An iconoclast who has performed to great acclaim and inspired others for decades
"When you've trained with Sara, and you've worked with Sara, your idea of dance really explodes," says Jesse Hewit. "You identify what your dance is in your body." Hewit explains the difference as distinct from a focus on mere technical perfection. "The dancing is crazy virtuosic," he notes, "but not virtuosic in the high-kick, pointed-toe sense; virtuosic in that it's infused with an intense energetic focus."
Shelton Mann celebrated her 70th birthday in December, and her work shows no signs of dimming. Even in the smaller, minimalist dances of recent months she proves riveting: a lovingly rowdy duet with Hewit at Z Space during the 2013 West Wave Dance Festival; a reading at Kunst-Stoff in January for Fresh Festival — delivering a slipstream rumination on time, decay, and memory in the body, the body social, the body politic. More recently still, she had a cameo during a comic-chaotic conversation about contemporary dance in Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Saul Garcia Lopez, and Esther Baker Tarpaga's Part 1: Dancing with Fear at Galería de la Raza.
In the last two years, Shelton Mann has been at work on a set of extraordinary solos, a series she calls The Eye of Leo. Each has been made on a different dancer, and each one thus far has premiered in the plain white box of the Joe Goode Annex.
In October 2012, the first, featuring Jorge De Hoyos, was a revelation. The limpidness of these works, their spare quality — in contrast to the exuberant sumptuousness of Contraband or even recent Shelton Mann work like 2011's Zeropoint, made with regular collaborator David Szlasa — combined with a quivering field of contact between dancer and choreographer, represents a powerful shift in focus.
The Leo series culminates outdoors and downtown this April, in a simultaneous unfolding she calls a "mandala of magic," The Eye of Horus. The project is more proof that Shelton Mann is working at the height of her powers. One of the country's supreme artists, she continues to evolve — moving more than the land she adopted back in 1979, and more sensitive to the tremors beneath our feet than a Richter scale.
"She's a very strong conduit now. A very strong conduit. I mean, I think she's a goddess," says Kathleen Hermesdorf, another Contraband veteran who has gone onto a formidable career of her own. "I can't help but deify her a bit. I can't pigeonhole her. She's still an iconoclast; she's still part of the avant-garde. And it still comes from so deep inside her."