‘Sol Niger’ sheds artistic light

“Sol Niger,” the latest from Keith Hennessy’s award-winning company Circo Zero, suggests that some things are better seen in obscure light. The piece, which means “black sun” in Latin and metaphorically refers to a solar eclipse, investigates current political realities through a series of multi-genre performances beginning today at Project Artaud Theatre.

The show is an amalgamation of sorts; one minute it’s an aerial circus spectacle complete with trapeze and rope artists, and the next it’s a haunting piece of contemporary dance set against moody, experimental music. The hybridization of the show, says Hennessy, supports the notion that there isn’t a single language that everyone understands. With that knowledge, Circo Zero constantly changes the way in which the performance is communicated.

“Sol Niger” was developed last year in Lyon, France — it was commissioned by Les Subsistances, Centre Choreographique and the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance — and was inspired in part by both Hennessy’s interest in the alchemical symbol of the black sun as well as the political discourse surrounding the war in Iraq. Hennessy, who grew up in a mining town in northern Canada and has long been one of San Francisco’s groundbreaking political artists and organizers, found that the more he researched the symbol of sol niger the more it became applicable to the political issues of war, terror, torture and justice.

“In alchemy the sol niger is a phase of going through darkness to get a different kind of information than you could get in the light,” he explains. “The idea is that some things are better seen in obscure light and some wisdom is only experienced in shadows. If you shine a light directly on it you’ll miss it. You have to be in an obscure light or a strange light in order to find what you’re looking for.”

While Circo Zero certainly addresses a number of contemporary political realities in “Sol Niger,” the company doesn’t actually speak directly to any one issue; performers infer or invoke a topic rather than explicitly make it known. And the same goes with the underlying message of the piece. Hennessy will be the first to admit that the performance is more about inspiration and provoking the imagination than about trying to get a single message across.

“It’s not my job to make a piece saying we should get out of Iraq; that would be much too simple of a sentence,” he says. “For me, the artist’s job and especially the artist working with alchemy is to work below and above what seems obvious. The job of the show is not a rhetorical device to convince the audience to be against the war; it’s much deeper than that.”

Sol Niger

Presented by Circo Zero

When: 8 p.m. today through Sunday and Sept. 26-29

Where: Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida St., San Francisco

Tickets: $25 (today and Wednesday, “pay what you wish”)

Contact: (415) 255-2500, www.brownpapertickets.com

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