Gloves on

Leslie Seiters keeps in close contact with the mundane and magical

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PREVIEW Leslie Seiters entered college as a visual artist — and left it as a choreographer. Or at least that's what her MFA diploma from Ohio State University says. Seiters prefers to call herself a director. "I am allergic to 'choreography,'<0x2009>" she says from her home in San Diego. "When something looks 'choreographed,' it turns me off."

Seiters, who lived and worked in the Bay Area between 2002 and 2007, has nothing against the craft of choreography, of course. In fact, her own works are exquisitely crafted. But she doesn't want to see the hand of the maker because she feels it keeps her from entering a piece and having it speak to her in an unmediated manner.

Seiters left Ohio right after graduation and relocated to San Francisco, where she worked and performed with Jo Kreiter, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Jess Curtis, and Sarah Shelton Mann. All the aforementioned artists have a strong commitment to contact improvisation, which is characterized by its immediacy and the performers' ability to remain present in the moment — an approach that has influenced Seiters' own work. The physicality of things — an object, a move — continually fascinates her. Seiters differs, however, from her colleagues — and just about any other dancer working in the Bay Area — in her acute and exceedingly refined interest in using objects beyond their function in dance as props.

In a Seiters' piece — she calls them installations — the edge between the animate and inanimate material is often blurred. She might have dancers double each other's movements so precisely — as they did in such tiny danger (2003) and an attic/an exit, which premiered at last year's San Francisco International Arts Festival — that they begin to look as if they had been set in motion by an outside force. Or they might appear like a single image that, for some mysterious reason, split in two only to merge again. "I love repetition," she explains. "This may go back to my visual background, where I would sculpt by wrapping and wrapping or cutting and cutting over and over again."

At the same time, the objects — all quite ordinary — often acquire a life of their own. Sometimes this can be quite disconcerting. When two dancers slide their arms into suspended jackets, the garments begin to manipulate the women. Dozens of suspended teacups keep up their clinking chatter long after their users have left them behind. Huge shoes move people who step into them. Dancers in paper dresses recede into and are swallowed by identically patterned wallpaper. And what about the woman on a swing, seen through a hallway, who never alters her trajectory? At what point does she become the pendulum of some unseen time machine?

Seiters' work is both immensely playful and physically sturdy in the way she treads that thin line — she confesses to an affinity with magical realism — between the everyday and the fantastic. The process allows the familiar to become more so, even as it grows strange. For her, dance must not be pinned down, but kept open-ended. "I like it when dancers can take a movement, and turn it into a question," she says.

For the Bay Area premiere of Incidental Fear of Numbers at CounterPULSE this weekend, Seiters and her Little Known Dance Theater is partnering with Lux Borealis, a modern dance company from Tijuana, Mexico, whose "intelligence and physicality in the way they use weight and motion" Seiters admired. It's her first full-evening performance and her most ambitious work yet. Included as part of the performance will be lots of tops and at least one very tall stack of yellow pages with a turntable on top. She also loves the sound of gloves on a cardboard floor.

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