What would our lives, in San Francisco, in the United States, on Planet Earth, look like to beings from other planets? If your job was to give attendees of an annual planetary relocation conference tips and tricks for survival here, where would you start? Dance-theater artist Annie Kahane seeks to show us, with her new solo show: Meeting #7 at the Joe Goode Annex, part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival June 16 and 17,
In blond wig and accented English, Kahane, in the role of Conference Greeter, welcomes us, an audience of aliens. She indicates this meeting is part of a series of orientation sessions created by her employer Fantastic Orbit, whose logo is emblazoned emphatically across her hoodie and the walls. A short video helps us understand that we are presently on a “chunk of land” on the blue planet, Earth. Some of what we are taught will be relevant anywhere on the Planet other teachings are specific to this place. She leaves us seated in identical chairs arranged in two lines at right angles to each other as upbeat music plays.
After some moments Kahane re-enters as The Corporate Trainer. Sans wig, her dark shag cut frames her face. An orange logo sweatsuit has been replaced The Greeter’s green one. Full of energy she gushes in a buoyant patter, while adding a few fan kicks to keep us engaged. Before she can launch into her first topic, sunscreen, she makes a disclaimer to those attending from the Sun, that she means no disrespect when she speaks of its harmful rays. We giggle at the increasingly omnipresence of trigger warnings.
Survival here requires the use of sunscreen, but it’s more complicated than that. While sunshine can kill you, some sunscreens can also, as they contain harmful chemicals. Kahane engagingly answers unvoiced questions from her alien audience members, pausing and directing her attention to the questioner before launching into a glossy corporate approved answer.
How to know which product is safe? Two options: read the ingredients or price. The fewer ingredients, the higher the price, the safer the product. In singsong voice accompanied by a short pivoting hip and swinging head routine she teaches us to say “We pay for poison-free,” a phrase that returns during the discussion of store-bought vegetables or planting soil selection.
Annie Kahane performing in 'Meeting #7'
Kahane, the choreographer and dancer, has The Trainer lunging, swiveling, or standing with a leg extended sideways, during her presentation. These movements reinforce the emotional undercurrent of the statement in a non-threatening way. As The Trainer makes light of her adding caveats to her caveats, she rocks back and forth arms lifted in the who-is-to-say pose. As she explains the labeling of vegetables as organic (i.e., safe) or conventional (i.e., poisoned), she holds her foot awkwardly in a hand, while rotating on the one leg in order to address all the attendees.
The slides of deformed and seemingly phallically endowed root vegetables get huge laughs. Kahane uses humor to great effect, greasing the way for the digestion of the layers of ironies and uncomfortable realities with which we live.
The trainer persona uses a rhetorical question “Am I right? Am I right?” which she quickly answers with “I AM RIGHT,” as a type of punctuation. It keeps her on topic and away from personal danger zones, but as the aliens’ questions tread into contentious and vulnerable areas, this verbal tick disappears and the real person under the logo is exposed.
What if these sentient beings, come from places where the greater good is prioritized over individual freedom and wealth acquisition? To prepare her alien attendees for the likelihood that most will not be able to afford a “clean, dry place to live” and may be forced to scavenge for food and sleep on the streets, as many Americans already live, she screens a video. It features a person’s, dancer Zena Bibler’s, failed but relentless attempts to rest comfortably on a park bench specifically designed to be inhospitable for sleeping. In a moment of needed comic-relief the video includes “wearable solutions for hostile architecture,” a series of garments with oddly shaped foam block inserts, created by artist Sarah Ross.
When asked if she has a “clean, dry place to sleep,” The Trainer blanches. An emotional chord has been struck, and a personal boundary breached. How can one explain a world where there is plenty of space, where there is abundance for some and unforgivable scarcity for others? After veering wildly from the script and dragging us through some of America’s darkest realities The Trainer flees. We sit collectively with our discomfort. Her parting thought echoes in our minds: to make a new reality “one must be able to imagine it.”
Soon the walls fill with video animations created by Ethan Alesch with contributions from artificial intelligence. We see a slum being filled out and overtaken by flowers and plants. Kahane returns as herself or the trainer’s true self. In a white t-shirt and panties, she dances the changes she imagines. Turning toward a painterly Kincaid-esque park full of benches, she waves her arms to sending benches tumbling and replaces them with beds. With a pucker of her lips and a deep exhalation she floats a tent away from a crowded freeway-side encampment.
Annie Kahane performing in 'Meeting #7' with animation by Ethan Alesch
The oceans need her help also, but the task is daunting. The piece concludes with our heroine huddled in the corner under the sea, her destiny, and ours, uncertain. There are no easy answers to the social justice and climate catastrophes which plague us. Kahane’s approach to bring us together and suggest that our collective imagination is key to our salvation is a good one. Should Kahane decide to expand her eye-opening, entertaining and heartfelt seminar series, I am ready to attend Meeting #8 – Oligarchy and American Mythology, which The Trainer says addresses income inequality.
Review by Jen Norris, published June 18, 2023
Script, Choreography, Presentation Videos: Annie Kahane
Final animation sequence: Ethan Alesch with contributions from artificial intelligence
Technical Direction & Lighting design: Thomas Bowersox
Sunscreen Video Dancers: Emma-Rose Allen, Robbie Button, Amane Hirano, Kylee Miller
Bench Video Dancer & Co-Choreographer Zena Bibler
Sunscreen & Bench Video Music: Ben Thompson
Other Music credits: Samite – “Night Stories”; Jospeh Shabason – ‘Broken Hearted Kota’ (Suzanne Kraft Remix); Dominique
Dumont – “People on Sunday”