Sharp & Fine Company

Just Ahead is Darkness
Sharp and Fine Company
Z Space Theater
February 7 – 9, 2020

Memory and Celebration

Sharp & Fine is a San Francisco based contemporary dance company founded in 2011 by sisters Megan and Shannon Kurashige. Their aim is “to create narrative performance work that brings together physical exuberant choreography, emotionally nuanced text, live music and multi-disciplinary collaboration.“ (quote from program notes)

For the most part they succeed with an extremely talented group of dancers and musicians. The thematic material of “just Ahead is Darkness” concerns family life, death, and memory. It draws on the “Japanese and Japanese-American tradition of remembering the dead to tell a poignant and magical take about family, love, loss and the eternal return of ghosts.”

There are two stories. The first, featuring dancers Sonja Dale (child), Sarah Woods-LaDue (mother), Chistian Burns (father), Megan and Shannon Kuashige (aunties) involves the father and daughter sharing infatuation with the starry night. After the father’s death, he returns as a ghost and haunts the family’s memory. Burns is a particularly interesting dancer, able to perform extremely articulate dramatic movement with his arms and legs as extensions of his torso. Dale and Woods-LaDue both have great range of movement skills and dramatic ability.

All dancers execute long phrases of movement combining ballet, modern dance and contact improvisation skills. These are accompanied by dramatic dialogues and monologues which can be beautiful and sentimental. Alas, there are too many movement phrases, mostly with the same dynamic and also spoken interludes which(at this event suffered from technical difficulties in the sound system.

The second story, introduced by a long monologue by Tristan Ching Hartman as “Death” tells the story of a boy who, holding a rock in water for a long time, nevertheless, drowned. Hartman’s descent from an upstage right staircase was an arresting, breathtaking event, as was Woods-LaDue’s similar action carrying the rock. Again, family story telling and long interactive movement phrases amplified the memories and sentiment.

At the start of the program and at an interval, the company danced with members of audience as if to bring memories with them. These events were prelude to the demonstration of “Fukushima Ondo” by Kay Fukumoto, Brian Nagami and Jen Sumida of Maui Taiko during which most of the audience danced. This last event celebrated the Obon festival that Megan and Shannon experience in Hawaii. Shannon writes; “Bon dances are part family reunion, part ritual…but mostly about bringing people tougher.” That celebration and the festival of food that graced the end of the evening in the lobby, surely accomplished her aim.

Musicians Steve Adams (woodwinds), Jordan Glenn (percussion), John Schoot (guitar) and Cory Wright (woodwinds) deserve special recognition for their excellent accompaniment.

Technical credits include Allen Willner (lights), Emily Kurashige (costumes) and Mika Hamamura, Jason Kurashige and Jon Hamamura (scentic design and production). Bravo!

Joanna G. Harris

Sarah Woods-LaDue (Mother), with rock, and Christian Burns (Father) in Just Ahead is Darkness. Photo by Stephen Texeira.