Get physical

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Tuesday December 11, 2012
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"Your magic donkey needs more sparkle."

While that's probably not a typical critique one might expect to hear at a dance rehearsal, for choreographer Sebastian Grubb, typical is not an applicable term. Whether he's training clients with a multi-platform workout or precariously perching on the armrest of a fellow dancer's wheelchair, the compact yet powerfully athletic dancer has made his mark on the Bay Area dance scene since arriving from Washington in 2008.

Workout!, Grubb's new full-length dance, varies between sincere, intense, and a whimsical examination of physical fitness and what he called "a critique of over-achievement." The blend of gym, yoga, rope-jumping and physique pose-downs creates a busy, entertaining exploration of how and why people push themselves to their physical limits.

"The world of exercise already includes all these vocabularies," said Grubb after a recent open rehearsal at South of Market's Margaret Jenkins Dance Studio. "I want to make a dance where you don't feel like there's a gap between a workout and a dance."

Before showing the work-in-progress to a few colleagues, Grubb reviewed the pacing of repeating moves with his six dancers that ranged from jumps, bends, yoga plank stances and other familiar-looking movements that, when altered by his choreography, provide a differing perspective on bodies in motion.

While there are some witty moments in the work, Grubb said parody is not his goal. "I want to present it as the serious pursuit that it is for countless people. But there is humor in the piece. Taken out of context, these very serious disciplines can look totally bizarre. The difficulty of even doing these movements requires that the dancers be serious about it."

Serious movements reshape when adjusted through repetition and Grubb's choreographic take on something as simple as jumping rope or doing push-ups. In other moments, the dancers take on self-conscious poses and introspective looks.

"So many people have unhealthy relationships with their bodies," said Grubb. "That's a given. You could read that into the piece, and we certainly show what happens if someone is focused almost to the point of obsession. That's part of it. I'm interested in what it means to be exceptionally fit without being obsessive."

Sebastian Grubb (left) and Joel Brown in The Narrowing.

(Photo: Elizabeth Vienneau)

Along with training clients in alternative forms of workouts, with a sidebar focus on nutrition, Grubb performed with Scott Wells Dance, whose repertory also includes a physical and fun aspect to movement. Before that, Grubb, 28, studied dance in a nontraditional program at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

"I definitely follow the school of thought that any movement can be used as dance movement," he said. "That's different than saying all movement is dance. My advantage to attending a non-dance school is that I've had a wildly varied dance background, so I don't have to fit into a specific aesthetic, or a vocabulary."

Since 2009, Grubb has also performed with the Oakland-based AXIS Dance Company, the innovative physically integrated ensemble. Grubb recently performed his duet The Narrowing with new company member Joel Brown on the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. This was the second appearance by company members on that program; a different male-female duet was performed in 2011. Other works by Grubb can be seen on his website

Along with the premiere of Workout!, Grubb and Brown will perform The Narrowing for his two-night concert at CounterPulse, Dec. 14 & 15. Dance fans will be in for a fascinating blend of physical achievement and choreographic exploration.

"I want my work to be exciting, have moments of extreme beauty, and be wonderfully athletic," said Grubb. "Instead of saying, 'Here's a style that I do. How am I going to make another piece in that style?,' I try to make work that's specific to the dancers, when we're making it. That's the locus."


Workout! plays at CounterPulse Dec. 14 & 15, 8 p.m. 1310 Mission St.