Erika Chong Shuch's 'After All, Part 1'
Rachel Howard | Chronicle Dance Correspondent
| San Francisco Chronicle | September 14,2008
is rare in art, which is why a growing local following finds
Erika Chong Shuch's unclassifiable
dance/theater/music melanges so refreshing.
In "After All, Part 1," which premiered over the weekend
as part of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Bay Area Now
series, an adolescent girl sings a piercingly innocent lullaby
and a middle-aged man rocks out alone to Boston's "More
Than a Feeling." These images could have been sickeningly
sweet or cloyingly silly. But though Shuch speaks from the heart,
it is a heart all her own: tender but not treacly, sincere but
With her Bay Area Now commission,
Shuch - who usually stages her work at the tiny Intersection
for the Arts, where her Erika
Shuch Performance Project is a resident company - found herself
with a bigger canvas in the YBCA's wide-open forum. Her imagination
must have adapted to the spaciousness. Her ideas seemed to
find more room to breathe in "After All," a meditation on
apocalypse. "After All" is big and messy and beautiful
- and it is less enslaved, as her past work could sometimes be,
to a single constricting metaphor.
In the main story line (written by
playwright Michelle Carter), Beth Wilmurt played a goldfish tormented
by a chiming clock,
since goldfish have no capacity to retain memories longer than
three hours. We first meet the goldfish's owner - Shuch's theatrical
mentor Joe Goode, in an inimitably charismatic Joe Goode performance
- in an opening scene scripted by Shuch herself, in which Goode
recounts being haunted by a homeless man's words: "I'm ready." The
homeless man, who dresses as a scary, black-bearded Santa Claus,
is played by longtime Shuch collaborator Dwayne Calizo, a singer
with a fabulous operatic voice.
Shuch has a knack for attracting
gifted collaborators, and "After
All" boasts a spirited roster. Allen Willner and Daveen
DiGiacomo wrote "After All's" catchy songs, reminiscent
of the 1950s, memorably delivered with Calizo and Goode shoop-shooping
like Motown backups. Another acclaimed local playwright, Philip
Kan Gotanda, also contributed to the script. A quartet of terrific
dancers threads through, with co-choreography credited to Melanie
But most important among "After All's" great mass of
humanity is a crowd of 30 ordinary people, tall and short, young
and old, prepubescent and pregnant.
Dressed in white upon a stage of
white oblivion, they drag each other's bodies and clutch at childish
objects like a rocking
horse, terrorized by the inevitability of death. Dancing in
formation like some Busby Berkeley extravaganza, they chase a
preacher, Matthias Bossi, to the forefront of their spectacle;
but as everyone stares in desperate hope for salvation, he
has nothing to say.
When the preacher finally does speak,
delivering a sermon by Octavio Solis titled "The Last Psalm," it's a tour
de force, a parody of fundamentalist hellfire that slides into
a chilling damnation of human destruction. "Let us pray,
let us pray, let us pray," Bossi repeats, and we're no longer
snickering at him, we're about to get on our knees.
My one disappointment with "After All, Part 1" - and
this is perhaps not a small one - is that it didn't let that
chill linger, didn't make us squirm longer after all that had
led to that devastating moment. But this is testament to the
greater depth of emotional impact "After All" earns.
The next installment of "After All" will premiere next
year at Intersection for the Arts. I doubt many who caught Part
1 will miss it.