Erika Shuch stretches
to tell macabre tale
Rachel Howard | Special to The Chronicle
| SF Chronicle | April 2004
Erika Shuch is just 29, but her raw
and intuitive form of dance theater has cried out for a larger
audience since she settled
in San Francisco in 2000. Now with the Thursday-night opening
of the Erika Shuch Performance Project's fourth full-evening
work, running three weeks at Intersection for the Arts, Shuch
has the platform to find a wider fan base and a show that deserves
great word of mouth.
All You Need" has an air of youthfulness, with its rollicking
live music, fresh-faced performers and quirkily episodic sensibility.
If the wry tone sometimes recalls the radio show "This American
Life," Shuch herself claims it as a primary influence.
This is precociously mature work.
In 2002, Shuch eerily captured our post- Sept. 11, 2001, reality
in a wordless scene involving
a stack of suitcases, a crossbow, an apple and a Johnny Cash
song. "All You Need" does not carry the same degree
of chilling urgency, but it's a high-energy, challenging and
often insightful display of Shuch's gift for provocative imagery.
The inspiration is macabre. Earlier
this year, Shuch came across the true story of a German cannibal, "M," who advertised
on the Internet for a "well- built man for slaughter." Reportedly
more than 400 people volunteered, and the leading candidate ended
up in M's refrigerator -- and stomach. Rowena Richie briefly
plays the murderer who, when her victim pleads, "I want
you to eat me, " coolly replies, "I'll get some utensils."
Sweeney Todd" redux this isn't; Shuch uses the metaphor
of consumption to investigate all forms of desire. Jesse Howell
and Jennifer Chien retread the "eat me" exchange as
a tentative sexual proposition: "It's gonna hurt. ... It's
not safe," they warn. An ensemble dance to the old standard "All
of Me" takes on sinister shadings with the lines "take
my lips ... take my arms." Love appears ultimately a matter
of consensual pain and unsatisfied appetites as Howell roams
the stage like a rabid dog, begging, "Do you trust me?"
Shuch can turn the mood of a scene
like throwing a light switch. When the ensemble sings in angelic
harmony, it's as stirring
as a Baptist hymn. A few moments later, the atmosphere is as
edgy as the power tools buzzing in the background while Melanie
Elms embraces, then body-slams, the poet/actress Victoria McNichol
Kelly (who also contributes a poem to the work). But the imagery
is more tightly constrained than in Shuch's previous efforts,
and one wishes she would have given her imagination the usual
More impressive than the development
of the theme is the multidisciplinary form Shuch is steadily
forging. Her five singer-actor- dancers
are somehow superbly ordinary; the music, sung by virtuoso
Dwayne Calizo, is fully integrated; and Sean Riley's clever set
lighting and Ishan Vernallis' video never seem like window
The obvious comparison is to the
veteran Joe Goode, but he is different altogether, posturing
where Shuch is pedestrian, polished
where she is ragged. Goode tends to deal in characters; Shuch
may be more purely image-driven. The point is that Goode
built his own visual logic. Shuch is rapidly doing the same,
the pictures in her head are all her own.
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