From left, El Beh, Christopher W. White and Michael Mohammed in "Monkey Gone to Heaven"
From left, El Beh, Christopher W. White and Michael Mohammed in "Monkey Gone to Heaven"
© Photo by Lydia Daniller

“Monkey Gone to Heaven”

EmSpace Dance: Erin Mei-Ling Stuart

CounterPulse, San Francisco

Sept. 13-15, 19-22, 2013

“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how that the light gets in.”

In her September 2013 article for In Dance, choreographer Erin Mei-Ling Stuart quotes the Leonard Cohen lyric. She suggests this line motivates her “to try to slip in between space.” Or, in the case of her latest work, “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” to put two subjects next to one another and make a space.” Here, the two things are primates and prayer.

As dance-theater it works well. It is clever, amusing, well performed and provocative. Stuart and dramaturg Marilee Talkington have created a text that is both spoken and sung (and sometimes screamed) that illustrates but also questions the continuum between basic animal behavior and the need to pray. With the excellent commitment of her cast, El Beh, Jennifer Chien, Kat Cole, Michael Mohammed, Rowena Richie and Christoper W. White, the sequence of scenes becomes logical and suddenly very important. White was particularly effective with the use of his voice. Throughout we ask: how do we connect our animal selves to a need to pray?

One line that came through loud and clear was “submit without being diminished.” From birth to the nursing home this work implies, we seek something else even while we revel in our love of bananas, bodily contact and play.  The various small gestures of hands, mouth and heads alternate with slow-motion dance movement and keep the questions and possible responses clearly presented. Especially evocative are the many prayer gestures, as hands move from mouth to head to heart.

Stuart credits  Robert Sapolsky as the auther of ‘ideas and words from “A Primate’s Memoir,” which was the initial inspiration for the primate part of the piece. Others contributed stories about prayer.

Technical assistance, all very well accomplished, was provided by Erik Pearson (original music), Allen Willner, (lighting and set design), Sonsheree Giles (costume design), Alex Rosemarin (patron apes artwork) and Katy Adcox (stage manager.)

Once again, Stuart has accomplished an original work of dance-theater.  She states in her article that “we’ve made enough cracks for the light to get in.” And “Monkey Goes to Heaven” shined many dimensions of light.

San Francisco, CA
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.