Thatcher's COLORFORMS is a Childlike Joy

by Michael Phelan

February 16, 2021—Although San Francisco Ballet's Program 02 has been restrained by the distancing limitations of the pandemic, screening two archived performances, one new dance work created expressly for film is a serendipitous product of those limitations. Choreographer Myles Thatcher's premiere work COLORFORMS is named after a children's toy, an assortment of stickers that can be arranged on backgrounds to create imaginary places. Thatcher's COLORFORMS is not so much a case of art imitating play as art is play.

Created as a film during the social distancing of the pandemic, film direction is by Ezra Hurwitz and costumes by Susan Roemer. The dancers are Jasmine Jimison, Frances Chung, . Maggie Weirich, Isabella Devivo, Sasha De Sola, Steven Morse, Sean Bennett, Cavan Conley, Esteban Hernandez, and Ulrik Birkkjaer.

Frances Chung in Thatcher's COLORFORMS © San Francisco Ballet
Frances Chung in Thatcher's COLORFORMS © San Francisco Ballet

The film opens with Frances Chung in an SF MOMA gallery reading a book on modern art and admiring a colorful abstract. Other dancers make colorful paper airplanes. Suddenly, Chung tosses the book to the floor and begins to move. The dancers, in street clothes, dance in galleries of colorful abstractions and suddenly leap into colorful stage settings, transformed in colorful costumes and pointe shoes. The paper airplanes are let loose. The real and imaginary are mixed. To Steve Reich's upbeat, stacatto score of violins and piano, pairs and solo dancers leap from the art museum into colorful sets, arranging and rearranging themselves into pairs and into a group. In the MOMA lobby they dance in joyous pirouettes, leaps, and port de bras. Jasmine Jimison has at first an outsider and then a leadership role when she joins the group, but it isn't clear what her presence means.

San Francisco Ballet in Thatcher's COLORFORMS © San Francisco Ballet
San Francisco Ballet in Thatcher's COLORFORMS © San Francisco Ballet

All ten dancers explode with energy and enthusiasm as they are transported from scene to scene, from the museum interior to exterior, to Yerba Buena Gardens, to a stage set, and ending in the Redwood Grove of the Botanical Gardens. Sasha De Sola and Frances Chung in particular seem to be having an especially good time.

This is a well imagined, well executed, and very creative work that's a fun experience accessible to anyone. As Thatcher explained in an interview here on BayDance.com, broad appeal is part of his aim in making a dance film. While many dance films seem to be a small part of a much larger whole, COLORFORMS was created to be a work in itself. Could this film be adapted to the Opera House stage by using devices such as projected backgrounds and blacklight on costumes? I hope so.

The world premiere of COLORFORMS is part of San Francisco Ballet's Program 02, through March 3, along with the May 5, 2018 performance of Dwight Roden's Let's Begin At The End and Mark Morris' Sandpaper Ballet performed at the February 16, 2020 matinee. For more information see sfballet.org.