Alive and kicking

New works by Minna Harri and Christine Bonansea at the Garage

Minna Harri in Dead/Alive.

THEATER Art is a life and death matter at the Garage this weekend, with the premieres of Dead/Alive and No Exit, two new contemporary dance-performance works from Minna Harri Experience Set and Christine Bonansea, respectively.

These intriguing pieces — instigated as part of an eight-month co-mentorship program between the Garage and ODC — have been developing separately for months. But in their flirtations with the sublime, they stand to be as complimentary as they will doubtlessly be distinct and strange. (Both works transfer to ODC this summer as part of the co-mentoring arrangement, a bridge-building initiative dreamed up by the Garage's Joe Landini.)

Bonansea, who relocated to the Bay Area from her native France four years ago, is probably better known locally as a dancer — most recently for her wry, nimble performance in Catherine Galasso's Bring on the Lumiere at ODC. A quick and spirited personality, Bonansea had just returned from Lumiere's New York premiere when I met with her to talk about No Exit. Bonansea studied modern literature at the Sorbonne; she took her title from Sartre, whose No Exit she revisited early on in the process.

She is careful not to equate her work with the famous play, however, stressing that it is only a starting point or one element in a larger mix of perspectives around a central idea — in this case, the illusory nature of self measured against certain physical and temporal absolutes. Moreover, she tends to think in terms of visuals and sound as much as in terms of movement.

"I like working with different media," she explains. "There is a conversation; the perspectives are different. It's totally a part of the process. It's not that I do mixed media, but if I talk about something, I see that there are so many different ways to talk about it. When you work with different artists you just bounce off each other. It can be insane!" she says, explaining that for her, "insane" is a very positive word.

Sure enough, Bonansea has gathered an insanely impressive group of collaborators. Dancers Marina Fukushima, Jorge Rodolfo de Hoyos, and Rosemary Hannon will perform the piece. Graphic artist Olivia Ting provides visuals. Costumes (including an 18-yard wig) come courtesy of noted hair designer-sculpture Lauren Klein. The result is an absorbing anti-narrative inhabited by anti-characters, exploring transience and stasis while confronting irresolvable tensions in the human condition.

Similarly for Minna Harri, a Finnish-born dancer-choreographer now based in San Francisco, work often begins with a philosophical question or idea. Her last outing at the Garage was the eerily exquisite A Silent Fairground (3 Things). The delicately macabre beauty and darkly coiled humor of the piece suffused the black box with the sense of haunted memories and dreamlike intimations from the unconscious. But just whose memory, or whose unconscious, is hard to say.

"I don't usually make work out of my own life," Harri says. "Maybe it's more things that bother me or won't let me go."

She admits that Dead/Alive, a multivalent rumination on mortality and dying that features three performers and some voluntary audience interaction, is a little different. "I bring my own thoughts and experiments, vulnerabilities and fears about that. Death as a subject in this culture is very weird, and it maybe should be talked about more," she suggests.

Joining Harri onstage, and in her process, are performance artist and provocateur Philip Huang and, via video, dancer Ronja Ver (who figured stunningly in Silent Fairground). Harri also brought on two colleagues as dramaturges — Tessa Wills and Jesse Hewit — at distinct points in the process. "I enjoy very much a deep and thorough and informed discussion in the process of making a piece," she explains.

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