NOW SERVING: A review of works by Esmeralda Kundanis-Grow, Nol Simonse, and Embodiment Project

D.I.R.T. Program A
Dance Brigade’s Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
Friday, January 23, 2015


A Review of Esmeralda Kundanis-Grow’s SENSITIVE PRESSURES

Two metal clothing racks and a small black end table appear downstage. Hanging on the racks are an assemblage of this season’s haute couture: a blazer, a beanie, a bike helmet, a black trash bag, a wig, a pair of Converse, a pair of gloves, and some tattered gauze.

Four dancers enter in darkness. Warm orange light begins to glow from two circular floor spots upstage. A high-pitched industrial drone whines and ramps up. Beautifully backlit, the dancers carry the table and roll the racks back, in what I thought was a subtle and genius way to begin.

It’s runway time.

In the program notes, Kundanis-Grow writes:

The D.I.R.T. is the emotional withholding and displacement that occurs when faced with continual aggression and anxiety from our surrounding environment. “Sensitive Pressures” is research into the presentation of the contemporary, female experience and how our body/bodies have been affected every day by a history of male possession and power. The work explores what it takes to identify where in the body we hold our environmental pressures/aggressors and how we might use this awareness to shift the physical, emotional, and spiritual states of the body towards greater self-empowerment and presence.

I was intrigued by Kundanis-Grow’s decision to use a runway, as well as the performance of “runway,” as a site in which to not only interrogate the male and misogynist gaze, but to also reveal the very internal landscape of nerves and soft tissues affected by these micro- and macro-aggressions.

The genre of the runway fashion show embodies and advertises certain types of desired, socially acceptable, yet highly idealized or romanticized femininities. One is sort of blank or overly neutralized; the models have bored, vacant faces and their bodies seem to be frail, emaciated, blank slates. Another is hyper-charged and sexually objectified; the female body is loosely and minimally covered, exposed.

But there’s also a disturbing collision of these two that creates a vacant, seemingly sexually available female body, one that does not speak and seems indifferent to the heavy scrutiny of the crowd, to being constantly watched. She returns again and again in different garments, but does the same walk, walks the same track, pauses in the same places, stares straight ahead, silent. She becomes a kind of magazine cover specter haunting the western imaginary of the feminine.

Performers Caroline Alexander, Hallie Dalsimer, Dominique Nigro, and Rebecca Siegel each have a distinctive and very specific physicality to their walk, which is either sourced from, satirizing, or otherwise responding to these representations. One is very subtle and reserved in a ruffled blouse, blazer casually flung over the shoulder. Another has an austere and angular severity. A third wears splattered jeans and a slightly confused look, her strides wide and somewhat lost. The faces each of them give at the end of the runway before turning around are priceless.

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Charlotte's Web illustration by Garth Williams


Like Charlotte’s web, your website should communicate key messages about your small business, artistic practice, or services in a creative way that attracts new clients, fans…and tasty morsels.

I’ve been designing a lot of websites lately. Many of them are for dancers or writers who’ve never had their own professional site before. In some cases the artist has been making work for two or three decades and needs a one-stop archive to showcase the breadth of their portfolio. I’ve designed sites for a social worker embarking on and promoting a new wing of services, and for a musician interested in taking their art and teaching to the next level.

What I’ve learned is that designing a website is so much more than building a few pages. Most people I work with don’t have an existing logo, so often my first step in creating a visual concept is designing a logo or logo mark. I consider texture, font face and color palette very carefully, and from there I work toward developing a style and brand that encompasses your vision and personality, the essence of your work, and the kind of audience you’re trying to reach.

And it doesn’t stop there. I’ll help you set up a mailing list and sign up form widget for your site. I’ll install SEO and Google Analytics to extend your reach and track site engagement. I also ensure the site is fully responsive, so that it looks great on tablets and smart phones.

It’s exciting to build and launch your first ever site. Like Charlotte I spin a glittering design, then sit back and watch your inner Wilbur glow.

[Featured image: Illustration from Charlotte’s Web by Garth Williams, courtesy The Persnickety Reader]
Fog Beast - Photo by Jessica Swanson

Levity and Loss in One Pounce: A Review of Fog Beast’s THE FOX AND THE DONKEY and BAD HERE DAY

by Jai Arun Ravine


“The Fox and the Donkey” starts almost accidentally. While the audience is still milling about, chatting, getting drinks at the bar and finding their seats, Danny Nguyen (The Donkey) separates himself imperceptibly from the crowd at the front and stands unassumingly in the corner upstage. About 30 seconds later, Andrew Ward walks from the back of the space to stand behind him. Then from the audience follows Melecio Estrella with his guitar, and Mo Miner (The Fox). Now it’s clear: they’re all waiting in line.

This image evokes a host of cultural expectations and rules of social etiquette around how we’re supposed to interact with other people while waiting in line, including how much distance is acceptable between yourself and the person in front of you. Polite ignorance is custom. Contact is expressly forbidden.

Each person waits with a distinctly different tone. Nguyen is very patient, quiet and still, arms crossed in front of his body. Ward is the non sequitur of the group, the one who takes a very loud phone call. Estrella minds his own business with his guitar. At the end of the line, Miner fidgets with visible annoyance and impatience. Ward nudges Nguyen with “Hey, don’t I know you?” and starts talking about doing a manual labor job together. At the end of their conversation, Nguyen squats and Ward jumps on his back and they lumber off, transforming the image from two people waiting in line to a man on a donkey. Continue Reading

Dohee Lee - MAGO - Photo by Pak Han 2

Undercurrent: A Review of Dohee Lee’s MAGO

by Jai Arun Ravine

Wind, rock, women. These are the three abundances (samdado or “three many”) of Jeju Island, which lies off the coast of South Korea and is home to Korean American dance and performance artist Dohee Lee. Yet Jeju is also the site of a different kind of “three many”: massacre, militarism, US imperialism. MAGO begins in the mythic past of preverbal time, cuts through the thick silences of memory, and invites us to connect to our personal and collective histories and myths in order to protect and sustain our world.


Dohee Lee - Mago - Photo By Pak Han 4The world premiere of MAGO was staged at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on November 14 and 15. From the plaza the audience enters the long and narrow space of the Grand Lobby. Lee crouches low on a small raised platform at the front end. Behind her, down the platform’s steps and along the floor, trails a long thin stream of white cloth. Sound designer Adria Otte mixes the soundscape from the gallery’s balcony above. Lee embodies the Korean creator goddess, Mago.

The energy is something very ancient, existing before spoken language yet carrying the memory of eons of struggle.

Something like bacteria escaping from eroding rock on the sea floor, flexing its cells toward sunlight, coming into sentience. When she speaks it is a stone’s language—one that is highly porous, contrary to its surface. She wears a garment that seems to be made of thinly pressed paper, and she sheds her papery skin with a series of guttural whistles, like threads of breath and sound, like air released through punctures in her body. Continue Reading

Dohee Lee - MAGO - Photo by Pak Han

Resonance and Resistance: A Preview of Dohee Lee’s MAGO

by Jai Arun Ravine


If sound waves could manifest as a corporeal presence, they would take the form of Korean American dance and performance artist Dohee Lee.

In early October I observed a rehearsal of Lee’s current work, MAGO, which will premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on November 14 and 15. Lee was rehearsing at Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland with sound designer Adria Otte, who has collaborated with Lee on the development of the sound score for the MAGO project since 2011.

As I witnessed Lee move through her material, I noted various states and qualities of texture. The utterance of her voice and body was at times airy and spacious, at times fiery, directed and harsh, and in other instances like pulled and stretched out thread. I saw correlations between the articulations in her throat and those of her fingertips and spine, and traced the intimacy between gestural voice and gestural body. They were deeply in tune—tonally resonant. Her movement was at once incredibly specific and infinitely elastic.

In my notebook I wrote, “She moves in a way that’s like the physicality of sound.”  Continue Reading

What Is Twilight? A Review of Marissa Perel’s MORE THAN JUST A PIECE OF SKY

MARISSA PEREL – More Than Just A Piece Of Sky from the chocolate factory theater on Vimeo.

by Jai Arun Ravine
September 19, 2014

The question that is central to my research is, “How do we move across space and time with respect to our collected histories?”
—Marissa Perel, artist statement

Passing Through the Gendered World

Are you conscious of your body when you walk into a space? This is the question I asked myself as I walked into the world created by Marissa Perel’s More Than Just A Piece Of Sky installed within The Chocolate Factory Theater. As I watched audience members cross the floor instead of walk around the edge, as I overheard small conversations, the rustle of bags, and the scrape of metal chairs, I wanted to ask everyone, Are you conscious of what is not moving, of what is still?

More Than Just A Piece Of Sky begins with our entrances. We encounter Perel curled up on their left side on a white bed with a white frame and white sheets, lit up by fluorescent white lights from underneath. The floor and walls are white. Books are stacked on the floor by the bed. On the other side there’s a rug and end table, upon which sit a Fisher-Price record player and a shruti box. Projected on the wall, paint chipped in many places, is a video of Perel and performers Jumatatu Poe and Lindsay Reuter talking about their relationships to religion, the body, queerness, fathers.

As the video plays, Perel is still, eyes closed, in bed—perhaps dreaming, but in my mind, listening and taking everything in. Is this a state of rest? A place of stillness? A pose of recovery? A burrow of comfort? A feeling of safety? A need for privacy? A memory of internalized shame? Is this posture a consequence of exile from one’s home, from one’s body? Is this posture the fatigue of race/gender/sexuality/disability written “all over myself”? Is this posture a reflex when [I] “take my body away from sight and disappear into self,” or “cross over into another world” to die, to disappear? Continue Reading


3 Questions I Ask New Clients

When starting a new client project, I always ask three questions:

  • Who is your audience? Or, what kind of audience or clientele are you trying to reach?
  • What is the one thing you want your prospective audience or clientele to take away?
  • What is your vision?

All of these questions are important, but I like to focus on #3. What do you see? What are your desires for the project? Where do you see it going? Continue Reading

Not Everything Dies

Why I Love Layout

My dad is a nature photographer. I grew up watching him edit his photos in Photoshop 6.0. As it turns out, his nerdy interest in Jerry Uelsmann, science fiction pulp magazines, William S. Burroughs, and cut-up techniques would influence my design aesthetic years later.

Like my dad, I had a desire to observe and capture everything around me. I always carried a novel, a notebook, and a sketchpad. I was obsessed with Kerouac and Ginsberg and fascinated by manatees, archaeological dig sites, Jupiter, and the search for extra-terrestrial life. I wanted to see beyond the ends of the earth, of what was as yet unknown.

In my late teens and early twenties, I started making digital fan collages for my favorite show, The X-Files. I diligently saved jpegs of Mulder and Scully, combed transcripts for episode quotes, used textured brushes and layered like crazy. Basically, my fandom taught me everything I needed to know about Photoshop. Continue Reading