Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Sins Invalid"

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Photo courtesy of "Sins Invalid"

"Sins Invalid" - An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility
Z Space, San Francisco, CA
April 8, 2011

The 5th Annual Installment of "Sins Invalid" played to a packed house this past weekend at Z Space in San Francisco.  A comment on inclusion, diversity and visibility, Patricia Berne's interdisciplinary project was comprised of a dozen or so short vignettes.  Each meaningful, potent scene took a personal story and immersed it in theatrical elements: text, video, song, and dance.  Both the content and the artist performances were fantastic, but from a conceptual perspective, the use of dance in "Sins Invalid" was very confusing.

Each act contained a number of different movement sequences that were all scored by audio texts.  While the stories were both powerful and compelling, unfortunately, the dance was not an equal contributor.  Instead, its inherent possibilities were stripped away until it became a mere accompaniment; completely subservient to the text.  When text underscores dance, there is always a danger that the choreography will morph into a gestural story, and when that happens, the beauty and meaning that can be shown by the physical movement is diminished.  This is exactly what happened with "Sins Invalid" - the choreography was a very obvious physical interpretation of the words, teetering close to mime in some instances.  It (dance) was given no opportunity to say, offer or contribute to the narrative theme on its own.  The movement was not just heavily framed by the text, it was made invisible in favor of this other theatrical element.   For a work whose message was that of freedom, strength and visibility, this treatment of dance really struck me as strange.

There were a couple of other logistic elements that took away from the overall performance as well.  First, "Sins Invalid" started twenty minutes late on Friday night, with absolutely no explanation as to why or what was happening.  I admit that may be picky, but it is a real pet peeve of mine.  We had no idea whether there was a technical problem or if something else was going on backstage, and maybe we didn't really need to know the cause of the delay.  But, we did need some communication - someone to announce that the curtain was being held.  Second, during some very serious (and quiet) moments, we could hear the uproarious laughter rising from the comedy performance playing in one of Z Space's other stages.  Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha did an amazing job of keeping her composure during one of her very intimate monologues with this significant interruption.  One would hope that this distraction would have come to light during tech week and be dealt with.  


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