Posts Tagged ‘Sailing Away’

“Sailing Away” with Joanna Haigood

June 23, 2013
Amara Tabor-Smith is launching her epic, moving tribute to Ed Mock today! Which reminded me of this 2012 work of Joanna Haigood’s that I responded to but never posted. So here it is. See you on the street! And my next blog will no doubt be for Amara!
17 Reasons Sign

17 REASONS Sign

Walking down 17th Street from Dolores toward South Van Ness in San Francisco, I can still see the great 17 REASONS sign that framed that passage for over 70 years. It’s been gone since May 2002, yet its presence still reverberates for me as I travel my usual mission routes toward various dance and theater events. The memory of a place echoes into landscapes even long ago transformed, rebuilt, excavated.

Memories of my toddler daughter return vividly as I walk past Dolores Park. The retired treacherous high swings and metal apparatus atop the bare ground are visible to me even through the beautifully renovated playground, equipped with state of the art flooring and safety features. We watched our children on those archaic climbing structures with fervent prayers and futile outstretched arms as they risked their lives in innocent play.

What happens to the old landscapes and all that they witnessed? Pieces of life lived in the old footprint seem to speak through new edifices like juxtaposed and simultaneous realities.

The house in which I raised my daughter was recently demolished. It will soon be replaced by a multi-use high rise with a whole foods market on the ground floor. I imagine the foundation to contain the remains of our beloved cat, Pablo and my daughter’s various plastic animals that were ceremoniously buried in the little patch of ground we called a back yard.

Photograph of "Sailing Away"

Photograph of “Sailing Away”

I was thinking about these things as I walked down Market Street today from Powell to Battery with Joanna Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Theatre in their powerful moving tableau-performance event, Sailing Away. The historical, site specific piece tells the story of eight prominent African Americans who lived and worked near Market Street during the mid-nineteenth century and of the events leading up to the mass exodus of African Americans from San Francisco in 1858.

I’ve watched Haigood’s work develop over 25 years. Her current statuesque profile holds the image for me of her lithe young body floating and flying among various aerial apparati, creating mesmerizing visual illusions and dramatic, even breath-taking imagery. I have long considered her performances to be at least as much visual exhibition as theatrical performance. She has become fluent, even eloquent in her ability to capture an entire short story in a few spare images. She is queen of the spare, striking, and eloquent existing inside the grand, passionate, and daring.

In a culture of rapid-fire, high impact, multi-layered aesthetic norms, Zaccho’s rich, spacious performances are a welcomed respite, allowing us to move toward her images, inside them, to enjoy the architectural as well as the characterological. Far from throwing a bunch of dance movement at an idea, Haigood allows the nuanced, carefully and mindfully selected dance elements to grow simply and subtly out of stillness, out of human interaction, out of the city-scape.

Walking alongside and amongst the performers as they silently moved from one historic site to the next, I felt as I always do but seldom stop to consider: I am living my current moment alongside all the ancestors that walked this same piece of land. I sense that they are near and among us, perhaps influencing us, inflecting our lives with traces of their own. This became an embodied, visible reality as the group of pedestrian viewers and passersby were cross currents, obstacles, and contrasting realities to the performers’ unfolding urban journey.

Sailing Away is a powerful and penetrating experiential journey of an art piece. It transports us to the living past. Much more gripping than being told about it, the images invite us to imagine ourselves there. How Haigood manages to make the simple swaying of bodies on the imagined ship transcend our stable stance into a sublime rather than clichéd moment is a mystery to me – but that she does. The superb performances of her cast (Bibene Byb Chanel, Antoine Hunter, Robert Henry Johnson, Jetta Martin, Shakiri, Raissa Simpson, Amara Tabor Smith, Travis Santell Rowland, and Matthew Wickett) skillfully maximize their startlingly beautiful and austere vocabulary into a stirring, disturbing, heart rending experience. I feel awakened and enlivened by it. I feel that I passed through the veil of time and got to live in those dual realities for 30 minutes. It was revelatory and surprisingly intimate. Thank you, Zaccho.

Watch excerpts of Sailing Away in the video below:

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