sean Riley).
At the top of the stairs, blonde Ms. Seiters and brunette Rachel Shaw danced in a tiny "room" made of four hanging walls of green flowered wall paper. Wearing dresses of the same wallpaper, they performed what resembled a duet by two sonambulists engaged in a dream of appearing and disappearing, which they comically did by shoving one of the back walls over their torsos, letting their legs stick out. A viewer's head occasionally appeared from above, like the head of a puppeteer looking down at her puppets. In the theater itself three women stood eradicating with something chalky three female portraits segmented by rectangles, like the divisions of a mullioned window. In another "room," a stream of words about disappearing were projected onto white paper "walls," while inside a woman cut away the paper. On a far wall was an array of empty picture frames.
Windows, frames, self, hiding, appearing-these motifs began to accumulate thematically. Many pairs of wing-tipped shoes lay on the floor attached by thin strings looped through a pulley and tied to one wall. Christy Funsch took to a swing in an upstage doorway and throughout the evening swung with rhythmic constancy, illuminated by indirect melancholic light. This ceaseless motion had the feeling of memory running through the present.
While one could say that Seiter's vocabulary of lunges, side-bends and contact rolls added nothing new to the local argot, and that even her groupings were familiar from other's choreography, what was moving and original was her organization of these elements. Nuance bubbled up from a duet in which a closed arm fifth position en avant became simultaneously a lasso to hold another person and a vacancy suggesting an absence and void. A dancer pulled away, was yanked back, and sent a corresponding but unpredictable reaction through her partner. Ms. Seiters used empty picture frames with equal power, magically steering away from cliché through her rigorous and poignant entanglements. The terms of her investigation were clear: how does one disappear? What is intimacy and connection? And is it possible to leave/to not leave a trace? Given how resonant this production was, with moody music by Sean Feit, one would have to say: no, not possible.

What would the French and Russians have thought? If they were thinking "too much," "too little" they would have missed the point.

While the work's quiet power evolved over the course of the night, the true potency of the evening resided in how her imagery has endured: The movement, sound and sets, with their wry, melancholic but humane feeling tone remain etched in my skin. That has more substance than all the proclamations about how much or how little movement constitutes a relevant movement piece.
Underlying the idea of "too much" is a belief that dance's lexicon has become meaningless—that a jete, a Graham contraction or a Cunningham side bend have been eroded of significance and should be thrown out. But who would say that middle C or G minor have become worthless sounds? Not even John Cage thought that a particular note should be buried; he knew that what can become meaningless is the arrangement of sounds and perceived silence. Similiarly, what truly matters is how one uses and morphs the movement lexicon and stillness to communicate meaning, not whether the lexicon per se is worthwhile. Beneath the idea of "too little" is a 19th century idea of dance and narrative. But 19th century forms were upturned by the realities of the 20th, whether of engineering marvels that allowed buildings to reach into the clouds or of gas chambers and a-bombs. As contemporary composers know, the past and present are not mutually exclusive terrain, and geographical boundaries, for good and ill, are now almost thoroughly porous, allowing cultures to impinge on one another to an unprecedented degree. Too much? Too little? The real question is: does it hit you? Does its afterimage bury itself in you and take root? That, to me, is the real key to dance worth watching.
Volume 2, No. 45
November 29, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Ann Murphy
Leslie Seiters little known dance theater, The Way to Disappear
Nov 8, 2004


Leslie Seiters' The Way to Disappear. Photo courtesy of 848 Community Space.

Leslie Seiters’ work is so delicate, you almost wonder how she can bear to share it. The mental worlds she constructs are fragile and almost painfully intricate—last year, for instance, she and Rachel Shaw duetted among dozens of tiny, hand-painted teacups hung from fishing wire. That show, a minefield of emotional vulnerability, won Seiters good buzz on the San Francisco modern dance scene and a residency at ODC Theater. For the last two weekends Seiters was back at 848 Community Space with a newly formed company, little known dance theater, and an hour-long premiere as entrancing as an unlocked diary.

The Way to Disappear explores dark-hour-of-the-soul questions in a dreamy, light-filled landscape. The work is essentially a danced installation, and for the first 15 minutes the audience is invited to wander through. Seiters and Shaw inhabit a room of floating vintage green wallpaper, their paper dresses blending into the background. On the side of the stage, where Sean Riley’s set design creates an alcove from strings anchored by old men’s shoes, Jessica Swanson, Frieda Kipar, and Marielle Lauren Amrhein work vigorously at erasing charcoal drawings of their faces—but stubborn traces remain. At the back of the stage, Christy Funsch snips away at tissue paper bearing projected handwriting.

Seiters’ program notes tell of her fascination with a web site on "How to disappear in America," an idea she’s expanded into a physical essay on mortality. As the dance proper begins, Sean Feit’s gentle score incorporates spoken instructions like "Drink water for 24 hours. Cry the entire next day." A movement motif of collapsing arms echoed by collapsing hips is juxtaposed with push-pull duets. Seiters’ distinctive style is open-hearted and raw, full of swooping lunges, wide arms, and beautiful open hands.

Image from Leslie Seiters' The Way to Disappear. Photo courtesy of 848 Community Space.

The dancers try the shoes on all appendages. They pick up empty frames and reach through them for one another. Throughout, Funsch sways on a swing behind the theater’s back doorway, an apparition reappearing with the lulling regularity of a pendulum. The heart of the dance is a duet for Seiters and the captivating Jessica Swanson with a pair of shoes that imply a third, missing person. At last Seiters pulls an empty frame over her body and reaches up to extinguish a single lightbulb.

Seiters’ way of using symbolic props to launch danced meditations is reminiscent of
fallen, which Jess Curtis created for his bi-continental Gravity Physical Entertainment two years ago. But the questions The Way to Disappear raises are clearly Seiters’ own, and deeply felt. The weak link of the show, however, is Feit’s recorded score, which meanders between music-box piano, bittersweet violin, and wistful accordion. It’s pretty enough but repetitive and indistinct, much like the wallpaper into which Shaw and Seiters disappear. And despite Seiters’ recognition that the desires for immortality and self-annihilation are inextricably bound, this is a show that leaves lasting traces in the viewer’s mind.

Dancer and choreographer Leslie Seiters explored one of the positions possible on a tabletop in rehearsal for "Incidental Fear of Numbers," the first work that she created in San Diego. Seiters later dyed her hair white-blond for the show.