After the SF-based dance company the Foundry (founded by Alex Ketley and Christian Burns in 1998) performed their most recent project, Please Love Me, July 7 at Theater Artaud, I overheard a woman ask her friend: “Well, what did you think?” After a minute of searching for just the right words, her friend replied, “I feel like I just had really intense, emotional sex. I need a second to process it.” While Please Love Me isn’t about sex, the woman’s answer seems fitting. Combining dance with original music and video projection by former Ballet Frankfurt media artist Les Stuck, Please Love Me is intense, beautiful and emotionally poignant.
The piece starts with dancer Malinda Lavelle slowly moving through a series of gestures and shapes as the Foundry’s four other dancers (Burns, Andrea Basile, Kara Davis and Joy Prendergast) sit in a line of chairs behind her. Our attention is immediately drawn to the relationship between performer and audience as we watch not only Lavelle, but also the other dancers watching Lavelle. In addition to this “audience” of four dancers, chairs occupied by regular audience members line both sides of the stage and add an element of up-close-and-personal intimacy to Theater Artaud while blurring the line between performer and observer.
Ketley’s interest in that blurry line, so to speak, is key to his innovative choreography. As Basile and Davis dance together in one of the pieces' fast-paced duets, their movements build in speed and momentum to the point where it becomes difficult to tell whether their powerful intensity conveys a sense of fighting or loving. It is exactly these kinds of dichotomies (love and frustration, connection and disconnection, performer and observer) that Ketley captures so eloquently.
Later in the piece, Burns and Davis dance together as they voice stream-of-consciousness dialogue. Phrases like “all I ever do is this,” “more sex, more couples,” “movie rentals,” “a policeman shoots himself the neighbors' backyard,” “I saw you twice, briefly, but never again,” and finally, “in the end, please love me” add a sense of loaded meaning to each action. While following no specific storyline, each piece of movement and phrase is relatable and random enough for open interpretation by the audience.
In their duet, Davis and Burns maintain a constant awareness of each other even when moving independently. We see this same awareness in a roantic duet between Burns and Basile. Always in the present movement and moment, they own each step with a sense of life-or-death urgency that gives the piece its characteristic realness and honesty.
It’s hard to pinpoint or describe what makes the Foundry dancers so amazing. Surely, they all have breathtaking technique, yet they also bring something more. They each possess a unique quality that refuses to be pinned down. My eye kept being drawn again and again to subtle nuances: the way Lavelle suggests a world of meaning and emotion through a single small gesture; the way Prendergast moves through a flurry of guttural movement and sound before striking a classical ballet arabesque; the way Davis walks away from Andrea Basile at the end of their duet, and then the way she returns. The way Basile leans her head on Burns’ chest during their duet. All these instances drew me in and left me feeling connected to the dancers in a profoundly moving, yet inexplicable way.
Kara Davis and Christian Burns dancing in Please Love Me: