July 15, 2019

Signals from the West

Commissioned artists, from the top left:

Signals from the West commissioned artists, from the top left: Maxe Crandall, Sophia Wang, Dauzaun Soleyn, Christy Funsch, Sophia Wang, Nicole Peisl, Alex Escalante, Danishta Rivero, Sofía Córdova, Jenny Odell.

Open Space is proud to support Hope Mohr Dance’s 2019 Bridge Project, Signals from the West: Bay Area Artists in Conversation with Merce Cunningham at 100, in collaboration with the Merce Cunningham Trust and ODC Theater

The multi-month project and bicoastal collaboration is part of the international celebration of the Cunningham centennial. Ten Bay Area artists from diverse disciplines and backgrounds have been commissioned to participate in a workshop August 12–23, 2019, led by former Cunningham dancers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, and create new works of art in response. These works will be presented alongside excerpts of Cunningham repertory by Bay Area dancers at ODC Theater November 8 & 9, 2019.

In tandem with these activities, Open Space is commissioning an online series of texts in the fall and convening two free events: Inherited Bodies (featuring Sara Shelton Mann, Nadhi Thekkek, Snowflake Towers, and Jarrel Phillips) on September 26 and an artist talk with Mitchell and Riener on November 7. We’re also delighted to be subsidizing a limited number of $5 artist tickets for the November performances, and we invite all ticket holders to attend a reception immediately following the show on Saturday, November 8. The full schedule is below, and an audience reader can be found here.

The ten Bay Area commissioned artists represent a diversity of disciplines, perspectives, and ways of working. We intentionally did not select anyone who has ever worked directly with the Cunningham company:

Sofía Córdova
Maxe Crandall
Alex Escalante
Christy Funsch
Julie Moon
Jenny Odell
Nicole Peisl
Danishta Rivero
Dazaun Soleyn
Sophia Wang

All events at ODC Theater unless noted

AUG 10-11 Public Workshop and Audition for Dancers 10-4 p.m. Register HERE
A unique opportunity to study Cunningham technique and learn repertory with Rashuan Mitchell and Silas Riener, two acclaimed former members of the Cunningham company. Dancers will have the chance to audition to perform excerpts of Cunningham repertory at ODC Theater November 8 & 9, 2019. The audition portion of the workshop is optional, but dancers wanting to audition must take the workshop. Rehearsals and performances for the four selected dancers will be paid. Workshop space is limited.

AUG 12–23 Residency for Commissioned Artists

AUG 16 & 23 Open rehearsals/Public Salons 3 p.m. Register HERE

Jarrel Phillips,  Shelton Mann, Nadhi Thekkek, and Snowflake Towers.

Jarrel Phillips, Sara Shelton Mann, Nadhi Thekkek, and Snowflake Towers.

SEPT 26 Inherited Bodies. Women’s Building, 6 p.m. Free. Register HERE
How do artists in different traditions contend with, honor, and resist the past? Jarrel Phillips, Sara Shelton Mann, Nadhi Thekkek, and Snowflake Towers offer brief artist lecture-demonstrations, followed by a discussion moderated by Claudia La Rocco, Editorial Director of Open Space at SFMOMA.

NOV 7 Artist Talk with Rashaun Mitchell & Silas Riener 7 p.m. Free. Tickets available HERE
Join Mitchell & Riener, former dancers with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for a talk about the Cunningham legacy in relationship to lineage, transmission, abstraction, and cultural identity.

NOV 8 & 9 Performances/Installations 8 p.m. Tickets available HERE
A number of special $5 tickets are available each night for artists, courtesy of SFMOMA.
NOV 9 Post-show reception Sponsored by SFMOMA’s Open Space and Honig Winery

The NOV 9 performance will feature a pre-show Haptic Tour (7 p.m.) and Live Audio Description by Gravity Access Services. Please call (415) 863-9834 or e-mail boxoffice@odc.dance to pre-register and reserve a headset.


Hope Mohr, Director of The Bridge Project

The intention behind Signals from the West is not to further canonize Merce Cunningham, but rather to create a space for contemporary cultural exchange. Teaching Cunningham’s repertory will be a point of departure for new artistic activity, not an endpoint in itself.   The project will:

  • Inspire new works of contemporary art
  • Facilitate collaboration across disciplines
  • Create a space for choreographic transmission that allows for individual and cultural expression

The project asks questions about authorship and culture such as:

  • What different forms can artistic lineage take?
  • Who and how does lineage exclude?
  • How does artmaking rooted in one particular body differ from artmaking rooted in hybrid and collaborative authorship?
  • What is the relationship between abstraction and cultural identity?

“By offering up the basic component of the physical self to influence by another, the very foundations of one’s cultural understanding are thrown into relief…. because the physical body and its techniques are never abstract, but rather ineluctably located within a historical moment and a cultural/political system, any confrontation between two or more physical techniques has unavoidable historical and political resonances.” — Katherine Profeta, Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement Performance, University of Wisconsin Press (2015)

Claudia La Rocco, Editorial Director of SFMOMA’s Open Space

Advocacy for the continued vitality of the Bay Area’s diverse mix of artistic expression is central to the mission of Open Space. We’re interested in what it means to speak of and from this place, in this time — and we believe that this conversation happens not in a vacuum but in relation to other places, and other times. We’re therefore delighted to be collaborating with the Merce Cunningham Trust, HMD’s Bridge Project, and ODC Theater to present Bay Area Artists Respond to Merce at 100, an interdisciplinary, intergenerational project that seeks to foster contemporary voices, create context for those voices, and reflect on how they relate to both the current moment and historical legacies.

Julie Potter, Director of ODC Theater

As ODC Theater is committed to contemporary artists, the creation of new performance and transmissions of dance, we look forward to participating in Bay Area Artists Respond to Merce at 100, a dialogic project, in which select dances from the repertoire of Cunningham are transmitted, transformed and generative of a live research process and development of new work.

“The repertoire enacts embodied memory: performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, singing – in short, all those acts usually thought of as ephemeral, nonreproducible knowledge. Repertoire, etymologically “a treasury, an inventory,” also allows for individual agency, referring also to “the finder, discoverer,” and meaning “to find out.” The repertoire requires presence: people participate in the production and reproduction of knowledge by “being there,” being a part of the transmission.” — Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire, Duke University Press (2003), page 20.

Encountering Cunningham dances as passed by Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, ten Bay Area artists across disciplines will employ their own artistic voices and collaborations, developing new works to be presented with reperformed pieces in situ. In this way, the residency serves as a place of deliberation between Cunningham and living artists who are immersed in the conditions and particularities of this moment.


Representatives of the Merce Cunningham Trust and Lead Teaching Artists for Bay Area Artists In Conversation with Merce at 100

Since 2010 Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener have created dance in response to complex and active spatial environments, often merging elements of fantasy, absurdity, and quiet contemplation into challenging multifaceted performance. After working together in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Mitchell and Riener developed a keen interest in the way abstraction and representation coincide in the body. Their collaborative work takes many forms, from site-specific installations, improvisational dances, and traditional proscenium pieces to highly crafted and intimate, immersive experiences. Historical influences and aesthetic forms collapse into a visually charged hybrid physical language. Together they have been part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Extended Life Dance Development program, the New York City Center Choreographic Fellowship, and have been artists in residence at EMPAC, Mount Tremper Arts, Wellesley College, Jacob’s Pillow, and Pieter. Their work has been presented at MOMA PS1 as part of Greater NY, The Chocolate Factory, New York Live Arts, Danspace Project, REDCAT, ICA Boston and Summer Stages Dance, the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, On the Boards, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music among many others.


Sara Shelton Mann has been a choreographer, performer, and teacher since 1967. She was a protégé of Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis in New York City before moving to Canada where she met Andrew Harwood and fell in love with contact improvisation. In 1979 she moved to San Francisco to work with Mangrove, now Mixed Bag Productions, for which she serves as artistic director. One of its early manifestations was the company Contraband, launched as a performance group and research ground combining the principles of contact, systems of the body, and spiritual practice into a unified system of research. Among her awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship and seven Izzies dance awards. 

Jarrel Phillips teaches capoeira, basic tumbling, and gymnastics, and works with children with special needs. He started learning capoeira in the early ’90s. Since 2008, he’s trained under Mestre Urubu Malandro of capoeira Ijexa and remains dedicated to the art form. He also trains in acrobatics with trainer Dominick Wyss. Phillips has traveled to Africa for the last several years as a part of the AVE (Access Via Exposure) project.

Nadhi Thekkek is the artistic director of Nava Dance Theatre, a Bharatanatyam dance company based in San Francisco. Thekkek has performed at venues around the world including Scotiabank Dance Centre (Vancouver), La MaMa (New York City), DancePlace (Washington DC), and Southbank Center (London). She has also worked as a collaborator with artists including Seeta Patel (London) and Randee Paufve (Oakland), and her work was recently commissioned by Oakland Ballet Company. Her most recent work, exploring the 1947 Partition between India and Pakistan, Broken Seeds/Taking Root, premiered this spring at CounterPulse.

Daniel Arizmendi a.k.a. Snowflake Towers is an Indigenous artist of Tzeltal Mayan and Yaqui Sonora heritage. Towers is a former member of Dancing Earth Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations, where they worked to reclaim the legacy of Two-Spirit Indigenous peoples. Their recent performance Chaac & Yum was a collaboration with Javier Stell-Fresquez, telling the story of the Mayan rain deity Chaac who falls in love with a young nobleman, later the god of corn.


Born in 1985 in Carolina, Puerto Rico and currently based in Oakland, California, Sofía Córdova‘s work considers sci-fi, dance and music culture(s), the internet, mystical things, extinction and mutation, migration and diaspora, as well as climate change especially as they relate to the lives of women, trans, +/or queer bodies, particularly those of color, under the conditions of late capitalism and its technologies. She first moved to the US to begin undergraduate studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. She completed her BFA at St. John’s University in conjunction with the International Center for Photography in NYC in 2006. In 2010 She received her MFA from the California College of the Arts. She has exhibited and performed at SFMOMA, the ASU Museum, the Vincent Price Museum and international venues such as Art Hub in Shanghai and MEWO Kunsthalle in Germany. She has participated in residencies at Mills College Museum, the ASU Museum in Phoenix, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. Her work was featured in the latest edition of Bay Area Now at San Francisco’s YBCA and is part of Pier 24’s and The Whitney Museum’s permanent collections. It has been the subject of a First Look feature in Art in America.

Maxe Crandall is a poet and performance maker whose work engages experimental forms in political contexts. His plays and productions include Together Men Make Paradigms, Underwater Wedding, Emoji for Cher Heart, and extreme lyric I, a collaboration with Hope Mohr Dance. Maxe’s writing on art and performance has appeared in publications including Women and Performance, SFMOMA’s Open Space, Critical Correspondence, Jacket2, Transgender Studies Quarterly, and Transgender History in 99 Objects. A recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Project, Poets House, Lambda Literary, and the Millay Colony for the Arts, Maxe teaches in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Stanford University. His novel about AIDS archives The Nancy Reagan Collection is forthcoming from Futurepoem.

Alex Escalante is originally from Los Angeles, CA but spent the last two decades in NYC working as a dancer, choreographer, actor, photographer, and carpenter. He was also a teaching artist working with at-risk youth in public schools. Alex recently relocated back to CA and is enjoying his new surroundings in the Bay Area.

Christy Funsch formed Funsch Dance in 2002 and has since been presented nationally and internationally. She has enjoyed rich collaborations with Stephen Pelton, Nol Simonse, Julie Mayo, Peiling Kao, and she has also worked with Susan Rethorst, Katie Faulkner, Dandelion Dancetheater, and many others. She holds an MFA and a Laban Movement Analysis Certification, and she has been awarded choreographic residencies at CounterPULSE, Djerassi, Shawl Anderson, the U Cross Foundation, and Yaddo. She has been an artist in residence at James Madison University, University of Nebraska Lincoln, and Virginia Commonwealth University (spring 2019). In 2014, Christy was mentored by Tere O’Connor, presented in Yerba Buena’s Bay Area Now Series, and named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch.” In 2015 she taught her improvisational practice 100 Days Score at ImpulsTANZ, and she became the first woman to be granted permission to perform Daniel Nagrin’s 1965 solo, Path.

Jenny Odell is a multi-disciplinary artist and writer based in Oakland, California. Her work is generally an argument for the rewards of close observation, especially as a way of participating in one’s physical environment. Odell’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, the New York Public Library, Les Rencontres D’Arles, Fotomuseum Antwerpen, Hartware MedienKunstVerein, La Gaîté Lyrique, the Lishui Photography Festival, the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, and East Wing (Dubai). Odell has been an artist in residence at Recology SF, the San Francisco Planning Department, and the Internet Archive. Her book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, is forthcoming from Melville House in Spring 2019. She teaches at Stanford University.

Art as process is the thematic grounding of the creative journey for Julie Moon; whether it be explorations of identity, investigations into different mediums for improvisation, or navigating through a world of excess to develop and hone an intuition for what matters. She has studied with Grahame Bailey, Chris Brown, Kevin Ernste, Fred Frith, Carol Krumhansl, Roscoe Mitchell, Zeena Parkins, Steven Pond, Robert Schwartz, and Roberto Sierra while earning her MFA and MA at Mills College and BA at Cornell University. Recent projects include artist-in-residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the 2018 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival as electronic duo OMMO, and performance piece Exuviae (2017). Commissions include The Sun and the Moon (2015) for the Asian Art Museum, Chasing Medusa’s Ghosts (2016) for the SF MoMA publication Open Space, and What Love Is (2016) for the 2016 Jeju International Experimental Arts Festival.

Nicole Peisl is a dancer and choreographer. She joined the Frankfurt Ballet in 2000 and continued to work with William Forsythe as a member of the Forsythe Company until 2014. Peisl’s trilogy Vielfalt, Ueberblick, and Spielfeld I&II has been staged in Frankfurt, Dresden, Vienna and Munich. Peisl also has worked as freelance collaborator with, among others, Anouk van Dijk, Michael Klien, Joseph Tmim and the Episode Collective (with Richard Siegal and Prue Lang). Nicole has worked widely as a teacher. She has taught dance at ImpulsTanz Vienna, at LaCaldera Les Corts in Barcelona, at Anton Bruckner Privat University of Linz Austria, Justus Liebig University of Giessen in Germany, University of Limerick and at DOCH University of Dance and Circus of Stockholm in Sweden. Peisl is a certified practitioner of Cranio Sacral body work (Milne Institute) as well as Somatic Experiencing (Peter Levine). Since 2014 she has been pursuing a PhD in the Program in Performance Studies at University of California, Davis, California.

Danishta Rivero is an improviser, performer, and sound artist based in Oakland, California. She is a vocalist whose solo performances involve the processing of her voice through electronics in order to explore the multi-dimensional presence of embodied, subjective, acoustic and amplified sound in space. Rivero performs solo as Caribay, as well as with her electro-acoustic duo Voicehandler with percussionist Jacob Felix Heule. She is also half of Las Sucias, a feminist tropical noise duo with Alexandra Buschman-Román.

Dazaun Soleyn, artistic director of dazaun.dance, graduated as the University of South Florida’s Outstanding Graduate with a BFA in Modern Dance Performance and Choreography. Upon graduation Dazaun completed the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program and attend Springboard Danse Montréal. Dazaun is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of San Francisco and a freelance artist.

Sophia Wang creates and performs movement-based works in collaboration with performance artists, writers, and visual and sound artists. She is co-founder of the Brontez Purnell Dance Company and has danced for artists Xavier le Roy, Tino Sehgal, Jérôme Bel, Xandra Ibarra, and Amara Tabor-Smith. She earned a PhD in English from U.C. Berkeley, and integrates her research and performance practices through writing and curatorial projects focused on critical somatics: thinking with and as bodies. Since 2015, she has co-produced Heavy Breathing, a discussion and movement workshop series that has featured over 30 presenting artists working at the intersection of performance, visual arts, and pedagogy. Heavy Breathing’s new series launched in 2018 at YBCA (San Francisco), the Bangkok Biennial, and Meme Space (Taipei).


The Bridge Project approaches curating as a form of community organizing to facilitate equity-driven cultural conversations that cross discipline, geography, and perspective.  The purposes of the Bridge Project are to:

  • Create an intellectual commons for artists and
  • Facilitate alliances among artists and activists in the struggle toward equity.


Housed within SFMOMA’s Department of Community Engagement, Open Space is a W.A.G.E. Certified, interdisciplinary arts and culture platform. We are committed to diversity and collaboration, and dedicated to unruly, non-instrumentalized gestures. Anchored in the Bay Area, Open Space commissions and supports critical + experimental + poetic ruminations by artists, writers, and thinkers from all over the world, as well as hosting parties, performances, and other live events.


ODC Theater exists to empower and develop innovative artists. It participates in the creation of new works through commissioning, presenting, mentorship and space access; it develops informed, engaged and committed audiences; and advocates for the performing arts as an essential component to the economic and cultural development of our community. This 170-seat venue is the site of over 150 performances a year involving nearly 1,000 local, regional, national and international artists.


The mission of the Merce Cunningham Trust is to carry Cunningham’s legacy into the future. The Trust preserves the recorded and physical works of Merce Cunningham and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and offers classes and workshops in Cunningham’s technique, repertory, and choreographic methods to dancers and the public, keeping interest and practice alive.

HMD’s 2019 Bridge Project is a Merce Cunningham Centennial Community Program.

Signals from the West: Bay Area Artists in Conversation with Merce at 100 is a program of HMD’s Bridge Project and is made possible by the Merce Cunningham Trust, ODC Theater, SFMOMA’s Open Space, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts, the Walter & Elise Haas Foundation, the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, and generous individual donors. 

The Merce Cunningham Centennial Community Program is supported by a generous grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Merce Cunningham Centennial and its programs are generously supported with major funding from the Merce Cunningham Trust, the Paul L. Wattis Foundation, the American Express Foundation and Judith Pisar.

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