The Human Theater

By Lisa Sandoval

Review of Sidra Bell’s “Radiance and Polarity.” Presented by Robert Moses’ Kin. Dancers: Crystaldawn Bell, Norma Fong, Josie Garthwaite Sadan and Katherine Wells. Performed at ODC Theater in San Francisco’s Mission district sometime in 2015 or 2016.

Gentle Glances

Moving figures, talking, laughing. Clean, honey-colored room; floor, walls precise. A matronly woman in a black dress glides through, a slip of fabric around her shoulders, expression a bit severe. Is she alone? Friends chat. We’re gathering, waiting for the door to the auditorium to open. Most casually, with trips to the bathroom, and pairs of women or men at the white square tables around the corner, deeply involved in sharing their lives. Light makes the whole space vast.

The door opens and we funnel down the hall, open and disperse, climb amongst the seats. I have already chosen my vantage point from the front row, stage left, level with the dancers. Now to wait. A few more audience members join; conversations strike up among friends. Robert Moses, the artistic director of the troupe, and a woman I don’t know are both seen walking rapidly across the stage to the stage door and back. The matronly lady sails around the corner and ascends to somewhere in the back.

Lights dim and the darkness comes down around us: hush, people. Robert Moses steps to the front and speeds through his introduction, describes a small change to the program so quickly no one gets it, I think, except me who’s here for the second time. He retreats.

Pause of an empty stage.

A blue glow rises from the stage as the lights dim.

Birth of New Life

From blackness a spot of light springs on dancer Norma Fong, who shakes and vibrates as though in some kind of seizure. Then black.

Light upstage. She melts, softly exploring joints - hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders - movement wet like water. Then a sudden burst of energy and she swings around. A scream pierces the air.

Three other dancers join her and in a circle they hold hands, gaze at each other, creating connection, softness. Bam! They break off with hiccups, gyrations and sinewy progressions of movement through the body, sharp stops and gentle explorations.

I see harm and trauma, gentleness and vulnerability. The human body laid bare in its reality of living, delicate organism, infinite capabilities for movement and experience, life and death. An experience beyond words: drama of contrast and discovery, from vivid and harsh in one moment to soft and intimate in the next. From complex to simple. Cells alive, trembling. Beings on the edge of conventional concept of movement and human capability, beyond the scope of normal understanding: underground amoeba, primeval, fragmented, gone beyond, far beyond. In fire and pulsation, the mechanical, melting, crying range of lived human experience, tender and exposed, at the mercy of the harsh world. Humankind laid bare, shocking and real.

The evening continues with a progression of other pieces, equally striking.

I slip out at the end and walk home, alone. I do not see the matronly lady.