– review – review

Stephen Pelton Dance Company Preview

and a white light in the back of my mind to guide me

June 5-8, 2008

Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco

The season is named for Pelton’s newest work, inspired by the poetry of Anglo-Irish writer Louis MacNeice. Set to a score by Gavin Bryars, this dark and meditative work will be performed twice each evening—as a solo and again as a group piece. These two different versions of a single meditation quietly ask how one might reconcile the tyranny of humanity with the progress of time and the body.

The season also includes revivals of Not Here, choreographed to Radiohead for Nol Simonse in 2003, and one of Christy Funsch’s own dances, Solo for Somebody. For Tuesday, created in 2006 in collaboration with playwright-in-residence Brian Thorstenson, the company will be joined by guest dancers Erin Mei-Ling Stuart and Private Freeman. The evening concludes with an excerpt from next season’s Citizen Hill, performed to live string music by Ravel.

I attended a rehearsal of Pelton’s new pieces, “Tuesday”, and “and a white light in the back of my mind to guide me” along with Frank Roth, who scurried around in his socks, taking photos. Although one of the dancers was missing that night, “Tuesday”, which is about a group of friends faced with the sudden death of one of their members was, more than other group pieces by Pelton, more theatrical than dancey, clearly a character-driven, text-based dance. Playwright-in-residence Brian Thorstenson sat next to me at the run-through, and between calling-out to the dancer/actors a reminder about new pages of material, and supplying the lines belonging to the missing performer, leaned-over to whisper about the genesis of the piece.

“I’m here to fit into Stephen’s process,” he said. “We started out with bits and pieces of scenes. The interesting thing for me was to learn how to write for dancers.”

“Stephen had a soundtrack, 3 songs with no text, and three songs with text. The story came out in the rehearsals. We decided to make it about a day in the park, friends in the park. My best friend died unexpectedly three years ago, and I guess I began writing about that. “

“Stephen brings in poems, they create movement phrases to it. Most of the piece is dance. This is about words inside a dance, not a narrative imposed.”

The “Porousness of a dead person”

Dancers backs to audience


Or missing people

“don’t let me down”

“I’m under your spell”

“I wish you weren’t transparent”

Silliness, love and loss

Real narrative thrust

Great depiction of the goofiness of friends together

Not so serious

Next, Pelton asked Christy Funsch to run an excerpt from

“and a white light in the back of my mind to guide me” which bookends the first act. Pelton will offer two different versions of the same dance, one as a solo, then as a group piece.

Orchestral music, emotional

Woman on chair

Minimal movement

Emotion is palpable

Doesn’t shy away from depicting feelings

The beauty of emotional content

S’s choice of music is always that of someone who loves songs

He seems to have achieved a certain wisdom after 20 years

It’s apparent in the use of minimal “danciness” and more exploration of human qualities, still depicted through the language of the body

It’s like the spaces between the movements count,

White space

There was a chance to chat with Stephen after the rehearsal:

The poet was writing around the time of WWII. It was the internal rhyme of the poem


There is so much space in my piece for a viewer to go to a lot of different places

The word that stuck in my mind was


Christy and Nol create most of the raw material, I shape it. I’m bored with what I come up with. They both create incredibly beautiful material, and they’re prolific.

I give a stanza of the poem and each one comes back with 4-5 minutes of material.

I didn’t want to ask the dancers to be anyone but themselves. None had ever acted.

It was a “what if”

My friend Eli died seven years ago, and then Brian’s friend died suddenly. We tried to not make it about that, but somehow it worked its way into the scene in the park.

I am not yet born; O hear me.

Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the

club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.

I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,

With strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,

On black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me

With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk

to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light

in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me

For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words

When they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,

My treason engendered by traitors beyond me,

my life when they murder by means of my

hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me

In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when

old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains

frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white

waves call me to folly and the desert calls

me to doom and the beggar refuses

my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,

Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God

Come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me

with strength against those who would freeze my

humanity, would dragoon me inao a lethal automaton,

would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with

one race, a thing, and against all those

Who would dissipate my entirety, would

blow me like thistledown hither and

thither or hither and thither

like water held in the

hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.

Otherwise kill me.

pelton dance companystephen peltonimageClick Here

Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."