Mina is wrapped in red paper, a high-fashion garment that spills to the floor in a long train. Eleanor pushes against the underside of a railing with her foot, manipulating it like so many other things in the dance — chairs, rolling racks, clothes, a giant garbage can — and makes the museum’s architecture itself into a moveable object. Rashaun glides into view on a wheeled dolly; he is on his belly with arms and legs waving, his frictionless motion like a plastic bag picked up and batted around by the wind. Silas unrolls a long piece of vinyl, pulling it taut across the playing space. He agitates it, making vibrant waves while letting out an operatic yodel. Cori knows exactly what to do: she steps into the center of the waves and begins a phrase in a deep plié, the scene recalling at once the demanding balances of a Merce Cunningham production, Alvin Ailey’s signature choreography in Revelations, and the corny half-exposed stage devices employed by a Waiting for Guffman-esque send-up of community theater.
These momentary arrivals were also departures within the constantly cohering, dissipating, and re-forming DESIRE LINES: RETROFIT, an eighty-minute loop of structured dance improvisation conceived and directed by Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, and performed and co-created with Eleanor Hullihan, Cori Kresge, and Mina Nishimura. As each cycle started, two dancers separated from the group, navigating SFMOMA’s galleries and interstitial spaces in an extemporaneous dance that responded to the surrounding architecture, artworks, and visitors. Their duet took them back to the Gina and Stuart Peterson White Box, where they joined the other three performers in creatively handling and mishandling a morphing collection of items drawn from the museum’s offices, basement, trash pile, and other institutional corners. The movement summoned and invented by the five dancers was at times metaphoric, at others dancerly, and still others quite quotidian, yet always utterly specific to how dancer, prop, and playing space encountered one another in each new instant — a central tenet of Mitchell and Riener’s evolving DESIRE LINES practice. Working their way through the SFMOMA piece’s score, the dancers built up and broke down their sets and props, brought in colored washes of light and loud bursts of music, and outlined a stage-within-a-stage; in doing so they articulated the borders between people, between subjects and objects, figure and ground, material and environment, acting out — in the theatrical and the Freudian senses — some of the porousness between these terms. With a Robert Rauschenberg exhibition right next door, the piece also created a Mobius strip of history, then joined to now and crisscrossed with shortcuts (desire lines?), picking up and finding new trajectories for some of the possibilities left behind by earlier experiments in dance, art, and museums.
As individual dancers periodically emerged from an upstage door in multiple layers of clothes, they echoed how their ancestors in the Cunningham company selected costumes from a bag to put over their leotards in the 1963 work Story; legend has it that Barbara Dilley once put them all on at the same time and could barely move.