Tag Archives: Maya Barsacq

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.

Cid Pearlman: Your Body Is Not A Shark

Laurie says:

My daughter Cid has been working in collaboration with the composer and musician Joan Jeanrenaud and the poet Denise Leto on a major work.  It’s called Your Body Is Not A Shark.  I saw the first section last month at Looking Left in Santa Cruz and it really knocked me out.

I’m always impressed with Cid’s work.  And the way that this dance/collaboration centers on a conversation about the body and it’s fragility and limits, and the powerful possibilities within those limits and its universality is illuminating.  I’ve seen portions of the project both in video, rehearsal and performance and it is going to be her very best work.

One of the things I particularly appreciate about the work is that her superb dancers’ ages vary from 18 to 62.

This is Cid with the dancers performing, and talking and showing the process of developing the work at TEDX in Santa Cruz.

In 2010, Maya Barsacq approached Cid Pearlman and Joan to talk about collaborating with her orchestra. Out of these conversations came Your Body is Not a Shark. Choreographed by Cid Pearlman with an original score composed and performed by Joan Jeanrenaud, text by poet Denise Leto, and musical direction by Maya Barsacq, Your Body is Not a Shark is an investigation into the inevitable fragility of the human body.


We have been working on this project for two years and the world premiere will take place at ODC Theater in San Francisco in January of 2013, followed by performances in Santa Cruz at Motion at the Mill.
The Project

At some point in our lives, we each will experience a lack of physical capacity or a diminishing of social presence. This may come on quickly or over time, but it will come. Using “the stutter and the stumble” as inspiration for movement, sound, and poetic research, Your Body is Not a Shark asks the questions: What happens when we stumble, when our words won’t come out, when the body stutters? How can music, movement, and language evoke a broken wholeness?

In Jeanrenaud’s case, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1998 prompted her to leave the Kronos Quartet with which she had played for 20 years; but, she says, it’s also what “empowered” her to become a composer. For Leto, the onset of laryngeal dystonia – a neurological condition that impairs the vocal chords – has been a source of artistic exploration leading to new ways of experimenting with the sound and shape of her poetry.

The Process

This is complex content to work with and the collaborating artists are committed to a rigorous process of investigation. Denise is writing six original texts for Shark. Each of the performance’s sections engages with a different poetic form – Tanka, Sestina, Sound Poem, Oulipo, and Pantoum.  Joan and Cid are using Denise’s writing as scaffolding for meaning making, and the process has been fascinating so far, shifting the dance and music into new and exhilarating forms. Cid Pearlman Projects

They’re raising the final funds to produce Your Body Is Not A Shark on USA Projects.  They’re not quite halfway to their goal with only 3 weeks to go.

On that site, Cid and Joan are talking about developing the work and expressing the emotions in these issues and the fragility of all our lives.  It’s really worth listening to for it’s own sake.