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Sharp and Fine Company's 'Just Ahead is Darkness' an Exploration of Life, Death and Memory

by Joanna G. Harris
February 12, 2020
Z SPACE
450 Florida Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 626-0453
Sharp & Fine is a San Francisco based contemporary dance company founded in 2011 by sisters Megan and Shannon Kurashige. Their aim they say in the program notes is "to create narrative performance work that brings together physical exuberant choreography, emotionally nuanced text, live music and multi-disciplinary collaboration."

For the most part they succeeded in doing all of that in their latest production “Just Ahead is Darkness," February 7-9 at San Francisco's Z Space Theater. Thanks in large part to an extremely talented group of dancers and musicians.

The thematic material of “Just Ahead is Darkness” concerns family life, death, and memory. It draws, says the program notes, on the “Japanese and Japanese-American tradition of remembering the dead to tell a poignant and magical take about family, love, loss and the eternal return of ghosts.”

There were two stories. The first, featured dancers Sonja Dale (child), Sarah Woods-LaDue (mother), Christian Burns (father) and Megan and Shannon Kuashige (aunties) and involved the father and daughter sharing infatuation with the starry night. After the father’s death, he returned as a ghost and haunted the family’s thoughts. Burns was a particularly interesting dancer able to perform extremely articulate and dramatic movement with his arms and legs. Dale and Woods-LaDue both had great range in movement skills and dramatic ability. All of the dancers executed long phrases of movement combining ballet, modern dance and contact improvisation skills. These were accompanied by dramatic dialogues and monologues which could be beautiful and sentimental. Alas, there were too many movement phrases, mostly with the same dynamic and also spoken interludes which at this event, suffered from technical difficulties in the sound system.

The program's second story introduced by a long monologue by Tristan Ching Hartman as “Death” telling the story of a boy who, holding a rock in water for a long time, drowned. Hartman's descent from an upstage right staircase was an arresting and breathtaking event as was Woods-LaDue’s similar action carrying the rock. Again, family story-telling and long interactive movement phrases amplified the work's sentiment.

At the start of the program and at the interval, the company danced with members of audience as if to bring their memories to them. These events were prelude to the demonstration of “Fukushima Ondo” by Kay Fukumoto, Brian Nagami and Jen Sumida of Maui Taiko during which most of the audience danced. This last event celebrated the Obon festival that Megan and Shannon experienced in Hawaii. Shannon writes; “Bon dances are part family reunion, part ritual…but mostly about bringing people tougher.” That celebration and the festival of food that graced the end of the evening in the lobby, surely accomplished her aim.

Musicians Steve Adams (woodwinds), Jordan Glenn (percussion), John Schoot (guitar) and Cory Wright (woodwinds) deserve special recognition for their excellent accompaniment.
Sarah Woods-LaDue (Mother), with rock, and Christian Burns (Father) in 'Just Ahead is Darkness'.

Sarah Woods-LaDue (Mother), with rock, and Christian Burns (Father) in "Just Ahead is Darkness".

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Texeira

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