Keith Hennessy to Bring BEAR/SKIN to NYC, San Francisco & More

Keith Hennessy to Bring BEAR/SKIN to NYC, San Francisco & More

The almost legendary Keith Hennessy presents Bear/Skin, a dance-based performance engaging the intersection of art-making, ritual, modernism, and cultural appopriation. Bear/Skin has been in a state of episodic and intuitive development since 2013 and was presented during a work-in-progress preview in Fall 2014. Bear/Skin will have its World Premiere at American Realness in New York in 2015, followed by performances in San Francisco, Oakland, Zurich, and Toronto.

In his first new solo performance since the Bessie-award winning Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot...) which has toured internationally since 2008, dancer-choreographer Keith Hennessy uses dancing, singing, story telling, and magik to gather people for a ritualistic "moment" outside of daily life. The intimate and low-tech performance pretends to be informal and yet is motivated by grand spectacle and avant prayer. Bear/Skin is politically motivated by the tension between killer cops and virgin sacrifice, the racist failures of modernism, imaginal activism and plastic shamanism, and mental dis-ease as a socio-political situation. And yes, Bear/Skin is a dance.

Bear/Skin appropriates Nijinsky's choreography for Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) to consider Modernism's dependence on appropriations of the indigenous, folk, exotic, and "other" to ask questions about ritual, art, and sacrifice today. Hennessy says, "There will be a bear dance that has nothing to do with gay bears and everything to do with The Rite of Spring, teddy bears, the reconstruction of native/folk bear dances, action movies and virgin sacrifice, springtime in the northern hemisphere, the land I grew up on and where my parents are buried, the land I now live on and where my uncle and other relations have died... Come to heal or be healed or not."

The work circulates around a set of questions about healing, community, and change that have motivated Keith Hennessy's work since 1986 while making Religare with Sara Shelton Mann's Contraband in the violent ruins of the Gartland Pit (Valencia and 16th Street), the site of a landlord arson that resulted in the deaths of several elderly and disabled tenants. Keith is building on questions formed during Religare to consider: What material and social conditions enhance the potential for healing and social change in this post-industrial era?

Bear/Skin uses the basic tools of gathering, the technologies of bringing people together: story telling, vocal music, and body movement. Hennessy's current work explores the breakdowns of idea and narrative, of form and identity. Bear/Skin approaches storytelling through the influence of both ADHD (speed, distraction, lack of focus) and dementia (scrambled meaning, memory loss, drifting). Under these influences he weaves an incomplete tale with too many disparate threads including: Modernism's complicated relationship to racism and orientalism AND the personal and political economies of both suicide and torture AND the practice of ritual and the danced projections of primitive and animal AND the complicated making of home from settler, indigenous, and refugee perspectives. Bear/Skin is an autobiography and it is dance history. It is kid's play, therapy, ritual, trickery, and it is a dance unto death.

Photo by Robbie Sweeney