Circo Zero Sol Niger (2006) Review

Choregraphy: Keith Hennessy

Mondavi Studio Theatre

Davis, CA

February 15-25, 2007

A crowd of college students and parents didn’t know quite what to make of Sol Niger , a vibrant and theatrically daring new work by Keith Hennessy and his Circo Zero performance company, which began life in France, and ended-up not in Hennessy’s stomping grounds, San Francisco, but in a student concert at the University of California, Davis. But then, Hennessy is a student, one of the many mid-career performing artists heading back to the Academy for advanced degrees, and, hopefully, employment, after fighting the good fight as grant-hunting, project-to-project, subsistence-level artists for years.

Hennessy left the Bay Area (after nine years in the groundbreaking company, Contraband) to spend four years as a state-supported circus/theatre artist in France from ‘98-02 (Cahin-caha, cique bâtard). He then returned to San Francisco to start his own people’s circus, a place where theatre, politics, vaudeville, gender, and acrobatics were fused into a bastard art form that left good old modern dance looking boring, very last century. As the Europeans have shown, the “New Circus” can be a place for new ideas. It can also be pretentious and empty. There is no such risk in the hands of a body intellectual like Hennesy (who always works in collaboration with his performers ). Circo Zero’s, Sol Niger is charming, funny, quirky, disturbing and, frequently, to use an old-fashioned word, beautiful.

“Let us speak of eclipses,” says one of the performers in the energetic opening. Sol Niger refers to the black sun of an eclipse, but here, as another performer quips, “every gesture is symbolic” and “some things are better evident in obscure light.” From the moment the performers, Hennesy, Sean Feit, Emily Leap. Seth Eisen, and Brett Womack, parade around the stage in fake-furry coats, and then engage themselves in a whirlwind of slapstick, dance, eery music, ethereal acrobatics and down-right weird performance (projections on bare butts, ironing baby dolls, stabbing a cake) the evening proceeds in ways that never, for an instant, look tired and predictable.

Europeans used to come to the States to study with Cunningham and Graham. Now the Americans are heading to Europe to check out what’s new. Hennessy, with his new academic credentials, is poised to do much more for American dance than get a job at a university and teach. The more financial security that is bestowed upon an artist like Hennessy, the more risks he is likely to take. That’s a good thing. Watch out UC-Wherever.

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Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."