That Obscure Subject of Desire (2009)

That Obscure Subject of Desire

Dance Mission Theater

San Francisco,  CA

July 2009

Choreography by Randee Paufve

Dancers:  Stephanie Ballas, Rebecca Johnson, Katie Kruger, Diane McKallip, Randee Paufve, Jill Randall, Brian Runstrom, Frank Shawl, Jane Schnorrenberg, Christy L. Thomas

Sound editing:  Heather Heise

Music:  Bjork, Marianne Faithfull, Chas Smith, David Mahler, Milton DeLugg & Willie Stein


That Obscure Subject of Desire is an evening of an evening of dance exploring the paradoxical nature of romantic love with a particular focus on women and their desire.  Featuring a cast of dancers ranging in age from 26-78, the work is based on ideas about the sensual imbalance of love, the prickly skin of passion, and the space of desire.


Romantic love is a fleeting construct, an enticing, yet unsustainable ideal. Real, lasting human love is smaller, humbler; yet romantic love ideals remain a pervasive cultural obsession. Why?  As a gateway to understanding the compelling conundrum of modern love, I turned to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in which adolescents experience the first glittering chimera of romance, with destructive results, yet teach us about enduring love. Much of the work was founded through an initial rehearsal period of improvisation, during which we drew images, metaphors and text into the body and out again, seeking places where movement met words, evoking the kinesthesia of Shakespeare's writing, and allowing embodied movement to create the foundation for the work. 


Four solos embody ideas about love and the storms of womanhood.  The opening solo, performed by Randee Paufve, sets the stage, invoking the audience to join us for this rich journey.  The ensuing solos embody ideas about passion and blood; motherhood and courage; anger; single-dom and aging; and the weaving of a benevolent spider’s web. The show also features three duets, performed by three generations of dancers.  


"Dissolve" is a skeletal work of spare gesture, austere expression, tender moments and the mellowing of pain through love and time.  A duet between relationship and memory, Dissolve is performed by dance veterans Frank Shawl and Diane McKallip, over 70 and 50 years of age respectively.


A new duet performed by Paufve with her shadow, asks the questions ‘What if Juliet had lived?’  ‘What would her life be like as a middle-aged woman?’  In this dance Paufve creates a raw afterlife for Juliet, dancing with the ghost of Romeo. 


"Reel," created for a duo of younger dancers offers hopeful ideas about new lovers, dancing face to face and creating an intimate, lustful space between them.  Reel embodies the heat, intensity and fun of new love, romance and passion.


"Spasm:  Eleven Episodes" is a roving women’s quartet, a chorus of contemporary Juliets, which weaves through the evening, appearing, disappearing and re-appearing as a ribbon of desire.  "Spasm" creates a potent vehicle for Juliet’s desires, taking them out of the context of her love for Romeo and viewing them as their own driving force, thus liberating Juliet from her dead-end world.

That Obscure Subject of Desire takes risks in placing three generations of dancers together onstage to explore ideas about desire and sexuality. Such innovative casting also undermines the invisibility that comes with middle age, by attacking the retreat from performance that dance artists often submit to, a trend that serves to impoverish dance.

That Obscure Subject of Desire was supported in part by CA$H/Theatre Bay Area, the Clorox Company Foundation, the Zellerbach Family Fund, and by Individual Donors.