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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: At the Edge of Distance – BOXBLUR Aug 25, 2022

At the Edge of Distance, a presentation of BOXBLUR at San Francisco's Catharine Clark Gallery (CCG) on August 25, had an exhilarating and redemptive richness of ideas and a depth of artistic talent. The program featured new commissions from composer Shinji Eshima, and choreographers and dancers Adji Cissoko, and Michael Montgomery. They created a musical score and a dance performance in response to visual artwork of Ana Teresa Fernández and Arleene Correa Valencia. Screenings of several short dance films completed the artistic resonance of the evening.

Choreographers and performers Adji Cissoko and Michael Montgomery bow at conclusion of At the Edge of Distance, August 25 at Catherine Clark Gallery. Photo by Jen Norris

Originally from Mexico, immigrating at different times in their lives, Fernández’s and Valencia’s exhibits each explore issues of migration, borders, bodies, distance, and family separation. Their work is powerful in its own right, but with the offerings of music, dance, and film echoing and amplifying their themes, the audience experience is thrilling.

After a champagne reception, the audience was seated facing into two galleries bisected by a large concrete pillar and wall. In introductory remarks Clark told us that there would be times each of us couldn’t see all the dancing. She urged us to stay in our seats and notice the experience of being separated, of not knowing, as it is part of the experience of immigration.

The performance began with Fernández and Valencia atop a ladder ringing a temple bell that hung from the ceiling, the sound reminiscent of a warning-buoy through the fog. Dancer Montgomery entered to a trombone in tango rhythm. He arched toward the heavens, twirling on one leg, arms spread, enjoying a luxurious freedom. Cissoko crouched in the shadows with her flashlight focused on him.

A haunting cello and bass duet began. Cissoko rose straining to extend her reach as high as it would go and then clasped one hand over her mouth. Was she silencing herself? Or was a parent guiding her to safety while ensuring her silence?

The crowns of the two dancers’ heads connected, as if by magnetic attraction. They melted onto the cement floor, lying on their sides, one long body joined at the head. Their arms reached out toward the audience as they dragged themselves forward. Montgomery carried a child-like Cissoko, huddled in his arms, her head to his chest. He walked with effort into the other gallery space, where the duet was repeated. The repetition a reference to the many attempts and steps required to cross a border?

Dancers rocked torsos, with hands cupped at elbows, as if cradling babies. They ran in search of safety. Cissoko ascended the ladder and dangled over the audience. She slid down and became trapped surrounded by rungs. Montgomery rocked it back and forth. The ladder, part of Fernandez’s art exhibit, is constructed with a rocking chair’s base, so stability was difficult to find. Were they marooned at sea?

Returned to land, they collapsed at the pillar, hand in hand. Were they under a bridge? Beneath a freeway? Despite fatigue, they persevered. Cissoko swam desperately, five feet in the air, arms and legs outstretched, as she balanced on Montgomery’s shoulder. Later she lovingly carried him, as the bass thrummed like a heartbeat.

Our final image was of Montgomery exiting, reaching up and out with one arm while reaching down and back to clutch the hand of Cissoko as she scrambled behind in a low squat. A chime sounded. An echo of the bell in beginning, but higher and more hopeful.

Musicians Charles Chandler (bass) and Amos Yang (cello) prepare for performance. Photo by Jen Norris

Eshima’s score is beautiful and poetic. The cello and bass duet entitled Bariolage will stand well on its own. Cissoko and Montgomery proved to be powerful creators on top of being mesmerizing movers. Their responsiveness to the score, the displacement themes, and the visual content, enlarged meanings without being didactic.

After intermission, San Francisco Dance Film Festival presented five dance films selected to speak to issues of representation and belonging. As credits on the final film rolled, we remained in the dark. Some guests were handed blacklight flashlights as Arleene Correa Valencia described her textile work, in which she depicted adults and children in the act of immigrating. The outline of the children is sewn in glow-in-the-dark thread onto black material. The parents are created with a patchwork of fabrics that react to blacklight. In the manner in which border patrol catch migrants by using thermal technology, guests used their blacklight flashlights to reveal the families on a large banner. When the flashlights were turned off, and the room was still black, only the outlines of the children glowed; the parents had disappeared. Valencia shared with us how often children and parents are separated during immigration, not just by officials, but also when fathers go ahead to the US to find work before returning to get the family.

The audience was then encouraged to explore the gallery, where we discovered the entirety of Valencia’s exhibit entitled Aveces Quiero Llorar Porque Te Extraño, Pero Mi Mami Dice Que Estás Bien Y Pronto Estaremos Juntos Otra Vez | Sometimes I Want To Cry Because I Miss You, But My Mom Says That You’re Fine & That We’ll Soon Be Together Again. It is comprised of fifty-plus fabric-based works, many of them framed modest-size family portraits. I would definitely recommend a visit to the Catharine Clark Gallery to see the exhibitions which continue through September 3. The dance and music performance repeats only on August 27 (sold-out).

Review by Jen Norris August 26, 2022


At The Edge of Distance

Performances and Films in Response to

Work by Ana Teresa Fernández and Arleene Correa Valencia

Thursday, August 25, 2022 | 8:30 -10:30pm

A presentation of BOXBLUR at Catharine Clark Gallery and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival

Program details:

Shinji Eshima, composer of original commissioned score.

Adji Cissoko and Michael Montgomery, original commissioned choreography and dance performance.


Amos Yang (cello), Charles Chandler (bass) and Sam Schlosser (trombone).

Screening of curated dance films selected by Randall Heath, Executive Director of Dance Film SF:

Interconnected, dir. Benjamine Freemantle

EN LA TIERRA, dir. Gabriel Mata

WO, dir. Jiemin Yang

Interidad, dir. Melanie D’Andrea

Second Seed, dir. Baye & Asa

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