‘Erasing Time’ dances through dreamscapes

Erasing Time_Robbie Sweeney_Courtesy
Robbie Sweeney/Courtesy

Entering choreographer Sara Shelton Mann’s durational retrospective at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, “Erasing Time,” was much like entering a serene and vibrant dreamscape. Mann’s almost five-hour long “play within a play within,” which took place Dec. 4 and 5, delved into time and shattered the concept of a show as something to simply clap or stare at.

There was no propped up stage — the crowd sat in a circle around the performance space, some on the floor and some on chairs. On the left side, an enormous, rectangular block of dripping ice hoisted by rope served as a reminder of the frailty of time. Large, pink flowers ruptured through the core of the ice, sticking through to the other side. Center stage, two giant drop-down projectors were used throughout the evening to show various footage. Toward the back of the audience, three people persistently produced music by typing on typewriters.

“Erasing Time” spanned through decades — the retrospective included performances from as early as 1988 to as recent as 2013, with several dancers and performers in tow.

Mann, a past Guggenheim Fellow and six-time Isadora Duncan Awards winner, is more interested in subverting traditional dance and instead dipping the body into the limits of performance and theatricality. Her focus is on impressionistic gestures of the body and voice. Throughout the three-part performance, Mann sat in a corner with a microphone, ready to interrupt at any moment. Her presence and careful eyes fractured any suspension of belief.

Centerpiece “Mira I – Satin Dress” featured performer Keith Hennessy dressed in a red, strapless satin dress and a bowler hat. The performance consisted of Hennessy walking around on stage, extending a long whip and reciting lines from a 1990 performance. “Prisons and guns. Poverty. Cameras everywhere. Picture your worst headline: war, lynching, encroaching fascism. This text was written in 1990. … Maybe nothing has changed at all?” The pertinent words became redundant toward the end of the piece, but it allowed for the audience’s hypnotic immersion. His words, and therefore his mouth, served as the main tool of expression.

Another piece that continued to explore the realm and limits of performance was simply titled “Tiny memories from 20 different pieces over 30 years.” No intermissions or pauses marked the different performances, all incorporating different shades of beauty, pace and comedy.

Three dancers moved gracefully, in total control of their bodies. These dancers moved slowly and displayed restraint with every swift motion. Suddenly, seven dancers entered the space and began to chant in unison, all while stomping in a line. The first three dancers remained focused as a collective, reacting to their mutual physicalities rather than the frenzy of the chanting dancers.  

The third and final part of “Erasing Time” included the exceptional “Hybrid 2/C and Peter” by Jessie Hewit and Christine Bonansea. The piece commented on the nature of improvisation and performance — it was unclear whether Mann was directing this in the moment and how much the performers had rehearsed. Bonansea smeared her face with white makeup and then rubbed her face with a white feather boa. Mann instructed her to “cluck like a chicken” while Rutherford’s band provided chicken noises. Hewit, in boxer briefs and a tank top, sang Solange’s “Losing You,” developing from near inaudible utterances to an operatic falsetto. Suddenly, Mann yelled, “Death scene!” and Hewit stabbed himself with his hand and directed Bonansea to sit beside him.

“Erasing Time” placed more importance on the variance and diversity of rhythms and tones, from the musicality of banging on pots to the use of words and whips, rather than attempting to construct a cohesive, one-note production. From beginning to end, the vivacious and captivating retrospective engaged with all sources of creation.

Contact Ariana Vargas at [email protected].

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