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San Francisco dance company holds residency at Mills

Mills recently welcomed San Francisco’s Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, in collaboration with the Guangdong Modern Dance Company from China, for a brief residency in the dance department. As a part of their residency Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, the two companies taught graduate classes in modern technique and composition, and provided students with a glimpse into their artistic process. Not only did they perform an excerpt from their new work “Other Suns (A Trilogy),” but they gave students the rare opportunity to ask questions about the concepts behind the piece.

The coupling between the two modern dance companies arose when choreographer Margaret Jenkins discovered the Guangdong Modern Dance Company while traveling through China. Upon meeting Liu Gi, the Deputy Artistic Director of Guangdong, and her dancers, Jenkins knew that she wanted to work collaboratively on a project that would explore the many things that captivated her about China.

“I essentially landed on the concepts of symmetry, fragility, balance and the ways the Chinese culture takes these concepts and reveals them in their choreography and make a piece about that,” she said.

Jenkins said the two companies read poetry and visited contemporary art museums to gain inspiration for “Other Suns.” But for Tan Yuanbo, a dancer with the Guangdong Company, inspiration came from San Francisco’s landscape. Through a translator, he talked about using water as the main theme for the second part of “Other Suns.”

“When they arrived here, he was impressed by the hills of the city, like a waterfall, and the fog that rises every evening, like on a pond. They put these emotions and feelings into every performance, which makes them different every time,” his translator said.

In their performance in a Mills dance studio, part three began with two dancers leaning and pulling against one another, reaching toward the sky. Their hands came together and then broke apart, over and over, their bodies always reconnecting. Behind them, a slow and deliberate march took place, as some of the dancers were carried on the shoulders of others. The dancers in the foreground moved slowly, until the music, created by composer Paul Dresher, peaked. As the thick tones of a cello emerged from the music, the dancers continued to embrace, connect and break apart. The dance ended when one of the dancers left her partner to turn and walk quietly away.

All the audience members responded with praise and comments about the success of the show. Many found it to be inspirational, moving and visually stunning.

One audience member remarked: “The beginning section of ‘Our Suns’ is still lingering in my mind. All these body forms were merging, and I didn’t see any faces, only patterns. All of a sudden, one person stood upright, and I saw a face. I love to think about that.”

“Other Suns” was positively received by the San Francisco Chronicle as well, with writer Mary Ellen Hunt describing Jenkins as having “…[a] particular genius that even on the crowded stage, she leaves a kind of mental space for our minds, for viewers to fill in the interstices with our own memories, experiences, impressions.”