Sarah Bush Dance Projects Ask You to Suspend Your Disbelief

Sarah Bush explores what happens to material she develops outside that she then brings indoors for performance.


Photo by Lisa Harding

Dance we see on stage can safely be assumed to have been created in a rehearsal space — perhaps even one with mirrors and barres. Studios are safe, neutral locations, though the end product may suggest a royal court in Moscow or Java, a village square in Poland or Senegal. Such is the power of our suspending disbelief. But the security of an enclosed area — steady ground and solid vertical walls — is not enough for Sarah Bush, the founder and director of Sarah Bush Dance Project.

Deeply concerned with nature and the impact of humans and climate change, she likes to dance outside, particularly in what she calls “the wildness of Oakland,” the city she calls home and never gets tired of exploring. Three years ago, a commission from the city of Oakland allowed her company to put her stamp on the Woodminster Cascade in Joaquin Miller Park, the Sibley Volcanic Preserve, and the Arrowhead Marsh in Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline.

But Bush’s “curiosity” — a word that returns repeatedly in conversations — also makes her question her craft. What happens, she wants to know, to material she develops outside and then uses it for an indoor work? Balance, for instance, needs to adjust to rocky grounds, squishy sand, or hillsides. How does the body react to wind, changes of temperature, or shadows — fallen trees, ravines? How is placing weight determined by surface textures — pine needles, thistles, water?

On Oct. 25-27, Bush’s all-women ensemble will present its fall show with Un-Changing Nature in the hope of answering some of those questions. The five pieces are re-workings of older works in the context of recent outdoor experiences. One outdoor experience, she has said, will definitely not be in this show.

Last May the Sarah Bush Dance Project participated in Love the Bulb, the celebration of Albany’s Bulb Park. Bush and KJ Dahlaw performed a duet in knee-high grass when Bush, diving into an arabesque in knee-high grass, reached for what she thought was a stick. It turned out to be one of two snakes. Nobody has ever said that dance was a safe profession.

Sarah Bush Dance Project, Unchanging Nature, Oct. 25-26, 8 p.m., Oct. 27, 3 p.m., $20, The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, Oakland, 510-858-7383.


This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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