Relief at the Joe Goode Annex

The performing arts have a problem. They are fighting a losing battle, struggling to gain traction among audiences in a day and age when the path of least resistance would be to stay home and watch Netflix. Digital media separates us from content by placing it in virtual space, at the same time making it easily accessible anywhere. We control when and where we watch it, and how much of it we digest at a time. Live performance does not adjust to our personal schedule – we must purchase a ticket, show up at the correct time, and sit in our designated seat.

Relief, the newest dance theater creation of FACT/SF artistic director Charles Slender-White, creates an intense closeness between audience and performers.  Both are contained inside a set constructed of long columns of blue and white two-toned panels, creating the effect of being enclosed in a fishbowl for the 70 minute duration of the performance. As a viewer you share the same oxygen as the dancers, and their proximity lets you feel what they feel as the throw themselves off their chairs or shuffle around the perimeter of the space. The performance evolves beyond a visual and auditory spectacle to become a felt experience. It is dance that demands your attention.

Immersive performances like Relief seem to be becoming a trend in San Francisco (including previous work by FACT/SF such as Invidious and The Consumption Series), perhaps as a way of highlighting the difference between experiencing live performance and consuming digital media. As an audience member you experience an intense, voyeuristic closeness. You can smell the performers and feel the heat emanating off their bodies. You get caught and held in their gaze.

The premise of the show seems to be that relief is a physiological and emotional state arising as a consequence of effort. Relief can be the sweetness of collapse at the end of the day, or the release of social anxiety after the completion of some dreaded public speaking engagement. Relief takes hold of the body after the adrenaline generated by the fight or flight response subsides.

Many of the movement motifs in the performance involve significant physical effort, including the running pattern which opens and concludes the piece.  An early section involves dancers repeatedly falling out of chairs and percussively hitting the floor. Toward the end of the piece a hypnotic movement sequence loops until the dancers return to their seats, visibly winded and exhausted. The use of repetition throughout the evening recalls a Nietzschean sense of eternal return, as the dancers became subject to different durational physical tasks.

Perhaps someday soon digital media will be able to create an experience as all-encompassing as live performance.  Until then, there’s no substitute for sitting within three feet of a moving body.  Relief makes a case for experiencing dance as a live event, involving the viewer in a whirlwind of effort, detail, and sensation.



FACT/SF performed Relief May 7-9 & 14-16 at the Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco, CA.
Photos: Kegan Marling

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