Sadly, Zaccho Dance Theatre’s searing multimedia installation “Between me & the other world” — inspired by scholar and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois’ 1903 treatise “The Souls of Black Folk” — is a timely commentary on the state of race relations.
Onstage in free performances this weekend at the theater’s Bayview studio, the piece by Zaccho co-founder and veteran choreographer Joanna Haigood — collaborating with composer Anthony Brown and designers David Szlasa and Sean Riley — evokes some joy, but mostly the frustrations, pain and sorrow of injustices suffered and sustained by African Americans throughout history.
Dancers Frankie Lee III, Lydia Clinton, Clarissa Dyas and Delvis Friñon powerfully portray the nameless characters in the four-section piece, which is staged in the center of the performance space. Patrons are encouraged to walk around to view the show — both the live-action and historical and contemporary videos projected on scrims — from varied angles.
Performers move the panels to define a new scene for each segment. In the first, “I Am,” Duke Ellington’s lively jazz accompanies the athletic dancers as they leap with seemingly boundless energy and encourage each other with warm chatter.
The walls move in for the second section, “Am I,” as the dancers stand on perches, facing the same direction. In unison, they reach out, then pull in, cower, and wipe down their bodies, while Brown’s haunting, foreboding score plays and portraits of 19th century figures are shown on the screens.
In the third segment, called “The Veil,” the performers are urgently running, apparently being chased, as is a person depicted in a video by David Szlasa and Robert Henry Johnson, while the music changes from blues to songs of Baka Pigmies. At the end, a person lays dead on the ground before an anguished onlooker.
In the final scene, “Sorrow Song,” a trembling man is trapped in a cage, as the spiritual “Lord, Home Come Me Here” (solo vocalist Sharon D. Henderson intensely sings “I wish I was never born” in the recorded performance by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir) plays. Meanwhile, videos of the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King trial, Trayvon Martin buying candy at a convenience store before he was killed, and the fatal shooting of Kenneth Harding by police in the Bayview in 2011 appear on the screens.
Adding to the impact is the fact that the action repeats; the 30-minute piece is presented four times, in a loop, over a two-hour period.
Admittedly, while some aspects of “Between me & the other world” are illuminated and enhanced by excellently detailed program notes — reading them before the performance begins is highly recommended — even without them, the artwork intensively and ecocatively portrays injustices, fears and cruelty that remain all too common in the 21st century.
IF YOU GO
Between me & the other world
Presented by Zaccho Dance Theatre
Where: Zaccho Studio, 1777 Yosemite Ave., Studio 330, S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4, 1 p.m. Oct 5-6