youTurn has landed more than a dance hit in Mark Haim’s influential This Land is Your Land, which continues through April 10 and 11 at the White Box at Liberty Station. Producers Erica Buechner and Anne Gehman are writing a remarkable success story, and 14 of San Diego’s favorite dancers are walking their way into the hearts and minds of viewers with questions about identity, consumer waste, and gun violence.
Set to foot-tapping American classics from Patsy Cline to Tim McGraw, Haim’s minimalist This Land is Your Land is based on a continuous walking pattern that mutates over 45 minutes, although you’ll forget the time and not want it to end.
Simple, yet complex, and thoroughly infectious, dancers appear as busy urbanites intent on going somewhere. They pop out from behind a colorful screen to create a line of six, strutting forward until one drops off behind the screen, only to be replaced by another on the right. Within seconds, one learns to watch for a new walker to appear in a new outfit. There’s a lot going on behind the screen. Each dancer stores intriguing clothes and props on a chair and has to know when to pop out and follow the never ending tempo. How do they change so fast and remember their cues?
This walking study hits hot button issues. Dancers draw us in with ubiquitous props: Starbucks cups, cell phones, cans of malt liquor in paper bags, and guns. Chopped-up songs switch faster than a rotating radio dial. A couple transitions are too clunky. A section or two could be shorter, but that may depend on your taste in music. Who doesn’t like the tune “Honkytonk Badonkadonk”?
Choreographic highlights include unison snaps of the neck while gripping phones, little hiccup skips, and a glorious directional change. It’s as if a huge wind blows the walkers off course, forcing them to travel left to right. Equally rewarding, a moment of ultimate bravery has dancers reveal beautiful skin and scars to remind us of our shared humanness.
Haim’s choreographic choices hit home. When dancers look downward, one imagines a walk on the beach. Still, they are too busy to stop; they ignore those around them. The power is constant yet movement seems organic, which speaks to Haim’s thoughtful, in-depth direction. We sense his underlying call to action too, to be more mindful.
youTurn 2015 offers great value in this production of This Land is Your Land, including food, drinks, and live music by Tomcat Courtney, a delta blues icon in San Diego.
There’s a lot of thought and talk about walking in popular culture. Millions watch “The Walking Dead” TV show. A factory worker in Detroit walked 21 miles to work roundtrip. Cheryl Strayed walked the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail, wrote a memoir, and made the movie “Wild.” Dog owners walk miles with their mutts.
The pace of walking is thought to encourage creative thinking. Clearly, Haim takes inspiration from his base in Seattle, as well as quiet walks in the country and country line dancing, and the woman who tumbled into a fountain while walking and texting at a mall. As dancers walk to the plodding beat of a country tune, we can’t help but wonder what is happening to America. In 45 minutes, the dancers fill a trash can with cups, twice. Having a janitor wander into the action adds levity and reality.
Haim’s This Land is Your Land debuted in Paris in 2013 and has been set on several companies. It is listed as one of the most influential works of the last 15 years in Dance Magazine, and I have to agree. But it didn’t just walk into San Diego’s White Box for two weekends.
“It started with an email,” Haim told the sold out crowd on Friday night. youTurn producers Buechner and Gehman said they liked his work. “They asked, ‘what would it take to bring it to San Diego?’” Haim said. That was in October 2014. Things got rolling by November. “The performers all sacrificed time. And this piece is a bit of a monster. We put this together in two weeks-time and it usually takes several months.”
San Diego dancers donated their time – more than 40 hours – and give knockout performances. Performers include: Dina Apple, Blythe Barton, Jacinto Guizar-Delgado, John Diaz, Nikki Dunnan, Sharon Hancock, Ian Isles, Minaqua McPherson, Harmony Nagrin, Lavina Rich, Kathryn Scheideggar, Lara Segura, Rachel Torres, David Wornovitzky, and Julio Velazquez.
Major funding came from McCaleb Dance and James Ballard. Dozens of sponsors and donors gave money, rehearsal space, and support. Make no mistake: youTurn has another hit on its hands and has achieved what many producers only dream of. Everyone involved has much to be proud of.
This Land is Your Land continues April 10 & 11 at 7:30 pm. Tickets $20. http://youturnarts.com/events.html