The Language of Art

Is it dance? Is it theater? No, it's the S.F. International Arts Festival.

Is it dance? Is it theater? Is it even in English? All are valid inquiries if you plan to attend the second San Francisco International Arts Festival, which is three weeks long and boasts some of the edgiest and most varied creative fare from across the globe.

First, let's talk about decapitation. It's not a typical theme for dance, but it does make a compelling visual subject. Russian dance company Do Theatre presents Nonsense, a piece about a fictional Russian composer who dreams that he has lost his head and had it replaced by that of famed composer Joseph Haydn. (The real-life Haydn died in 1809, after which his head was removed from his body so that his brain could be probed for signs of genius; sadly, it was stolen before the dissection took place.) Nonsense, co-created with Shinichi Momo Koga of the local theater company inkBoat, is performed using the intense, almost brutal, physicality of Russian Modernist dance.

If that's not, uh, heady enough for you, the United Kingdom's contribution to the festival is a solo piece by Ana Sanchez-Colberg of Theater enCorps that gives new meaning to the expression “What's in a name?” Titled Inside Heiner's Mind, the show is inspired by 19th-century East German dramatist Heiner Muller's controversial play Explosion of a Memory. In Inside Sanchez-Colberg investigates Muller's nameless female protagonist by assigning the character the persona of three fictitious Annas: Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Chekhov's Anna Sergeyevna, and Sanchez-Colberg's own An(n)a.

Germany also steps up to the plate with Fabrik Companie's Pandora 88, an evening-length duet that breaks the confines of theater, dance, and outer space all at once, yet still focuses on a theme of confinement. The performers are limited to 1.5 square meters of floor space, within which they experience light, darkness, prison, home, and other circumscribed states of living and being. The idea is that imagination and concentration are better cultivated when the body is confined (which should be good news for those of us chained daily inside cubicles).

San Francisco's Nanos Operetta performs bits from its original work Till the Sun Dries Our Eyes, which follows the story of a soldier condemned for saving a lamb from becoming chops. Also, a series of short films on dance is slated for screenings in a program curated by Charlotte Shoemaker. One such film, David Hinton and Rosemary Lee's Snow, is created entirely of found 1940s footage of people interacting with the chilly white substance. Finally, the festival highlights a slew of Bay Area artists, from Kim Epifano and Krissy Keefer to Sara Shelton Mann and Erika Shuch — because some of the spunkiest performers on the planet are right here in our own backyard.

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