Your Body Is Not A Shark

Laurie says:

I’ve watched my  daughter Cid working intensely on this dance collaboration for the last year.   The article I’m quoting from SFArts is a superb conversation about Your Body is Not a Shark, disability, art and the way limits can lead to brilliant work.  Read the whole piece. (Article is on the red bar on the left.)

The world premiere of an evening-length dance performance, “Your Body Is Not a Shark,” by choreographer Cid Pearlman, opens at ODC Theater in the Mission {San Francisco}…Pearlman’s six dancers (ages 18 to 63) embody a series of new poems by Denise Leto. Cellist Joan Jeanrenaud composed the sound collage, which she performs. [The musical direction is by Maya Barsacq.]



How do artists continue to create when required to adapt to a radically changing body? That was the question that a handful of Bay Area women, each highly accomplished in her respective field, set out to explore in a multidisciplinary collaboration.

…Pearlman says, “I find poetry provocative and inspiring and it pushes my work in a lot of different directions. You can create abstract narratives that [evoke] sensation, emotion and visual pictures.”

She was particularly interested in how Leto brought her neurological condition, laryngeal dystonia, into her work. Diagnosed in 1993, Leto–who has been writing poetry since grade school–had to learn to articulate with a voice disorder that causes spasms of the larynx. She was accustomed to performing her own work, but the condition makes speech difficult, unpredictable and at times painful. (The condition can cause pain elsewhere in the body as well.)

As for her writing process: The work became more fragmented–the lines became shorter and more staccato, the rhythm became non-discursive, without an easily identifiable beginning, middle and end. Her poetry is more experimental now, and it includes themes and subjects that directly speak to issues of disability.

The dystonia created a framework for her,” observes Pearlman. “She’s a mature artist who knows her form well. There’s so much in there, so much sensitivity, intelligence, wisdom and complication.”

…In choreographing “Shark,” Pearlman responded to both the content and the poetic structure; Leto included, with the poems, an explanatory text to guide the choreographer and dancers. For example, in one section, written in the Japanese tanka form, Leto notes that the lines imply stops, continuation, etc.: “Keep going, but not as fast.” Pearlman worked to embody Leto’s directions as well as the imagery generated by the words, sometimes image by image, sometimes word by word. “It’s shifted how I make dances,” she says. “It forces me to break apart my structure and rebuild it in a different way.”

Before the actual work began, the artists met to talk extensively. Leto and Jeanrenaud found many similarities in the paths their artistic lives were taking despite their different disciplines and different disabilities. Jeanrenaud had her first episode of multiple sclerosis–an inflammatory disease that affects the brain and spinal cord–in 1996. After 20 years performing with the Kronos Quartet, she could no longer lug her cello around on the touring circuit, and that led to composing, which, she says, she’d never have started without the impetus of her new condition. Since then she has composed more than 50 pieces for cello and small ensembles.

…”Shark” is not a narrative about the heroic body in difference, or about perseverance, Pearlman emphasizes. Rather, it’s an exploration of how limitations constrain and yet allow new possibilities to arise. Says Leto, “It’s focused on the larger issue of the fragility of the human body in general, and aging. What happens when the body stumbles or stutters … [It’s about] moving through the world in difference and creating work from that rather than from the presumption of ability, of the able-bodied universe.”

As for the mysterious title: It comes from one of Leto’s poems and, says Pearlman, means different things to different people:

“Your hands, your lips, your aural torso bring a quiet down upon us

with her fingers on the strings that tell you:

the body of your body is not a shark.”


Your Body is Not a Shark at ODC Theater, San Francisco (January 11-13)

Your Body is Not a Shark at Motion at the Mill, Santa Cruz (January 17-20)

I’ll be at ODC and Motion at the Mill.  If it’s your neighborhood, I’ll hope to see you there.