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Kim Epifano

"Mathematics of the Heart" & "By the Throat"

Dancers' Group Summer Dance Festival 2001
The Marsh, San Francisco, CA

June 29, 2001
By Karen Hildebrand


"I am an animal. I am the theory of relativity. I am Einstein’s daughter," says Krista DeNiro, from where she crouches in a leopard print, growling for Kim Epifano's new work, Mathematics of the Heart. For this piece, Epifano has chosen an odd marriage of science and circus, pairing discussions of string theory and the existence of a parallel universe with caged animals and clowns.

But Mathematics is a work-in-progress and it doesn’t yet show us much to support the idea (as stated in the program) that "genius and science collide with love and emotions in a mutually supportive relationship."

Dancers DeNiro, Epifano, and Julie Kane wear thrift-store jumpsuits circa 1975 with pastel negligees that flap like iridescent insect wings. Both Epifano and Kane were members of the former Contraband, and they carry a certain chaotic influence from that group into this work. Rugs are rolled and unrolled, sometimes taped down, sometimes scrunched up and hugged like a security blanket.

Five musicians in bowler hats play original compositions and venture occasionally into the dance space via a child's red Radio Flyer wagon, or clownishly chase a dancer while playing the violin. A saxophone player who can’t seem to move under her own volition is nudged and prodded to the front of the stage where she plays flat on her back.

The most successful parts of Mathematics are fun without being clownish. The piece opens with Epifano bending over a fan that blows her long hair and negligee in a swirl over and around her head. She's a mad scientist, Einstein's daughter, lip synching to a recorded text about the theory of relativity. "The only constant is the speed of light," says a female narrator. And the speed of the tape ever so slightly picks up and slows down, changing the pitch of her voice.

DeNiro and Kane each perform striking solos. Memorable is a vision of Kane washed in a diagonal of red light where she stretches sensuously on a rug. Her movement retains an arresting feline articulation even once she rises to her feet.

The final scene has Kane lying on the floor, tucked under a rug as if it were a bedsheet, while DeNiro sits in the wagon, and Epifano stands nearby. On perfect cue, all three run offstage in different directions where they wait several motionless beats, then swiftly return to their original positions. Then the lights go down. It’s a small yet satisfying surprise, like the pleasure of keeping a secret.

Epifano, though based in San Francisco, has led a traveling minstrel life the past few years, often making work on the road, then returning home to quickly produce a show. She's purposely unveiled Mathematics of the Heart at an early stage in order to invite her SF community into her creative process.

In addition to the conceptual challenge, Mathematics needs some work at a more basic level. At times the dancers seem to move just to be in motion, and I cast my vote for letting the musicians play music rather than dance. It’s a nice idea to integrate those elements, but the non-dancers look amateurish among trained movers. Mathematics will be performed again on September 15 in the alley at Leavenworth and Ellis, and will become part of a longer work scheduled to premiere in fall/winter 2002 at Theater Artaud.

Also included on this program was Epifano’s, By the Throat, performed by the North Carolina duo of Valerie Midget and Hilary Benedict.

The two women are cheerleaders for effective communication wearing short pleated kilts and sweater vests and shaking pom-pons. Their dance movements mimic the give and take of conversation as they accept one another’s weight, wrap an arm around a waist to get a leap off the ground, give a push to jumpstart a turn. And it’s all punctuated with lines of text and the audible expiration of breath.

Unlike the movement, the text is not dialogue, but rather a string of unanswered requests: "Please help me keep my mouth shut when I don’t know what I’m talking about," and, "We just want you to listen to us." The women sometimes speak for each other, "What she’s trying to say . . ." Grunts arise naturally from the physical effort, but also seem symbolic of the mental effort to express oneself with clarity.

By the Throat makes its point very directly—an excellent communications outcome, and fine for a short dance piece. But perhaps because the point is so obvious, Throat delivers less fulfillment than we hope to find in the ambitious metaphoric territory of Mathematics of the Heart, once it's completed.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.

 


 

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