San Francisco contemporary troupe ODC/Dance, which often presents works addressing issues of everyday lives, offers five such pieces, including three premieres in two programs in upcoming “Dance Downtown” performances.  

On March 27 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Program A kicks off with the premiere of ODC/Dance founder and artistic director Brenda Way’s “A Brief History of Up and Down,” a dance about the pleasure of dancing together that summarizes the company’s 55-year history.

“I decided to take the initial impulses that we were working with in the ’60s, which is the beauty of everybody, of how walking can be an attractive and individual movement, how that became running, how that became dancing, and how we evolved to an idea about virtuosity,” Way says.

Way characterizes the work as “real people, really dancing,” which comes from an observation dance writer Marcia Siegel made in the early 1970s when she saw the company dance for the first time: “It encapsulated the idea that we were celebrating the quotidian beauty of people in motion, but we could also move back into a more recognizable, more full-out virtuosic dancing style,” Way says.

The work is set to music by middle Baroque Austrian composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer that Way says suits the company’s “pluralistic impulse.”

“I’m particularly fond of Baroque music because it keeps roiling, coming back and going up,” Way says. “It doesn’t have that clear arc of a classical piece, like by Mozart, that builds and ends, and I like that a lot and it’s related to our sense of perpetual motion.”

“Inkwell,” a premiere by ODC/Dance Associate Choreographer and Director of Schools Kimi Okada also on Program A, is inspired by Max Fleischer animation from the 1920-30s. Set to early jazz music by Raymond Scott and Django Reinhardt, it includes elements of physical comedy, vaudeville and early cinema, but its subject is quite serious: the power of demagogues over people and the path from seduction to indoctrination.

Though Okada created “Inkwell” due to her strong interest in old cartoons, her approach to the work was unavoidably guided by the time we are living in, according to Way.

KT Nelson, creator of ODC holiday season favorite “The Velveteen Rabbit,” choreographed 2015’s “Dead Reckoning,” on both Dance Downtown programs. Set to a commissioned score by former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, the dance calls attention to how humans have contributed to climate change yet are slow to notice it due to its incremental progress.

In raising consciousness over the issue of climate change, “Dead Reckoning” exemplifies the power of art as communication. Way says, “Sometimes we get tired of the words — we’ve heard them many times — so when these messages come in a different form it can alert us and activate us in a different way.”

Program B opens with the premiere of “goutte par goutte” (“drop by drop”) by Sonya Delwaide, a Canadian choreographer who has made some 80 dances in a three-decade career. It’s about how people become themselves through lived experiences— in a process of many small sips along the way.

“The events of lives come together to become who we are at any given moment and they don’t have to be huge things, they can be little influences, impacts and moments,” Way says. “So ‘goutte par goutte’ is a really good title for it because it means, ‘What are the moments that really make up a person and a personality?’”

Set to a contemporary score by Jarby McCoy called “Rien ne me suffit plus” (“Nothing satisfies me anymore”) and songs from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw’s “Evergreen,” the dance invites audiences to consider hard choices about what to keep and what to let disappear, or, as Way puts it, “What matters to us and what doesn’t.”

Cora Cliburn and Brandon Private Freeman dance in “Collision, Collapse and a Coda.” (Courtesy Robbie Sweeny)

Program B also includes Way’s 2023 “Collision, Collapse and a Coda.” Set to a varied score by composers ranging from David Lang to Chopin, it deals with the steady drumbeat of often unappealing news events and how personal relationships help sustain people through the barrage.

“When I made that piece last year I was so overwhelmed by the daily news and despair of the wars, and bad behavior of individuals and corporations, that I felt I didn’t have it in me to make a piece,” Way says. “And all the dancers said, ‘No, no, you have to respond to the times.’ So that piece came out of their pressure, really, to respond and take hold of our humanity in the face of all that.”

ODC/Dance’s “Dance Downtown” runs March 27-31 at the Blue Shield of California Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco. Program A is at 7:30 p.m. March 27, 8 p.m. March 29 and 5 p.m. March 31. Program B is at 7:30 p.m. March 28 and March 30. Tickets are $34-$104 at (415) 863-9834 or