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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Sara Shelton Mann7 Excavations / at the edge of the shore and the edge of the world

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

7 Excavations / at the edge of the shore and the edge of the world, offered for one-night only, took place at sunset on the summer solstice, in and around Fort Mason’s Gallery 308. The event, which had a pre-show, a show, a second show and a post-show, began before many attendees were fully conscious it was underway. Sara Shelton Mann, revered San-Francisco choreographer, poet and teacher, the evening’s creator, implored patrons to explore the spaces fully and “not get tied to a chair.”

In an exterior courtyard a dancer tip-toed along a painted line, lifting a foot, playing with balance, her orange shirt aglow in the sunlight. In the gallery a black and white film filled a wall with side-by-side images. Phrases on the left played opposite videos of humans and landscapes on the right. A sequence shot at close range of Mann twirling a metal drinking straw stayed with me. Spinning turned out to be a recurring device throughout the evening. As the film completed its second loop the pre-show came to an end.

Mann opened the scrim shades of the window-lined warehouse space, causing the room to instantly fill with bright peachy light. Microphone in hand, she counseled us to slow down, to be present, to set our intention. In a corner, a violinist, a percussionist and an audio engineer created the sound score for the evening. They played live over recorded tracks of vocals, instrumentals and narratives, supporting each new movement section perfectly.

Eight dancers entered wearing loose street clothes, moving introspectively within their unique improvisational score. Jazzy violin with light percussion grew into a deeper, louder African beat. As the music built, the range and pace of the dancing increased. Interestingly the visual accents were found in the momentary stillness of a performer rather than in larger gestures.

As the music ebbed and a rainstick pattered, a series of duets and solos unfolded. Some memorable moments: Ainsley Tharp and jose e abad leaned into each other, palm to palm creating trust. Abad then lifted Tharp over their shoulder her legs akimbo, the balance tenuous as they carried her. They switched places. Tharp drooped as Abad lay across her arms like a pieta; the exertion clear on her face as she carried them off.

Ellie Gouldie-Averil held Gizeh Muñiz Vengel by the waist, tipped like a tea kettle, as she spun her around and around, before they skipped off hand-in-hand. As a lone drum swelled Gabriel Christian, on unsteady feet, convulsed with each impact as if struck in the chest.

The beginning of the “second show” was announced. Jesse Zaritt sat on a square metal barstool. Mann stood in front of him, microphone and script in hand. Zaritt with hands on either side of the seat, pushed up with straight arms, lifting his body off the stool. He read the script urging us to make sure we could see, that we were actually observing. His arms shook and his brow sweat. Periodically the effort to remain hovering overwhelmed and he dropped onto the seat, stopping the story midsentence until he gathered his strength to balance on his arms once more and resume his narrative. His final words being see with your whole body.

The stool monologue flowed into a lyrical dance in which Zaritt performed alone his long-limbed extensions and statuesque balances filling the space. Mann joined him, gentling guiding his limbs as a voice described the history and precariousness of the ground beneath us. Clarissa Dyas and Christian entered spinning; arms spread wide. They spun until they fell to the floor all spun-out a metaphor perhaps for the ways we exhaust ourselves.

Mann took the mic a final time, inviting us to the post-show, asking us to “send prayers for the generations to come.” The film began again, the sun set behind the Golden Gate, one performer resumed their improvisation inside, while others built an altar of flowers and chalked wishes in the courtyard. A patron couple swayed to the vibe, blurring the line between performer and viewer. As the orange glow faded from the sky, we each made our own adventure and if Mann’s wish came true, we set an intention for ourselves beyond this moment.

Digital program here.

Sara Shelton Mann’s 7 Excavations / at the edge of the shore and the edge of the world

Performed June 21, 2022 8:00 p.m. Gallery 308, San Francisco, CA

Performers: Jesse Zaritt, jose e abad, Gabriel Christian, Abby Crain, Clarissa Dyas, Ellie Goudie-Averil, Gizeh Muñiz Vengel, Ainsley Tharp

Film: Tori Lawrence

Music: Miles Lassi

Sound Design: Ira Echo

Production Design: James Fleming

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