The Performant: Shrouds Illuminated at the LAB and Garage


Nicole Gluckstern reports on the Bay Area arts and culture scene

It sounds a little strange, but I’ve been thinking about shrouds. Not in a morbid way, just in the practical sense. Mostly I wonder what kind of material gets used. Movie mummy shrouds always seem to be made of cheesecloth, but that strikes me as a little flimsy for a swaddled delivery into the afterlife. Actually, speaking of swaddling, doesn’t it seem a little curious that babies and corpses should be wrapped so similarly -- at least in the days before they invented the Tickle-Me-Elmo onesie?

But back to the shrouds. I’m sure they’re on my mind because of the Illuminated Forest exhibit at The LAB, part of this summer's Soundwave festival. I walked in and these great swaths of white tulle were draped, floor to ceiling in front of the entryway and all around the exhibit hall, separating each small nook from the next cranny, and providing screenage for video projections of forest color and form. Occasionally someone would get lost in the layers and have to flail their way out again. But the ghostly silhouettes of gallery-goers flowed smoothly, for the most part, like physical embodiments of the trickling water field recordings provided by Ben Bracken and Agnes Szelag.

Hiding behind one curtain/shroud/swaddle - a parade of turtle-like sculptures with rippling clam-shell bodies (Vaughn Bell); behind another --a Dr. Seuss-ian grove of calico trees and cuddly corduroy stones (Suzanne Husky). Oh to curl up on this forest floor and take a nap! Behind another curtain, some people were sneaking in, if not naps, then at least a bit of down time, watching a film clip of body as landscape while a nearby video installation shrouded within a hand-crafted nest screened the intrepid adventures of a burrowing mole (San Easterson).

Saturday, the theme remained intact. I walked into the Garage for Dark Porch Theatre’s “Comedy Ballet,” and a white curtain was hanging across the stage. While the curtain didn’t last long, death remained an almost constant presence onstage, as the assembled company riffed on Dia de Los Muertos, crematory ashes, Mesoamerican mythology, human sacrifice, and a journey to the underworld, as well as job insecurity, betrayal, bizarre sex fetishes, and other trauma

Margery Fairchild’s dance choreography, more comedy than ballet, brought a welcome leavening of slapstick to the action, and in particular to the menacing trio of “intrepid gentlemen” (Anjeli Jana, Matthew von MeeZee, Bryce Charley). Nathan Tucker’s out-of-work, off-his-nut, alcohol-soaked Foreplay embodied the term “blowhard” in the most bombastic sense of the word. And a deadpan Amy Seimetz as an increasingly frazzled interviewer for some unnamed project or research facility kept the metaphysical conundrums from over-powering the fun.

Slated for a November run at the EXIT Theatre, it’s easy to see this quirky square peg of a show fitting more smoothly into the traditional Halloween-tide niche, but the attentive crowd at the Garage didn’t seem to mind the head start. As for me, I’m sorry to report that despite the abundance of funereal themes, not a single shroud was featured in “Comedy Ballet”—but some fetching silver lame swaddling is, which pretty much made up for it.

Illuminated Forest at the LAB through August 7
Wed-Sat, 1 p.m.-6 p.m.
2948 16th St, SF
(415) 864-8855
"Comedy Ballet" at the Garage through July 18
8 p.m.
975 Howard, SF
(415) 518-1517

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