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Flash Review, 1-30: "Einstein's Daughters"
Epifano's Theory

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Ts’ao

SAN FRANCISCO -- I am undoubtedly the "wrong" critic to have seen Kim Epifano's latest dance theater production, "Einstein's Daughters" which was performed at San Francisco's Cowell Theater the past two weekends (Jan 17-26). As the daughter of a research scientist who became an avid amateur painter and photographer and ran two art galleries after he retired from academia, I grew up in both the scientific and artistic worlds and continue to have an unabated passion for both. I still take a daily dance class and have a shelf of books on physics, including several by and about Einstein, as well as the love letters between him and his first wife Mileva Maric.

Ostensibly inspired by the life of Maric (maybe a better title would have been "Einstein's Wife" or "Mileva's Daughter[s]), Epifano never quite manages to pull the piece together, though there are many beautiful moments and elements. In the program notes she writes: "...Sally Davis and I were hiking...,talking about our lives as artists and the peculiar kinds of intelligence this requires. Sally cracked a joke about the two of us being a couple of geniuses, calling us 'Einstein's daughters.' We laughed and I said, 'What a great title for a show!' Then we wondered if Einstein ever had a daughter." Yes, it makes a catchy title, great for marketing purposes, but it fails to be more than that, especially since Epifano wanted to show how Maric never fully realized her intellectual potential, and how she and Einstein had a girl, Leiserl, out of wedlock, of whom no trace has been found, though she is presumed to have been adopted. Epifano writes of this child, "In a way she represents the infinite and unknown possibility that is within each of us at birth."

Perhaps I am merely disappointed by Epifano's unfulfilled intentions. Again, quoting from the program notes, "Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein have taken me on a journey during the past 18 months. Their passion for math and science led me into textbooks, biographies, physics, history -- and as I read, my appreciation for the depth of their genius continued to grow. My own understanding also deepened -- of warp and curvature, time, gravity, energy and light. My relationship to space began to shift. I could see heat as a gesture, use light as a character, model magnetism or gravity with motion. The connection between creative and scientific imaginations began to resonate and challenged me to examine my own potential as a thinker and artist." Had Epifano been able to translate this understanding into actual choreography, or at the very least, combine staging with text that was more than cliches, I would have been satisfied beyond belief. Unfortunately, I never felt she delved deeply enough into the themes she supposedly set out to explore.

At times the piece seems to be a showcase for Epifano's myriad of talents -- singing, accordion playing, dancing, aerial work -- but without the narrative line that insures each performance mode means something within the context of everything else, unintentionally demonstrating Brownian motion and/or chaos theory. I often wonder exactly what her role is supposed to be as she never makes it clear, either through the structure itself or her interpretation. On the other hand, I am very impressed with the musicians/composers Kate Regan and Sally Davis, whose work often overshadows the choreography, and Elaine Buckholtz's lighting and video projection, which adds immeasurably to the piece.

Frederika Keefer, daughter of Krissy, delivers a gutsy performance, despite only being eleven years old, fearlessly flying around the stage both on the ground and suspended in the air. (Recently in the middle of the flack about not being accepted at the San Francisco Ballet School, Keefer should consider herself lucky not training there. She can find better teachers and a far greater variety of other movement skills elsewhere and obviously proves it here.) The real revelation is Sri Louise, who makes time slow down when she dances with a sensuality and precision that are spellbinding. As Mileva, she brings meaning, in contrast to the meandering. She shines in a solo and then a duet with Epifano and finally in a section using a child's table and chair, she and Keefer show her frustration and despair with domestic life and child rearing.

And as a throwaway, I say, it's all relative. From some people's point of view "Einstein's Daughters" is exciting and successful, and from others' frames of reference, it hasn't caught up with itself.

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