Sol Niger ("Black sun" in Latin) sounds like a contradiction. Not that choreographertheater maven Keith Hennessy is uncomfortable with oppositional thinking. But if you’ve ever experienced the gray-on-gray blanket that a solar eclipse throws over the world, you’ll understand the appropriateness of the title of Hennessy’s most recent work.
With a Bay Area premiere run kicking off Sept. 20, Sol Niger Hennessy’s MA project at UC Davis was partially developed in France, where it was described as his "search for an American identity." Here it is presented as addressing "shifting definitions of war, torture, terror and justice." Hennessy shrugs off the difference in perspectives. French cultural institutions have sponsored several of his works, and he is used to the public there seeing him primarily in terms of national identity. In fact, the distinctions between the stateside and French observations just prove that the nature of the light shining on a object determines our perception of it, which is exactly one of Hennessy’s points.
Hennessy believes that the events since Sept. 11, 2001, define his generation much the way AIDS or World War II did earlier ones. In Sol Niger he examines the shadowy nature of our awareness of what’s going on. A key figure, borrowed from Japanese theater, is a kurogo (black-clad man), who manipulates the lights from the stage, invisible yet all-powerful in determining what we see. "I wanted to look less [at] what we do know about Iraq than what we half-know about, let’s say, Abu Ghraib, about our foreign policy," he says. "Is it really about oil and the oligarchies? These are the issues I want to bring to light."
One reason Hennessy chose to perform at Project Artaud Theater is because of the venue’s high ceilings, necessary for the aerial work that he continues to explore. He was first drawn to trapeze work because of a fascination with risk and danger and the ideas it provokes on dealing with fear. Still, Sol Niger is a departure for him. "There is a lot more choreographed dancing here than I have had in a long time. Some of it is quite beautiful," he says. "Also, I am taking a much less head-on approach." Like an alchemist, he works with symbols, metaphors, and abstractions away from the glare of certainty but determined to shed light on what the shadows reveal.
Thurs/20Sun/23 and Sept. 2629, 8 p.m., $25
Project Artaud Theater
540 Florida, SF