Published on December 20th, 2012 | by Alicia Coombes0
Feature: Your Body Is Not A Shark
Choreographer Cid Pearlman and her collaborators don’t see limitations as being negative. Pearlman and three other women — Denise Leto (poet), Maya Barsacq (musical director) and Joan Jeanraud (composer/cello) — recently came together to create Your Body is Not a Shark, a performance piece that combines dance, live music and sound collage. The piece plays off of their insistance that limitations can be generative, bringing forth empowerment and instigating change.
All four have used their personal limitations to strengthen their art. Jeanraud muses that she would not have become a composer if not for her Multiple Sclerosis, while Leto’s speaking difficulties (due to Laryngeal Dystonia) helped her poetry break out of the typical podium-bound readings, connecting the art form back to an oral tradition.
“It is important to highlight that fact that disability can be generative and transformative but also a lived, painful experience that needs to be seen and encountered realistically and not just as a moment of inspiration for the able-bodied.”
Your Body is Not a Shark sprang out of Barsacq approaching Pearlman and Jeanraud with ideas about aging, disability and silence.
“These ideas were very provocative to us,” Pearlman said. “Though the piece is not about disability, it addresses issues about limitations and physical difference as central to the process of generation.”
“I think it’s also looking at where limitation brings forth empowerment and inspires people,” Barsacq added. “It’s about moving beyond the limitations and looking at how challenges can bring forth power and instigate change.”
The women began their collaboration by sharing their work with each other to spark creative inspiration. Leto read some of her poetry and the words from one of her pieces resonated so much with the group that they decided they would use them as the title for their performance piece. Leto then wrote six pieces to integrate with Jeanraud’s music and Pearlman’s choreography. Using the form of the poems as a guide, Pearlman kept the choreography within the boundaries of each piece. Jeanraud then recorded Leto reading her own words. To prepare, Leto listened to Jeanraud’s music for hours.
“This meant that as I wrote I had as vibration and somatic context a force that entered the work in terms of rhythm, inspiration, modality,” Leto said.
In addition to recorded poetry, the piece integrates nine live musicians as well as six dancers, ranging in age from 18 to 63.
“I’m interested in living in a complicated world,” Pearlman said. “I’ve been researching how gender operates onstage — the heteronormative narrative (a man and woman onstage tells the story of ‘boy meets girl’) — so I’ve been investigating ways in which we can tell other stories, stories about people who are different ages, races, gender, class. Working on Shark seems like a natural extension of this.”
Pearlman’s dancers do not all fall into the typical dancer’s athletic, young “virtuosic body” narrative. Shark‘s oldest dancer can roll on the floor with everyone else, but she might take a little longer to get back up. This limitation, like all of those incorporated into Shark, serves as an inspiration for creation rather than a problem to be solved by hiring a younger dancer.
“These dancers represent a picture of the world that I’m interested in living in,” Pearlman said.
Unifying all of these limitations, the women embraced the idea of “the stutter and the stumble.” This idea reappears throughout the piece, from Barsacq conducting a string orchestra (the conductor must be a half-second ahead of the strings) to guiding the choreography away from lifts that might have previously been incorporated into the same dancer’s repertoire. On the surface, the “stutter and stumble” seems like setting oneself up for failure at performance time; but this very element is what makes the group’s work extraordinary.
Your Body is Not a Shark is a multidisciplinary dance-performance piece playing January 11-13 at ODC Theater in San Francisco. For more information, visit cidpearlman.org/shark.