For the last decade four baseball players have been staring at me as I sit at my computer. They never say anything, but their presence is uncanny. I first encountered them in a downtown office building where I was working. Every time I walked into that sterile lobby, they looked at me. There was something about those burning eyes, open smiles, and striped uniforms that made these players look more like skeletons than athletes. I couldn't ignore them, so I took them home.
A couple years ago choreographer Kim Epifano became similarly hooked on Fears of Your Life, a book about the dreads and anxieties that haunt our days and invade our nights. It was written by Michael Bernard Loggins, who just like baseball-player painter Vernon Streeter is an artist at Creativity Explored, a nonprofit that helps adults with developmental disabilities make, show, and sell their art.
Epifano proceeded to create a dance theater piece inspired by Loggins's little red book. At the time, she had gone back to grad school and was full of her own anxieties. She asked the mixed-ability AXIS Dance Company to collaborate with her, figuring that "Michael has one kind of disability, and some AXIS dancers have [others]." She also realized that "many of Michael's fears are also my fears everyone's fears. The overlap is astonishing." Fears of Your Life became Epifano's MA dissertation at UC Davis in 2006; the piece "was just such a lovely way to bring my academic and my professional life together."
At the first stage rehearsal in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, site of the piece's three performances Feb.2325, large puppets (by sculptor Mike Stasiuk) sat at the edge of the stage waiting to join the show, as did clunky white shoes covered in writing, including a letter to Epifano.
Performers executed wheelies or spread on the floor like puddles; technicians hooked up cables for the boom box; dancer Katie Faulkner tuned her guitar; and Stephanie Bastos worked on her beatbox moves while coaching narrator C. Derrick Jones on his Portuguese. The atmosphere was one of relaxed attentiveness as the performers acclimated to the new environment. But then the fears begin to splatter in words and movements: fear of hospitals and needles, black cats, schools and dentists, spiders and monsters, cars at intersections, and strangers. And then there is "the fear of taking your own life away from yourself," demonstrated by Jones making a protective tent out of his raincoat.
The most moving sections of Loggins's litany offer insights into what it means to be different in this society. He talks of his fear of the bus going too fast, being exposed to ridicule from strangers, and "people being just mean to him," Epifano says. "He gets pulled over by the police all the time because they think he is some kind of weirdo." Has Loggins come to any rehearsals? "He sure has, all the time," Epifano says. "He made us change one thing. He won't let us say 'shit,' so now we say 'aw shucks.' " (Rita Felciano)
FEARS OF YOUR LIFE
Fri/23Sat/24, 8 p.m.; Sun/25, 2 p.m.; $21$25
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum
701 Mission, SF