The Performant: Rite of autumn

Pub date November 4, 2010
SectionPixel Vision

It might have been unannounced, but there’s a ritual aspect to all this the Giants-Halloween-Dia de los Muertos mayhem all the same. And like any great autumnal rite, the cathartic frenzy implies a greater narrative — one last big harvest before the little death of winter, the rebirth of spring. How appropriate to the season then, was the Ragged Wing production “Persephone’s Roots” a site-specific re-imagining of the Persephone myth at Berkeley’s Cordornices Park. 

Persephone — as you might remember — is the daughter of Demeter, and traditionally the story told is that she was kidnapped into the underworld by Hades, which caused Demeter to neglect the Earth while she searched for her, bringing barren winter to the land. Ragged Wing’s Persephone was a far more willful curator of her own destiny. 

As an oddience, we followed her self-propelled journey into the underworld past a three-headed Hecate at the crossroads, around a despairing Sisyphus and Tantalus, through a spiral maze (Hecate’s Temple) where we wrote down our shadow thoughts and cast them into a basket to be burned later on during the climactic reunion scene. Then to the Fates picnic, where Persephone defiantly ate of an onion, and the three weird sisters snipped her thread. 

No victim, this Persephone was a willing Queen of the Underworld, and when Demeter found her at last, beside the bonfires of the “hearth of the triple goddess” (Hecate again) their agreement that Persephone would spend the spring months above ground was hard won. The wooded paths, trickling waterways, and rapidly descending nightfall made the journey feel very otherworldly and the park seem downright mysterious. 

Speaking of mysterious, I will never look at the Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park in quite the same way now that I’ve seen it in the neon of glowsticks at midnight, the end station of the interactive, city-wide Journey to the End of the Night.  

Beginning at Justin Hermann plaza at 8 p.m., the game spread out over much of the city—from Chinatown, to SoMa, to the Mission, to Haight, to Golden Gate Park. The goal was to get through to each checkpoint via public transportation and collect a signature after performing some minor task (most involved was probably the “Change of Face” station in Dore Alley, where we had to exchange parts of our costumes with strangers in the back room of Lennon Studios

The challenge was getting to each checkpoint without being caught by a “chaser” since, like zombies, their powers of evil would then corrupt you and you would become one of them. Indeed, by the end of the night, chasers almost outnumbered survivors, and my group of three survivors were congratulated heartily on our triumph at the entrance to the garden. 

The light at the end of the tunnel was a dreamy, participatory performance by nerd arcana swashbucklers Corpus Callosum, who exhorted us to “drink to the ghosts of the night”, a ritual appropriate for any season.