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Mann's ECHO/Riding the Rapids Falls Short Where it Counts

by Joanna G. Harris
October 12, 2018
ODC Theater
3153 17th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9834
Sarah Shelton Mann has been a San Francisco dance innovator since 1979 when she launched Contraband, a performance group.

She says in the program notes for her latest work at the ODC Theater that ran October 11-13, “With ECHO/Riding the Rapids, I’ve been interested to explore the relationship between sonic-spatial dimensions, internal and external…” and also, “For props we’re using feathers, flowers and baking soda. Why? Because they are echoes of my own inspiration.”

Over fifty years ago the Judson Dance Theater in NYC (which included several SF dancers) launched a series of improvisational events and "happenings."
Most of the group were trained modern dancers, many taking classes with Merce Cunningham. No matter how “far out” the work was, there was some order, organization, focus and humor. And although having some similarities in approach to Judson, I found none of these in ECHO/Riding the Rapids. The performers, Anya Cloud, Jesse Zaritt, Abby Crain and Jesse Hewit are all skilled in their unique, personal movement vocabulary. Of these Cloud was outstanding in her stage presence, finding greater generosity in projecting her moves. When accompanied by composer/performer Pamela Z, the two found even further depth of projection and feeling. Less effective, Zaritt's performance was burdened by two poles and Crain seemed overly distraught.

The burden of the work initially fell on Hewitt. Mann seemed intrigued with him, yet after a long solo, I found his work grew less and less interesting and more and more repetitious with the use of a continual series of twists and falls. His dynamics rarely changed. There was a moment he shared with Cloud, when they made arm contact but otherwise Hewitt was a total soloist. At the end of the evening however, Mann and he had an incomplete conversation mentioning "control" and hinting at wanting to be loved.

Mann is to be admired for this complex, very personal work since it involved Pamela Z’s interesting scores, four soloists, many props and excellent lighting by Grisel GG Torres.

This old dancer, writer, choreographer, as well as some audience members expressed the need for design, focus, organization and yes, choreography. The impact of a dance event comes from the structure it brings as well as the dancers’ skills. A dance floor full of discarded "stuff" does not satisfy that requirement.

Mann and her group are talented and skilled. Instead of "riding the rapids" in their works perhaps in future they will slow down and grace the waves.
Anya Cloud, left, and Jesse Zaritt in Sara Shelton Mann's 'ECHO/Riding the Rapids.'

Anya Cloud, left, and Jesse Zaritt in Sara Shelton Mann's "ECHO/Riding the Rapids."

Photo © & courtesy of Robbie Sweeny

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