thirty seven isolated events

thirty seven isolated events

paige starling sorvillo/blindsight • SF International Arts Festival

Thu-Sat. May 22-24 & 29-31, 8pm $20 (Members $15, Thursdays: pay-what-you-can)

Integrating contemporary butoh dance with stunning live video and an original sound score, blingsight creates a sense-saturated exploration of intimacy and violence. At 37˚celcius we have unprecedented potential to connect, to risk, to make contact inside the noise. Featuring sorvillo (SF), media-artist Lucy HG (LA), composers Hawkins (AUS/UK), Allbee (OAK), and dancers Willey, Robertson, Bonansea, and Jarrett. More Info:
Buy Tickets Now!

paige starling sorvillo/blindsight website
Press Release and Downloads from the SFIAF website

International Arts Festival 2008 Performances

Photos by Ian Winters


‘Thirty Seven’ overextends body motif
SF Chronicle, Rachel Howard, May 26, 2008


The strongest elements of “Thirty Seven Isolated Events,” which continues this week, are the fully present performances. Tall, gamine Claire Willey gets the most stage time, along with punky, defiant Loren Robertson. In the work’s most memorable section, Willey turns away from the audience and roils the incredible musculature of her naked back, reaching around to paw herself, while a live video feed of this is projected onto Robertson, clothing her in an artificial second skin. In the central section, a flailing Sorvillo calls out 37 “events” as Robertson and Willey enact them: “No. 8: You fall forward, taking me with you”; “18: Hide under the table”; “No. 22: This is where we hear our own artificial breathing”; “28: I cannot see my own hands.”

Photos by Mike Kepka


  • SFBG Pixel Vision Blog

    A triumphant ‘Thirty Seven Isolated Events’ combines butoh, digital imagery at CounterPulse

    By Dina Maccabee

    It feels a little overblown to say that Thirty Seven Isolated Events, conceived by choreographer Paige Sorvillo with her company Blindsight and presented at CounterPulse with the San Francisco International Arts Festival, is a triumph of independent experimental performance. It’s a relatively lean production, well-scaled to maximize CounterPulse’s somewhat Spartan interior. Still, for this audience member, there were so many successful aspects in what might have been a risky venture that triumph is the word I’ll use.

    Though promotion for Thirty Seven Events uses spiffy words like “intermedia,” dance fans wary of fancy gadgets edging out real-life rippling muscles needn’t be scared off. In fact, displacement of human intimacy and desensitization to violence enabled by ubiquitous modern media are the kernels of Sorvillo’s exploration, and they provide a rich source of imagery and metaphor. The Blindsight company members slithered, twitched, and struggled with determination, fluidity, and tight control, sculpting their own flesh into an unforgettable reminder that real human contact, whether caressing or brusque, is utterly irreplaceable.

    Sorvillo’s training in contemporary Japanese butoh clearly played into both the conception of Thirty Seven Events as a platform for dealing with fairly abstract emotional material, and in the style and mood of the movement itself. In the opening passage, Sorvillo writhed in a single column of yellow light, seeming to test the power of her joints and limbs against the pull of gravity in an alternately lyrical and frenzied monologue. But as she pointed out in an after-show panel discussion, the ghostly white body paint and gruesome facial contortions are parts of the butoh vocabulary she’s deliberately left out.

    This choice made room for all the dancers to project their own versions of emotional intensity, and somehow, blank-faced, they emoted with a vengeance. The partnering of dancers Claire Willey and Loren Robertson, who miraculously appeared as distorted mirror images of one another, wearing tattered white mental-ward rags, was an especially moving commentary on the maddening inability to transcend the limits of our own bodies and experience, to trade places with another.

    The act of collaboration among live performers, composers, and visual designers, even if you call it intermedia, is hardly experimental. It’s called theater. Still, the teamwork on Thirty Seven Events is pretty darn inspired, and each element manages to complement the others without distracting from the total effect: a mood of energized volatility. The score by Australian composer Susan Hawkins and Oakland avant-garde performer Liz Allbee was haunting, gritty, and fast. This isn’t the kind of production where dancers do anything as gauchely obvious as move in rhythm to the music, but they are nevertheless elevated by it, eager for another sensory surface to push against. As for the digital imagery of Los Angeles media artist Lucy HG, I’m reluctant spoil the surprise of one of the show’s highlights: a stunning combination of live choreography and video that’s as disconcerting and chilling as it is clever. I’ll just say that human skin is both the creepiest and most sensual canvas for film projection I ever hope to see.

    In one of the closing images of the performance, Willey crumpled and stiffened into an almost absurdist rigor-mortis pose, prostrate, with one arm awkwardly raked toward the sky, her unblinking eyes glittering up toward the audience. In Sorvillo’s vocabulary, getting thrown to the floor by unseen forces is no dramatic flourish: it’s an exploration of one possible state of the body and the mind, or maybe a paralysis born of desensitization to everyday violence. Without constant renewal of the motivation to act, interact, and feel, Willey’s skeletal tableau seemed to say, none of us is anything more than an inert pile of bones, lying useless on the floor.

  • jez

    What a well-written description of your experience viewing this show. I performed in the initial version of the work, which was performed at the Asian Art Museum. (Which received a nomination for both visual design and choreography by the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards earlier this year.)

    Even while inside the piece, I was moved by the collaborators’ contributions of sound and visual elements, which I’m eagerly anticipating as I will go this coming Saturday to sit in the audience at CounterPULSE to watch the show.

  • some thoughts

    first of all, let me just say that I am huge huge fan of getting critical feedback. and so…in the spirit of promoting excellence, i write this.

    i love paige. i love that she gets her people together and makes work that is so essentially collaborative and deeply experimental. it is a fun and fresh way of working and i think that this way of working is what it’s all about. watching her pieces come to fruition makes me feel soulfully in lust with being an artist. additionally, i think that paige is a gifted image-maker. there were stunning moments splattered all over 37, and i cooed and sighed with the best of them. i thank her and all the artists who worked on this piece for giving me that.

    some things:

    bonansea is one of my favorite dancers around town. she is jagged and athletic and really technically amazing. and i think she was awfully miscast in this piece. her stylistic madness felt lost, to me, and she looked awkward and amatuerish in such a heavily improvised score.

    and then there is the improvising. i really struggled with this. improv is so so so hard. it is a form that requires talent and heaps of study and i have to say that i didnt feel like the imrovisation in this piece was good enough to sustain itself. it was kind of one of those pieces where you knew immediately when the dancers were entering improv territory; not only because the choreography (and text) became achingly vague, but also because the dancers’ commitment to their performances became tentative, unspecific, and shaky. i admire paige for imposing this structure, but…im sorry to be blunt, but i didnt feel that the performers looked trained enough in improv to make it work. the pairings were hurt by this especially because robertson (who was the strongest and clearest improviser, in my opinion) and willey had a fluidity and chemistry that jarrett and bonansea really really lacked. the contrast was rough. i just dont think that keeping the structure so full of improv served this piece or these dancers. there was alot of good stuff going on and most of it was clearly set or at least structured with momets to fill or points to hit. okay…ive babbled about that quite enough.

    the sound score fit well to me, but i cant say that it evoked anything specific in me. i may have not been paying close enough attention, but…eh…should i have to? regardless, im a devotee of liz albee…she’s a fucking artist for sure.

    the slides really turned me off. i feel that there are few instances where images can be allowed to be projected as literally as those were. i was just really craving more nuance or irony than what I saw, especially with the composition of the dancers. when i saw some sort of einstein-like equation pop up on the wall as people listed tender moments and improvised with their bodies, i kind of groaned. im sorry if this is shitty of me! i just really do feel that moments like those are unoriginal and not complicated enough for this type of work!

    additionally, i have to say that, because i wasnt very aware of the video work past a certain point, i experienced the piece as being about something entirely different that the creator apparently intended. this is wonderful as far as im concerned, but i just dont think that that was paige’s intent. and intent is what i really felt like this piece lacked.

    for example: choreographing jarrett, the one man, as a sort of more contained and omniscient presence, far upsatge from the women, created a hugely gendered dialogue to me that felt unintended. he also had such a more typically-masculine movement style (chunky, calcualted) that it drew focus to the fact that he was a man. this didnt feel intended. he also was astonishingly more clothed than any of the women…whcih was wierd and evoked a kind of female objectification, that i wonder about. i feel like this a trap that i see choreographers fall into all over town. not really being careful with the biopolitics of your dancers can really lead a reasonably poltically-aware audience member down a road that just wasnt meant to be travelled. additionally, robertson came off as overly sexy, which seemed like an oversight, directorially. and…not just because she’s hot. things like gender, sex, clothing, and movement style must be considered tediously or work simply becomes blaringly about something that it is not about!

    im thrilled about contemporary butoh. i find it to be a carniverous and lavishly expressive form and i love what ive seen from other folks in this medium (esp. shinichi). but i feel like all that was going on in 37 crowded the dance form alot.

    text was hard for me too. paige didnt seem to have made any real choices about using her voice. it just kind of happened and didnt really convey anything specific, and i really think that it could have! she was in the midst of highly physical and strenuous movement, and yet it was as if she was trying to divorce the two (voice and movement). i just dont think this is ever a good idea because ive never seen it work. when your body is engaged, the way hers was at the time of the text delivery, there needs to be a relationship between what you’re putting yourself through and how sounds are coming out of your body. paige’s delivery felt like a wasted moment, where she could have done something dynamic and evocative. and the text itself…i just did not feel that it was good. or perhaps it wasnt good in the context that it was used. im not sure. but i know that i really struggled with feeling like that moment was kind of sophomoric. and it was kind of supposed to be a big moment, what with the title unraveling. hmmm…

    i guess the things that i didnt like culminated to create my one big sadness about this piece. i was just very non-specific, and i dont mean thematically. i love vague shit. its what i do too, and am trained in. i believe in going everywhere and anywhere with work and i believe in the dialogue with the audience as creating the crux of the art. but as craftspeople and as creators, i feel like we do have a responsibility to set structures on our ideas that will contain them just enough to give viewers something to clasp. i feel like structure secretly breeds the wildest shit, and i really missed that hidden structure with this piece. that is what i mean by non-specific, and i think its really a deal breaker.

    i loved the opening duet by robertson and willey. i loved the closing tableau, i loved the lighting choices and where the boides were placed within them. i loved seeing explorations of contemporary butoh with adept dancers…i loved alot about this piece. but overall, i just thought that piece looked uncared for at too many points; unexcellent. the structure that was laid, FOR ME, just didnt make the dancers really radiate, didnt make the sound and video really penetrate, and didnt make me really sure that the moments of brilliance weren’t just happy accidents.

    so that’s all. i guess if i was goign to be super even-keeled about this, i’d offer suggestions, but…no one asked for any.

    im thankful for this opporutnity to think and speak critically about the work at CounterPULSE. I am really happy for paige, for what i feel was a successful run, and my criticisms and frustrations are only coming from a place of provocation, intrigue, and passion…all of which was successfully ilicted by this work! fantastic!


  • Berkboy

    I saw this piece completely not knowing what to expect. I’m not very familiar with butoh, but intermedia is something in which I’m very versed. It should be known that I liked the piece a lot, and I just have some critique as well.

    The beginning was one of my favorite parts: I really had the sense that paige was feeling every bit of the movement phrase that begins the piece. The movement constantly brought my attention to paige’s hands. When the speed and quality of the movement changed I felt pulled more into the phrase wondering what it’s relation was to the other dancers and the rest of the piece, for which I was patiently waiting; however, I ended up so lost in those first moments of just paige that I forgot that I was anticipating entrances by the time the actually occurred.

    I agree with the last post that Bonansea was incorrectly casted and Jarrett was misused. Jarrett seemly like a forced addition aways auxiliary to something else going on, like the “male partner” with no individual purpose other than to aid in the progress of the women’s movement. As for Bonansea, she seemed really out of place. I just simply didn’t want to watch what either of them were doing, especially when the both of them duetted, because I felt uninterested in the unlit people in the back. Also, the feeling of being lost in their path of improv was apparent and both Jarrett and Bonansea seemed creatively stuck at times in their movement.

    Nevertheless, what my eyes were on the entire time were Robertson and Willey. Their duets pulled me out of whatever disinterest I was feeling and kept me enthralled. When Robertson was thrown around by Willey, I really had the sense of an unaffected isolation regardless of Willey’s efforts to cause some other effect. I felt less captivated during the section with paige talking and Willey and Robertson moving according to paige’s spoken text. I wanted the text to be a little less disconnected. I thought that paige’s talking could have been better utilized if something connective was felt within general overtone of disconnect. I just wanted more to come from paige at that point, yet I’m unsure what.

    Chemistry between performers was also a general issue. There was no clear commitment to relationship roles being assigned to each performer, but not enough switching and role-changing to make it clear that there were no relationships. It was clear to me that Willey and Robertson were in some sort of relationship, and the same for Bonansea and Jarrett. sorvillo seemed to have more of the involved 3rd person role.

    The overall lighting of the piece was good, except for the lack of lighting on Jarrett and Bonansea. They almost never left darkness, which didn’t bring my eye to watch them any more than their movement itself.

    The sound was great, I really have no complaints. I felt like the sound worked well with the overall feeling of the piece. Good work to the international collaborators. The improvisation was unnoticeable improved, seamless and fitting.

    On the topic of intermedia, I felt there were ups and downs. The highest “up” was when the extreemely muscular and wing-able back of Willey was videoed and projected live onto the back of Robertson. This was, by far, the best moment of mixed media in the piece. I could not take my eyes off of this occurrence! I couldn’t decide whether to watch the projection or the real thing, but this was a good sort of internal conflict since it kept me completely into what was going on. As for the projected helicopters and other images, I just felt like they were too random. I didn’t feel like that gave me enough information to keep me interested; I again was left wanting more.

    Overall, I liked this piece quite a bit but was left wanting more in a lot of ways. I would have liked to understand the message better through the piece, a disconnected piece about disconnect can fog over its original meaning. The more that I wanted to see, hear, and understand definitely needed to occur during the time that the piece took, because I would imagine it hard to keep my attention any longer than the piece already was. I look forward to seeing more work from sorvillo, because what was good about this piece was GREAT. I just hope that the next process is more focused and paints a clearer picture, even of things that are unclean in and of themselves.

    Thank you to paige/blindsight for a wonderful evening, and a great piece of work.

  • paige

    thanks for all the notes! they are greatly appreciated!
    especially thank you for being honest with your notes and critique.
    my only wish is that you had each left your name and/or contact b/c dialogue is so much more fun than monologue (and, yes, of course that could have happened too if i hadn’t waited tll now to review these! sorry!)
    thanks again!

Post A Comment