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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: pateldanceworks, fault lines, site-specific performance at Fort Funston, SF, May 19-20, 2023

Updated: May 24, 2023

We gather at the edge of the continent, at Fort Funston, atop two-hundred-foot-high oceanfront cliffs managed by the National Park Service. A decommissioned military base, the natural landscape bears the scars of batteries and look-out stations. This place once home to the Yelamu, the native peoples of San Francisco, sits astride California’s most significant geologic fault. It is the layering of these histories, both geologic and man-made, which drew movement artist Bhumi Patel to choose this location her latest piece, fault lines.

Emma Tome (near) Tessa Nebrida (far) along cliff at Fort Funston: Photo by David Herrera

Patel’s work is intriguing for all the ways it reimagines what dance can be. With fault lines, Patel offers a dance which is free of charge, in public space, travels between sites, is outside, thus subject to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, and uses vocalizations. As a friend noted, it explores questions, rather than providing perfect answers. The work is performed by some with a lifetime of dance training and others who are novices, and is not reliant on gender-norms. Rather than seeking to create an isolated and controlled environment, Patel and her collaborators embrace the inspiration, and some might say the participation, of the ravens, gulls, and pelicans.

With the grey-on-grey horizon as a backdrop, we surround a raised concrete rectangle left behind by the military. After the stage manager provides some framing remarks about the history of the land, performers Bhumi Patel and Elizabeth Sugawara stand face to face, feet firmly anchored, perhaps a foot apart. Gently a hip sways sideways, a shoulder falls back, a torso curves forward. A give-and-take is happening; not a mirroring, but an exchange of space, the way two geologic plates might interact along a fault line.

One’s hand hovers over the other’s outstretched palm, as if a magnetic field is maintaining the distance. The force overcome, a human kinship enters as tender touches progress to needful, grasping hugging. Sinking to knees, hands-in-hands, they rock and then literally roll, their long bodies connected by extended arms as they rotate from bellies to backs, a child’s game.

Companions, they lead us to a boardwalk. Placing our hands upon the round wooden railing, we feel a rapid vibration whose energy travels up our arms. Some among us bend an ear to the rail, seeking sound also. The earth is alive. It requires all our senses. The artists move us forward to the edge of a platform. Our faces meet a frigid wind which has traveled unobstructed for thousands of miles. Below us is a vast roiling sea.

Patel and Sugawara wend their way through the dune plants to the cliff’s edge below us. Their clothing rippling, their arms spread-wide, one imagines the rituals of the first peoples, whose connections to the ecosystem was cooperative rather than destructive.

Three others approach from the dunes. A neighboring tribe? Additional family? Arms scooping, crossing, rising in worshipful gestures they replace Patel and Sugawara who we see retreating into the distance. Pausing to pay their respects to the ocean, one rows, pulling clenched fists back to their right, and then their left. Sonic Composers, Sholeh Asgary and Rachel Austin, layer in the sounds of tinkling wind chimes and rumbling thunder.

Performer Emma Tome climbs atop a wooden piling, balancing on one foot. Casting an arm and leg out as counterbalances, they teeter there. A look-out, a masthead, or a wind gauge, we follow their distant gaze imagining the lands beyond the horizon.

Emma Tome performing in pateldanceworks 'fault lines' at Fort Funston; Photo by David Herrera

As we fade back taking seats along the benches lining the platform, Hannah Meleokaiao Ayasse, a force of wilderness or wildness, tumbles in limbs flying, her windblown hair Medea-like. A large eye adorns the back of her hand-dyed blue shirt (Costume Designer Iris Yirei Hu). The cast’s blue ensembles are each uniquely decorated, one with stars, another with olive-leaved garland, a third sports long appliqued arms, a quilted hug for that performer.

Ayasse, Tome and Tessa Nebrida form a communal circle. Austin and others sing tones creating a rhythm with others’ audible breathes. The sounds are tribal and expressive of effort, the pace and volume increases, until suddenly silence. Bodies carve through space.

Yearning for a distant future, Nebrida lunges toward the edge, her trailing arm grasped by her fellow-seekers who anchor her to the present place. The sound score reverberates from a multitude of directions, echoes of weeping or night birds.

Ayasse lays her body along the railing’s top, her belly bisected by the four-inch plank, limbs dangling on either side, arms floating in the cliff’s updraft like the hang-glider who launches nearby, connecting an ancestral home across the sea to a new home, a birthplace which lacks deep roots.

Balancing on their curved sits-bones, Tome contracts around their belly, knees bent. They make small adjustments with their arching arms to maintain their equilibrium.

The trio is joined by Patel, Sugawara and then singer Austin. Vocalizing a rising and falling tone, an original song begins shakily with a few; building in confidence and breadth, a round develops. They sing of ancestral calls, ocean bodies, alien bodies, unsung mother-tongues. Single file they walk along the earth’s edge, calling, caught between the ocean and the city. Their journey continues.

Patel has chosen her collaborators carefully, working in community with other queer and Asian performance artists, experimental composers, and a visual artist. Together they have brought form to and embodied her research and her investigation of her place, their place, in this place. We the lucky witnesses wander off taking fragments of the experience like seeds in the wind.

Review by Jen Norris, published May 23, 2023


Production Credits

pateldanceworks presents: fault line

A site specific performance at Fort Funston in San Francisco, California


Bhumi Patel, Creative Director and Performer

Sholeh Asgary, Sonic Composer

Rachel Austin, Sonic Composer

Hannah Meleokaiao Ayasse, Performer

Iris Yirei Hu, Costume Designer

Tessa Nebrida, Performer

Elizabeth Sugawara, Performer

Emma Tome, Performer

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