SF-Rooted Dancer Returns to Experiment

Still from Ships and Salsa trailer via UNA Projects

While many artists are leaving the Mission, dancer and choreographer Chuck Wilt has returned to his local roots to explore his old neighborhood to produce two collaborative works that debut tomorrow night, first with Rodeo and on Friday and Saturday nights with the two-part program Ships and Salsa.

Ships, the first portion of a two-part piece that will show for two nights beginning Friday, explores loneliness – the kind one gets being alone but also in the midst of a community. Salsa,  the second work,  shifts gears to a more more upbeat tone.

“Salsa is very much the opposite, feels much more lively, energetic, I have friends describing it as a collection of short stories that deal with rhythm and groove and sadness and power kind of all over the place, a little flipbook of stories,” said Wilt who sees it as blending his West-coast, laid-back roots with the fast and furious, serious-business vibe of New York.

Wilt started with ballet when he was nine years old. But the rigidity and formality wasn’t for him, and in 2004, at 12 years old, he started taking modern dance at ODC, soon becoming part of its youth dance program, ODC Dance Jam. Starting in 2010, he studied dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  

The difference in the Mission District before and after his time in New York, he said, is striking.

“I was walking through the Mission every day after school, it was very different then,” he said. “I come back now and there’s remnants of what I remember but mostly it’s different. I guess there’s just more, like, going on… it feels like a kind of oversaturated place. Which, I don’t know if I have an opinion about that, but it’s definitely alarming to see how quickly something like that can happen.”

Now, he’s diving back into San Francisco, and the collaborative pieces at ODC this weekend are a result of that return.

“I wanted to sort of experiment with coming back to San Francisco, not just with my work, but also working with a few San Francisco dance artists and some other people that I’ve gotten to know in the last few years,” Wilt said.

One of them is Meredith Webster, a nine-year veteran of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, who will contribute a solo piece to Rodeo.

“My contribution to Rodeo… could maybe but not necessarily be called dance,” she said. “This particular work is a lot of, just kind of, body language – very human, normal, pedestrian shapes and movement over and over again.”

For all their exploration of the self, the pieces are also an exercise in selflessness and relinquishing control. Wilt says other choreographers who are dancing in his piece have been open to allowing him to steer the programs, which can be difficult for choreographers. And beyond being a fluid collaboration, the dance is meant to reach out to the audience .

“I think what we’re trying to get to is this idea that, because we all have this same human body, there are certain things that happen with that body that are kind of instantaneously and subconsciously familiar and recognizable,” Webster said.

At the same time, Wilt’s pieces also incorporate multimedia by projecting video onto the bodies of the dancers. Wilt’s said he’s tried to use the multimedia judiciously.

“I’m very cautious about trends,” he said, but nevertheless feels more able to try new ideas out in San Francisco.

“In New York it feels much more constantly stimulated and constantly about moving on to a new idea, or maybe even not finishing an old idea,” Wilt said. “Every time I’m coming back to San Francisco now, it feels like I can breathe and I can think and process.”

And as Webster says, “You can’t be in New York for any length of time and not have it affect you, just like you can’t grow up in California and not [be affected].”

Wilt says San Francisco is a big draw for him.  

“I think that is definitely innate in my voice as a dancer, performer, choreographer. It’s kind of the dual perspective or dual energy or something,” he said. But, “I’m also thinking about just developing this more almost rerooting myself to the West Coast.”

Wilt’s company, UNA Projects, will present Rodeo on Thursday, Oct 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Ships and Salsa two nights, October 2 and 3. Tickets can be found here and a trailer can be found here.

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