To Cipher and To Sing in the Best Modern Way

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Photo of Maggie Ellington by Richard Calmes

Robert Dekkers's work practically defines the buzzwords grant organizations love to reward: interdisciplinary, collaborative, multimedia.

As his company Post:Ballet enters its fourth season, his newest piece, field the present shifts, employs an architect, a sculptor, and a composer in addition to the standard costumer, lighting designer, stage manager, and dancers requisite to choreographic endeavors for the proscenium stage.

The piece began several months ago, when the architect Robby Gilson Facebook messaged Dekkers after seeing Post:Ballet perform. Intrigued by the possibility of working together, Dekkers and Gilson looked to architect Stan Allen's essay "Field Conditions," as well as an exhibit at the SFMOMA of the same name, for inspiration.

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Robert Dekkers

Hunting for a language they could share, Dekkers turned to the fundamental abstraction of the alphabet, recalling the American Sign Language his mother had taught him, and imitating the shapes of letters with his body. Gilson focused on the spine to serve as the basis for collapsible structures of acrylic rods that will be raised and lowered over the stage, as well as for an animated series of abstract images that will be projected on the backdrop. Matthew Pierce has been enlisted to compose an original score for the ballet and will perform live with a handful of violinists. Jeffrey Zygmunt will have lined the lobby of the Lam Research Theater of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with smaller scale bodies sculpted from clay. And the stage manager and lighting designer have been given loose instructions to raise and lower the curtain at will and randomly spotlight a grid of 20 letters to initiate improvised solos that some spontaneous subset of the three women and four men of Post:Ballet will dance.

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Photo of Post:Ballet rehearsing with Robby Gilson's sculptures by Natalia Perez

In rehearsal on July 2, Dekkers's company signed letters of the alphabet with their fingers with machine precision to counts well into the 20s that Dekkers called out in endless runs like the start of Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach. Their classical lines were transposed to shift the weight far from a vertical plumb line, and the partnering looked like an exaggerated kind of leaning, as they ran through sections given shorthand titles like "chutes and ladders," "pollinating," "army," "offspring," and "wilting and dying"--derived from the life cycle of a plant and the stages of grief to compose the passages that will be arranged in a looping scheme within this open framework, this obstacle course, that awaits them. Of course dancing is a kind of sign language. Dancers know this, as do children, mutes, and the observant. Tattoos are a story, as are piercings, painted tights, bruises, black eyes, painted nails, tape, and kneepads. "Spelling how we feel" is one thing, the private narratives a dancer might make as a mnemonic another, the numbers counted quietly in or against the music still more. If we presume meaning, we'll search for patterns, and Dekkers and company are strewing them liberally throughout.

Post:Ballet premieres field the present shifts in Four Plays 8pm July 18-19 at the Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., S.F. Tickets are $30-60; click here.


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