There is no such thing as a reliable witness.
To invest anything with our attention is to participate in its existence, and a performance is an exercise in attention.
Sometimes the world is a horror in its immensity, an incomprehensible assemblage of components so vast that in its manifold variegations it becomes indistinguishable from an equally interminable blank.
This partially explains the allure of the stage, a miniature territory that can be colonized by, or at least present the illusion of, a reassuring finitude of objects, feelings, and ideas.
These assumptions become null and void in those dances relocated to the outside, such as in Sara Shelton Mann’s The Eye of Horus, temporarily populating the expanse of Jessie Square at announced intervals during this and last week. It is a zone continuous with the city (the article being another illusion), in which the figure of the human is pathetically slight under the stark beat of the sun, just as immeasureable as the time before and after the purported time of the show, which never ends since all witnesses and passersby are also participants.
The primary sensation is the vastness of the air that separates us, against which the performers are given small tools to hail or interrupt it: chalk dust that billows and clouds through its volume, feathers, the tiny filaments of which rake apart the currents, hair and fingers, voices too small to reach even the walls that partially enclose the space, crying outsized claims about death, martyrdom, victimhood, or sobbing operatically while smearing a layer of white paint over the hills and valleys of the face. Also supernumerary pigeons, brought there by a dense scattering of seed, as good as trained when the deliberate pop of a balloon sends them flapping a lap and returning to feed, if it can be said that we could train creatures who do by instinct what we have not yet been able to achieve without the aid of machines.
The void is an invitation.
An unnamed man, thickly laminated with the grease and grime of persistent exposure, came into the space. He danced near the others and took two rolls down the steps. Later he stood by the wall, stripping off his pants and then his shirt, one at a time, then dressing again. When the piece ended, bordered by applause and the general dispersal of those who had made an occasion of intrusion, he stood by the benches, his belongings strewn out from a backpack. He put on another shirt, the yellow and orange kind worn by construction workers and crossing guards meant to alert vehicles to their presence.
Sometimes we only know we are present by the shadow on the ground indicating that some flesh or semblance has intercepted the light.
Dancers’ Group in association with Yerba Buena Gardens Festival presents The Eye of Horus, a new site-specific work by Sara Shelton Mann at 12:30pm April 24-May 3 at Jessie Square, 736 Mission Street, San Francisco.
(Photos by Irene Hsiao)