Ms. Behavior

Aura Fischbeck choreographs the tension between restraint and letting go

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Three times a lady: Dancers act up in Golden Gate Park for Bodies That Won't Behave.
PHOTO BY C. WISE

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Fat chance Aura Fischbeck could have escaped becoming a dancer. Her mother was one of the last students of legendary German Expressionist dancer Mary Wigman; her father is an actor/musician who pioneered multimedia dance theater in the 1960s. Additionally, she had an older sister, also a dancer. "[She] was always a step or two ahead of me," Fischbeck remembers. "I grew up surrounded by dance, but I didn't like some of the politics that go with the profession."

So what's a gal to do? Fischbeck was drawn to poetry and history, but the pull of "embodying ideas," as she puts it, was too strong. If you can't fight 'em, join 'em; Fischbeck became a dancer.

The Philadelphia-born, Naropa University-trained dancer recently met me for an interview at CounterPulse during a break from rehearsing the upcoming world premiere of Bodies That Won't Behave, to be presented this weekend in a double bill with The Riley Project. Although her company, Aura Fischbeck Dance, is only two years old, she has been dancing, rehearsing, choreographing, studying (with Kathleen Hermesdorf), and producing in SF ever since she hit town seven years ago. She immediately hooked up with Joe Landini when he opened The Garage in 2007. Since then, she has participated in just about all of the various programs that home-for-dancers offers.

As a choreographer, Fischbeck's work — such as Relay and her solo Compass — has resembled a dialogue between a kind of abandon that looks spontaneous or improvised but isn't, and a fascination with control and formalized structures. She has managed to put a personal, fresh twist on this common tension between two modes of being. It's a pull she readily admits to in her own life. "I want to let loose and let go, and then I have to reign myself in." In Fischbeck's choreography you can also see a strong conceptual basis, much as you do in the work of people she admires: Miguel Gutierrez, Ralph Lemon, John Jasperse, and Jess Curtis.

In the trio for Bodies, which Gretchen Garnett, Julie Potter and Travis Rowland are rehearsing when I arrive at CounterPULSE, Fischbeck is working with "proper" and "improper" behavior. (An accompanying video by Chris Wise shows the dancers "misbehaving" in Golden Gate Park.) Fischbeck doesn't make moral judgments about comportment. She wants to explore the body as a vessel for conflicting values.

In an e-mail later the same day, Fischbeck is at pains to articulate the motivating force behind Bodies: "The idea of misbehavior is unpacked in this work as a way of expressing love and acceptance for our imperfections," she writes, "and for allowing the parts of ourselves that are awkward or unkempt or simply uncontrollable to be witnessed and celebrated."

What you are likely to see on stage this weekend is comédie humaine: three dancers, with Potter as the smallest one in the middle, on adjacent folding chairs trying to negotiate individual and common spaces. During the rehearsal, this attempt to balance conflicting interests very quickly began to look like a fierce competition. Attempts to navigate and hoard resulted in moments that are frustrating, painful, hilarious, tender, and just plain awkward. When the trio finally broke into spaciously flowing unisons even those soon began to hiccup and disintegrate.

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