SAN DIEGO — "Contraband is what's hot now," said Sushi's director, Lynn Schuette. "All my friends in the Bay Area agree on that, so I wanted to bring them here. I spend a lot of time talking to artists around the country, and I trust their recommendations. That's the way I curate."
As a result of those glowing reports, Schuette invited the San Francisco-based dance company to kick off Sushi's eighth performance season this weekend. Contraband responded by creating a world premiere, "The (Invisible) War," to be performed today and Saturday at 8 p.m. in Sushi's loft-style studio in downtown San Diego.
Textual inspiration for the new work, with music by Contraband collaborator Rinde Eckert, was derived from the Bible, 1960s poet Anne Sexton, poet and essayist Paul Goodman and punk music lyrics. But Contraband director Sara Shelton Mann brushes off labels like "ambitious" to describe the full-length piece.
"If this seems ambitious, you should see what we do with a larger group," she said in an interview from her San Francisco studio. This dance "relies on the personas of the performers," Jess Curtis, Keith Hennessey and Mann herself. "It's about the tensions between two forces--one the mundane, and the other the spiritual aspect."
Mann's modern dance oeuvre evolved from stints with two internationally known luminaries, Alwin Nikolais, the dance world's leading theatrical wizard, and the innovative Murray Louis. She was among the much-lauded Mangrove improvisators during the late 1970s, and true to those roots in contact improvisation, her "(Invisible) War" developed in spontaneous bursts of improvised movement.
The dance is really "a complete collaboration that comes out of bodies and their experiences," Mann said. "What I tried to get out is all the subtext, when (people) move and respond to the environment. To function only from an intellectual level is a failure."
To create "The (Invisible) War," Contraband has channeled its energies away from violent imagery in favor of "something funny." Their intent, as Mann explained, was to start the audience "howling."
When the Contraband threesome performs this weekend, Sushi-goers will also notice some changes in the stark studio setting--a result of Sushi's growing commitment to performance and a recent grant from the National Endowment for the Arts earmarked specifically for dance.
"We've expanded the space," Schuette said. "We moved a wall to make the space larger for wings. It's a subtle change, but it makes a real difference."
One thing hasn't changed, however, and according to Schuette, it never will.
"What people come to Sushi for is its intimate environment," she said, "and we're not going to change all that."