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Flash Review 2, 7-13: Mann's Feast
Soul-Feasting with Shelton Mann
By Susan Maxwell
Copyright 2001 Susan Maxwell
SAN FRANCISCO -- Sara Shelton Mann
premiered "Feast of Souls," the second installation of her tripartite
Monk at the Met project in late June at the ODC Performance Gallery with a group
of eight dancer/performers and three musicians. "Feast of Souls" blended
live music, dancing, theater, three walls of slide projection and text. The piece,
which explored the transmigration of souls, interrogated the senses of the audience
through sheer onslaught and tenacity. It began, however, with the intimacy of
one musician downstage who played a haunting melody about acceptance of the appetite
which accompanies being in another body, in the endless rounds of birth and death.
The piece seemed structured on pushing
acrobatic movement to a pitch which punctured some unseen barrier, then flowed
into a calm and rather ritual moment, an emotional coalescing of sorts. Like the
moment when Mim Tewksbury bit the heads of white flowers and spat them out slyly
toward the audience. The most successful of these moments emerged as a flurry
of group movement resolved into two dancers being blindfolded. One of the blindfolded
began to step backward onto bricks laid under his feet just as his foot found
the floor, or balanced in the air waiting for said brick. Was this meant as punishment?
A sheer challenge of focus? Hard to say, but the rich ambiguity of the task became
an image of scarcity and relief, of the focus necessary, Mann seems to be saying,
to live. Some of the other moments read as thinner, perhaps because they lacked
the momentum and necessity of tasks or became metaphorical, a kind of device for
the dancing to pin its meaning on.
The dancing itself was stunning,
grounded, and extreme in urgency and risk. Mann's collaborative vocabulary looks
to be to one that aims to push it further. The dancers seemed caught inside the
crafted whirl of a dust devils, trying to find the vortex of the movement before
finding release from a particular phrase. So that which, isolated, would falter
into a trick (a stunning barrelish turn, face toward the audience) melded into
the next leap so organically that it seemed a natural demand. A demand of a body
at high speed with little hope for refuge or safety, so that all it can do is
risk everything again and again -- a tribute to the dancers' stamina and skill.
Here, where the demands of the movement itself generated its own emotional tenor,
visible on the performer's faces, the piece was most successful.
Less successful was some of the voiceover
text, particularly when it took on a sermonizing flavor or seemed undigested in
relation to what was actually happening onstage. An overarching concept such as
the cycling of birth and death, when it remains floating in the ether, risked
heavy-handedness. One yearned for a little less of "this is the way it happens
in the world" and a little more of "this is the way its happening for these people
onstage right now" A potent voiceover moment came, however, when Abby Crain sat
on stage changing clothes and the narrator intoned "there is no body, no sensation..."
mixed in and against what sounded like an African American man describing being
tied up and whipped. Were the two stories challenging one another? Was one a negation
of the other? Or an example? The abstract seemed to friction against the brutal
specifics of one person's life.
Some of the most piercing moments
in "Feast" were the inexplicable shifts into momentary stillness. Performers
suddenly stood stock still, gazing upward, oblivious to the frenzy around them.
Or the way Jose Navarrette stood, holding his pants bunched in his hands, in front
of the grim poetry of the slides behind him. The back wall showed a cemetery of
tidy white headstones, the picture shifting like the second hand of a clock counting
down while the side slides simultaneously showed coins falling relentlessly through
space. "Feast of Souls" was a tribute to the vision and perseverance
of seasoned performers and a choreographer who doesnât flinch at multiple collisions
of meaning and high speed collage.
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