Bryce Vinnicombe Winkler (right) and dance partner Harold Burns rehearse "Deconstructing the Surrogate." Photo by Lynn Fried

Bryce Vinnicombe Winkler teamed up with husband Daniel James Winkler to create “Deconstructing the Surrogate,”  a 40-minute multimedia performance comprised of a contemporary dance duet, an original soundtrack and a projected film.

It will appear as part of the sixth Summer Performance Festival that runs at ODC From Wednesday, August 14 to Sunday, August 18 at ODC. The festival, sponsored by the SAFEhouse for the Performing Artsfeatures eight emerging dance artists hand-picked by SAFEhouse founder Joe Landini.

Mission Local sat down with Bryce and Daniel to learn more about their piece and the collaboration involved.

Mission Local:  Can you tell us about “Deconstructing the Surrogate,” and where the idea came from?

Bryce: The piece is really a meditation on and derived from a variety of human relationships. Once the choreography and once the idea was really strong in my heart and in my head, what I was trying to find was both the beautiful and the very grotesque physical manifestation of relationships.

Daniel: The core idea is based on how we develop our attachments to people. How our current relationships are based on previous relationships, and how easily a small corruptive element in a parental relationship (for example) can screw you up for the rest of your life.

ML: Where did the title for the piece come from?

D: The title reflects what the initial idea was about. It’s about surrogate relationships.

B: And about analyzing those surrogate relationships that we each play.

D: Most people form an attachment to their mother or father. Young girls, for example, and the relationships they have with their fathers–those relationships guide their relationships for the rest of their lives.

B: Single parents and their mothers. Sibling relationships. And on and on and on, and what our future relationship is to ourself. We talked a lot about these different thoughts and ideas.

ML: What are some of the elements of the piece, and how much time has been devoted to it?

B: I choreographed the piece, and I’m also one of the dancers in the duet. I’ve probably done a total of 10 months of rehearsals, two to three rehearsals a week. Daniel did the music and the film. His process is so technical. I can’t have a 12-hour rehearsal. He can have a 12-hour meeting with his computer.

D: The musical piece is 40 minutes and comprised of over 1,000 instrumental tracks, along with a 40-minute film, largely comprised of 1/4-second clips. I suppose I’ve worked on the piece for four to six months, 12 to 20-hour days. Everything was created simultaneously. There was a lot of back and forth. I was watching videos of Bryce dance, taking clips and seeing where they would work best. It was a lot about trying to make something where all of the elements are equally important. The film has just as much importance as the dance, the dance has just as much importance as the music, and so on.

ML: Where and when did the project begin, and how did the piece end up at ODC?

B: I started the choreographic process in February of 2012. The piece finally reached full conception during our residency at The Garage in the summer of 2012. The Garage is a 50-seater black box theater that runs on art grants and offers 12-week residencies that culminate with a performance. Joe Landini (curator of the Summer Performance Festival) had the idea to create a festival in which emerging artists in San Francisco can bridge the gap from the small theater to the big theater. Out of 145 applying artists, he picked us to showcase at ODC Theater. He basically came to us and said, “Do you want to do this, because I really like what you’re doing.” He really stood behind the project and was super supportive of it.

ML: Who else is involved in the piece?

Bryce Vinnicombe Winkler (right) and dance partner Harold Burns. Photo by Josh Nece
Bryce Vinnicombe Winkler (right) and dance partner Harold Burns. Photo by Josh Nece

B: Harold Burns is the other dancer, and I’ve worked with him over the last year and a half. In any choreographic process, at least in the contemporary dance world, you’re looking at how your dancer is going to perceive the choreography and what they’re going to bring to it. There’s something about Harold that’s just very captivating to watch. So you think about how to show it off, how to highlight who he is as a performer to create that captivation in the piece. He and I have a lot of fun working together. It’s become an easier process as we know and trust each other’s movements more and more.

ML: How has the piece transformed in the last year?

B: Since the residency at The Garage, we’ve been respectively re-working the elements. As far as choreography goes, I’ve been able to go in, change some parts and further investigate the relationship that Harold and I have on stage. Because it was originally choreographed for a small stage, it’s been about making it work on a big stage and hoping that translates in the same ways to the audience.

D: I did the music and the film initially, but I felt that aspects of it were a little rushed. So I’ve been cleaning some stuff up, changing some footage that I wasn’t happy with. The music has been expanded by six minutes. Originally it was 34 minutes and now it’s 40. That’s basically just creating smoother transitions. The music shifts from ambient stuff to more tempo-orientated stuff–predominantly acoustic guitar and melodica.

As much as this was designed as a small, intimate piece, we understand that it will be different (at ODC.) But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What it will read like, we don’t exactly know. Right now, it’s just our hopes and wishes.

ML: How did the idea to collaborate come up?

D: Bryce had a panic attack (They laugh. Bryce explains how her original composer fell through.) And I said, “If you’re that freaked out about it, I’ll do it.”

B: We said, “Let’s do this together. Let’s actually organize this piece and collaborate fully.” That’s where we started talking about film, projection and creating an entire experience with it. It’s been great. What’s cool about it is that we live together, so we have access to each other as artists. We were at it constantly. What was great, too, was giving each other space within a conversation about creative ideas.

Being husband and wife also came with a degree of stresses. But ultimately, it was a perfect situation for us. We’ve been talking about for years how to become productive artists and how to brand ourselves. This has been our first opportunity to make our work as legitimate as possible.

D: It’s helpful to think of every project as your first and last. If it’s your first project, you want to catch people’s attention. And if it’s your last, you don’t want to have any regrets about it.

ML: What did you learn about your own relationship during this collaborative process?

B: Communication on an artistic level has made me realize how we approach things differently. What’s also been great is learning and knowing that I can completely trust Daniel to make the right artistic decisions.

ML: What does the piece mean to each of you?

B: To me, the performance has been a very beautiful and immensely sad manifestation of being. Of what it is to be human, and what the human spirit goes through. There are some moments that happen on stage, where, when I think about them, I cry. To me, this is not simply choreography to explain to someone. It all comes from a deep place that’s very emotional.

D: I don’t find it sad. It’s melancholy.

B: It’s not that it’s sad. It is melancholy. It’s very human. It’s honest. It can’t be contrived. It needs to be honest.

ML: What are your goals for the piece?

B: What I feel is success to me is if the viewer has an experience with the piece, whatever that is. Art has an obvious role in society, but as creators of it, our goal is to expose it to people and have people relate to it. To offer them a connection.

D: I honestly just hope that people are entertained and that they enjoy themselves. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

ML: You decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project. Can you talk about that experience?

B: It’s been amazing. The support is humbling. They (the donators) do it because they believe in what you’re doing, not because their arm is being twisted. They want you to succeed.

ML: Any last thoughts as you prepare for the show?

B: I’m grateful for Joe’s role in giving us the opportunity to be on this stage. The big thing for us now is getting people to come so they can experience what we made (looks at Daniel and smiles.)

“Deconstructing the Surrogate” will be performed at ODC on Saturday, August 17 at 9 p.m. and on Sunday, August 18 at 2 p.m. To purchase tickets, click here.  To learn more about the artists and the piece, visit VINNICOMBE/WINKLER To donate to the project, click here. 

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Molly is a multimedia journalist, editor, photographer and illustrator. She has contributed to dozens of publications, and most recently, served as Editor of the Pacific Sun. To view more of her work, visit

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