Prescription drugs flood the stage at ODC

By Joshua Kosman - The San Francisco Chronicle – April 14, 2017


Kit McDaniel (foreground) and the Mobius Trio (from left, Mason Fish, Matt Linder, Robert Nance) in “Prescription Drug Nation.”

America is awash in drugs. Obviously, those include the opioids and uppers and botanicals that have the attention of the DEA, but there are also the more familiar, domesticated categories of pharmaceuticals — the ones that can put you to sleep, ease your neuroses and stiffen whatever part of your anatomy seems to need stiffening.

That latter category serves as the fodder for “Prescription Drug Nation,” a sparse and meditative evening of music and dance by composer Aaron Gervais and choreographer and dancer Michelle Fletcher that opened a four-performance run at ODC Theater on Thursday, April 13.

Spending 90 minutes in the company of these splendid performers, the Here Now Dance Collective and the guitarists of the Mobius Trio, is like taking a crash course in the world of Big Pharma.

Not that the piece actually has much to do with either the corporate or the sociological aspects of this slice of the American experience. Although it bears a title that makes it sound like a crusading, big-picture slab of reportorial nonfiction, “Prescription Drug Nation” turns out to be something more intimate — a suite of evocative portraits of six of the most common meds on the market.

These 10- or 12-minute episodes run alphabetically from Adderall through Viagra, with stops along the way for your favorite mood enhancers and soporifics. Each one is conjured up by Gervais’ impressionistic writing for a shifting combination of electric and acoustic guitars, and Fletcher’s choreography — by turns tautly regimented and freely sinuous — reflects the outlines of the immersion.

At its best, “Prescription Drug Nation” draws those connections in ways that are both specific and surprising. For “Adderall,” Gervais sets the excellent Mobius members — Mason Fish, Matt Linder and Robert Nance — spinning out quick, intricate passagework on their guitars, with rhythmic motifs that dart through the textures in sharp, assertive flashes. Meanwhile, Fletcher and fellow dancers Kelly Del Rosario and Kit McDaniel execute a tightly regimented array of rhythmic turns and angular poses.

Everything is buzzing along like a well-oiled machine, but something is amiss, and the eerie undercurrent of the action gives this movement its dramatic charge. At unpredictable junctures, the performers suddenly lose focus — the dancers gaze off to the side, or point outside the frame, and the music starts to blur and go off the rails. Things snap back into place — the drug is working its magic — but the victory is only temporary, and soon the performers wander off in a haze of distraction.

Even wittier and more on point is the final sardonic tribute to Viagra (which also represents the endpoint of the evening’s slow sartorial striptease from buttoned-up costumes, replete with neckties, to the spectacle of six performers in their underwear). Here Del Rosario fields the insistent physical demands of his two female colleagues, who throw themselves at him in increasingly fierce and heedless vaults; the muscular preening that the drug inspires finds a virtuosic counterpart in Del Rosario’s athletic performance.

In between these two vivid and fast-paced episodes, though, comes a series of slow, trippy and only marginally differentiable creations. Gervais’ spare, swirling guitar textures and Fletcher’s dreamlike choreography are meant to evoke, in turn, Ambien, Xanax, Prozac and Vicodin, and the effects are often enchanting.

But these chapters often seem like variations on a single theme — nodding off, falling out, losing one’s moorings. The occasional feedback-laden buzz of an electrical guitar comes as a welcome stimulant.

Joshua Kosman is The San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic. Email: Twitter: @JoshuaKosman

“Prescription Drug Nation”: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 15; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 16. $15-$40. ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., San Francisco. (415) 863-9834.


Prescription Drug Nation Is Just What the Doctor Ordered


Dancers Kelly Del Rosario, Michelle Fletcher, and Kit McDaniel with Mobius Trio in Prescription Drug Nation | Courtesy of Aaron Gervais

Dramatized drug usage in musical theater is the culprit behind at least two aesthetically terrible things: Jonathan Larsen’s Rent and the one-man show about needle sharing I saw as a ’90s child of the San Francisco Unified School District. But if Prescription Drug Nationsounds like the title of an alarmist school play, in performance, the show — created by composer Aaron Gervais, and choreographed by Michelle Fletcher — is surprisingly nuanced in its approach.

Neither preachy nor voyeuristic, Gervais’s six-part depiction of various drugs aims to validate the experiences of audience members affected by drug usage — as well as to expose them to others’ perspectives. The takeaway, bolstered by the dynamic performance of the Mobius Trio (guitarists Mason Fish, Matthew Holmes-Linder, and Robert Nance), is the sheer variety of drugs and their effects. Movements rarely communicate good or bad; mostly, there are shades of gray (down to the costumes: gender-neutral layers that the three dancers incrementally shed).

The hands are the best part of “Adderall.” Throughout 10 minutes of walking, bending, and crawling, the dancers keep their hands rigid, as if to maximize their aerodynamic function for utmost productivity. Limbs soften in the tiptoeing, classically flavored “Vicodin,” in which Fletcher, wearing a ratty practice tutu with a sports bra, is the star. As flurries of gentle consonances drift by, she appropriates the others’ bodies as partners. Kelly Del Rosario, sitting with his back to the audience, reaches to support her in a modest balance. The beginning and end of the movement find Fletcher curled on a low platform (three, of varying heights, add dimension to the ODC Theater), a passive Degas figure.

Mobius TrioIn “Xanax,” no one seems able to function. Del Rosario twists his shirt over his head, and Fletcher lies on the floor, reaching for water — but the main event is Kit McDaniel with her devastating scrunchie. She peers through it, then flexes it with her fingers, and the gaping white fabric seems about to swallow her. Poking through the ruffles, her fingers look like teeth.

Much of Prescription Drug Nation’s score feels rhythmically suspended — but in “Xanax,” distorted long tones on the electric guitar also capture the eerie artificiality of induced emotional detachment. It’s bleak and uncomfortable to watch the characters — who remain in their separate worlds — become undone.

“Prozac (withdrawal)” has the clearest narrative. To amplified clangs, McDaniel falls apart, retching, writhing, and scratching herself; and each time she tries to move into the light, Fletcher and Del Rosario pull her into darkness. In fact, their superior smiles are more threatening than the dragging, which feels obvious. For research, Gervais and Fletcher watched YouTube videos of people using the drugs, and naturally, they picked the most striking physical motions to reinterpret. “I didn’t do a Tylenol movement,” Gervais said.

Though the trio’s slithering across the floor is inspired, choreography sometimes loses its way in “Ambien,” and several movements could benefit from slightly shorter running times. The music, however, is an unusually good dance score. Over several years, Gervais worked out each movement with the Mobius Trio, sans dancers, and it shows: “Adderall” and “Ambien,” in particular, are interesting enough to stand on their own.

It’s sometimes hard to see the advantage of Gervais’s rotation of guitars (in each movement, different combinations of classical, steel-string, and electric), but the three electric instruments are perfect in the exuberant finale, “Viagra.” Initially, unpitched rhythmic strumming recalls Thom Willems; later, the movement grooves.

The “Viagra” movement of Prescription Drug Nation | Courtesy of Aaron Gervais

Even the musicians are down to their underwear by this point, and the three dancers fidget in an uneasy configuration. Del Rosario looks expectantly at the women, who rush at him as if to embrace — but McDaniel merely head-butts him, and Fletcher crawls through his legs. Neither seems to want him — until they do, leaping headlong into his arms with speed and power that make fish dives look tame.

It’s all violent and awkward, and at last, the physically less-demanding nature of Del Rosario’s role thus far makes sense. He’s palpably exhausted, but keeps on, gamely receiving each catapulting woman. As the drug peaks, so does he: Grinning, he does a few pushups and lifts McDaniel overheard with great flourish. Even after the women lose interest — as she leaves, Fletcher giving his body an affectionately dismissive pat — he continues to go wild on his own, posing, preening, flexing. “Viagra” is never sexist, and Del Rosario, a ball of energy with boyish charm, makes the scene sidesplitting.

Rebecca Wishnia recently earned her master’s degree in violin from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied with Roy Malan. A passionate chamber musician, she has performed in a variety of ensembles around the Bay Area, in addition to studying and teaching chamber repertoire at festivals each summer.


Here Now Dance Collective presents THIS IS DEDICATED…
JUNE 21-23, FRI – SAT 8pm, & SUN 7pm at CounterPULSE

This Is Dedicated… Here Now Dance Collective’s new dance theater performance game with rules, a referee, a winner, and lots of losers, featuring a projected set design and a live DJ. Partnering with other not-for-profit organizations in the community, HNDC finds more purpose for dance in our society.

Premiering at CounterPULSE Theater June 21-23: 2013, THIS IS DEDICATED…utilizes the structure of a professional sports games, offering four 20-minute quarters complete with a half-time show and team mascot. Inspired by themes from WWI era dance- marathons and sports culture, the dance game appropriates what is successful and exploits the negative spectacle of the two particular phenomenons. Specifically, the structure of the work revolves around multiple movement games each with their own projection environment and rules of play. These “playing cards” embody a variety of qualities, aesthetics, and statements. Each time the game is played/ the piece is performed, the order is unknown to the dancer players. A three surface projected set design by Hannah Ireland dictates, through randomization, which game within the game will be played and in what order. Guest dancer Kelly Del Rasario from The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, plays the referee character calling each dancer out of the game when a mistake is made or a rule is violated. For the sound score, live DJ, Jordan Akerley spins various tracks from a variety of genres onstage, further contributing to the chance element of the performance. During the show, HNDC invites their audience to request songs that the DJ will incorporate into each quarter set.

As the structural frame and launching place for This is Dedicated… is sports and WWI dance-marathons, the work includes a competitive edge. HNDC found fuel and purpose in pairing with three Bay Area non-profits of the dancers’ choosing: Larkin St. Youth Services, The Vasculitis Foundation and The Friends of Alemany Farm. Inspired by the desire to win support and visibility for their charity, each dancer is positioned to push themselves physically and competitively to win. Every minute the dancer players are able to stay in the game, and not be called “out” by the referee, they earn money for their chosen charity. Pledges have been collected ranging from $1-5 for every minute a dancer player dances.For the live performances, audience members will have the opportunity to “bet” their ticket money on a dancer, knowing that the ticket proceeds will go toward the non-profit for which the dancer is representing/dancing/playing for.

“It is my observation that sports plays a huge role in our society – it serves as an immediate bond when strangers share the same favorite team, causes riots, funnels aggression, distracts, and for some people it is their theater and the stadiums are often full. I never participated in sports events or activities, but after the Giants won the world series and I witnessed my own community get so immersed in it all, I could resists examining what sports does well and what I still have qualms about…”

- Michelle Fletcher, Director of Here Now Dance Collective

HNDC Mission

We are Here Now. Our bodies sing your stories. We are humans fishing for humans. Acknowledging the fast pace of our society and embracing the impermanence of life, HNDC feels the urgency. There is no time to be passive, to sit in a dark theater and wait for our audience. We are bringing our dances to you. Taking our cue from counter culture and the guerrilla art movement, we hit the streets and leave our hearts on the grass, beside a building, near a stream, on a sidewalk, splattered on the pavement.

Michelle Fletcher founded HNDC in 2008. Based in San Francisco, CA, Here Now Dance Collective originated as a simple gathering of friends and performers. Together they collaborate in a playful, disciplined way. Each project has its own aesthetic, and with this freedom the group creates immersing, often charmingly awkward, drama’turgical environments. HNDC’ creative work is rooted in the performance of contemporary dance, but not exempt from video, multimedia, full-length installations, and post-modern environments/landscapes. Since HNDC’s inception, the company has produced 3 evening length works, participated in over 30 curated theater/gallery performances, danced in a variety of festivals, and reached over 100,000 people throughout the United States and world-wide with their dance for camera short films.

Here Now Dance Collective is currently comprised of 4 dancers: Michelle Kinny, Michelle Fletcher, Sarah Gould, Caitlin Hafer. Each dancer brings with them a strong contemporary dance training/technical ability and specialities that include circus skills, singing, acting, film making, choreography, acrosports, painting, and writing.

Michelle Fletcher lives in San Francisco, participating fully in the SF art community as a choreographer, director, mentor and writer. Fletcher works with multi-discipline artists as a coach/director and teaches at The Garage in San Francisco – home to cutting edge artists. Fletcher founded Here Now Dance Collective in 2008 and consistently creates new work with the company. Widely recognized for her installation, multi-media, post- modern experiments that remain personal to the human experience. Her company (Here Now Dance Collective) is engaged to perform in venues across the country and internationally. Fletcher has received prestigious awards including The Zellerbach Family Foundation Grant and a Margaret Jenkins’ Dance Lab CHIME Grant. Fletcher received her BFA from North Carolina School of the Arts and her MFA from Florida State University.

WHAT: THIS IS DEDICATED… a dance theater game with rules, a referee, a winner, and lots of losers featuring a projected set design and a live DJ. Partner with other not-for-profit organizations in the community and find more purpose for dance in our society.

WHO: Here Now Dance Collective under the direction of Michelle Fletcher

WHEN: JUNE 21-23, FRI – SAT 8pm, & SUN 7pm, 2013

WHERE: CounterPULSE Theater
1310 Mission Street and 9th Street
San Francisco, 94103

COST: $15-$100 – Sliding Scale
Tickets available for purchase at
*When checking in at box office, you will have the opportunity to “place a bet”/ dictate (anonymously) which dancer and their chosen charitable organization you would like your ticket money to go toward. The ticket fee is a sliding scale so that you can choose at what level you would like to support this project.

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HNDC dancer Caitlin Hafer_photo by Matt Lewis

Full Castsmaller

HNDC dancer Sarah Gould_photo by Matt Lewis

HNDC dancer Michelle Kinny_Photo by Matt Lewis