Keith Hennessy on stage at the Annex. Photo by Lydia Chávez

The dancer-choreographer Keith Hennessy has been in the Bay Area for 30 years and I watched him perform for the first time Saturday night at the Annex when he pulled on a bear skin and addressed – among other things – Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring, racism, suicide and Shamanism. Action movies, he informed the audience, tie this all together. It may sound like a mess, but it isn’t.

At times the 60-minute plus West Coast premier of Bear/Skin presented by the Hennessy-founded Circo Zero is quite wonderful and at others just mysteriously captivating. Unless you’re dead, you’ll be moved by different parts of the performance and if you are into deconstructing a piece, it’s worth a few beers afterwards.

As he explains on Circo Zero’s web page Hennessy is appropriating “Nijinksy’s choreography for The Rite of Spring to explore the tensions between killer cops and virgin sacrifice, imaginary activism and plastic shamanism, modernism and cultural appropriation.”

The performance starts with a poem – read at a terrifying speed that is worth the price of admission. There is also a soulful dance in a bear’s skin to Patti Smith’s rendition of Neil Young’s “Helpless,” a movingly elemental dance in a Shaman’s thrift-store costume and an interpretation of a dance from Nijinksy’s Rite of Spring. If the latter got booed from the audience in 1913, there was nothing but applause for Hennessy.

Yes, he was in a like-minded experimental crowd of supporters, but there were also the uninitiated dropping in unaware from the street and we too joined in to celebrate the performance.  “We’re still here,” Hennessy said as he left the stage referring to the artists and performers who have managed to remain despite San Francisco’s escalating rents. What luck that is for the rest of us.

You can still see/experience it yourself tonight at 8:30 p.m. at the Annex at 401 Alabama. Or next weekend in Oakland.

Below you can watch the audience under space blankets while Hennessy makes a costume change. What can I say – it was fun and beautiful.

A guide for the audience. Photo by Lydia Chávez
A second guide for the Audience. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor at Berkeley’s J-school since 1990. My earlier career was at The New York Times working for the business, foreign and city desks. As an old...

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