Indelible Impact

Sandy Dunn, pictured at left, and S.T. Shimi of Jump-Start Performance Co. create an ever-changing "tone-poem" meditation on the politics, meaning, and experience of water in Watermark, Part I, showing one more weekend only at the Southwest School of Art & Craft. (courtesy photo)
'Watermark, Part I' leaves a lasting impression

The challenge of writing about performance is that, if it is done well, the performance itself most purely and clearly communicates its meaning. An outer layer of words, describing the experience, simply wraps an additional stratum of remove around the core of the mystery - the experiential, ephemeral moment.

Watermark, Part I, a site-specific, visual meditation on water - what it looks like, feels like, and what it means - debuted February 26 on the patio of the Southwest School of Art & Craft Navarro campus, in collaboration with Jump-Start Performance Co. Creators and company members S.T. Shimi and Sandy Dunn describe it variously as a tone-poem, a performance piece, and the beginning of a long-term collaboration delving into the issues around the politics, pleasures, and power of water. A very rough technical rehearsal Monday night made something else about the piece abundantly clear.

Words won't be adequate to describe it.

Watermark relies very little upon words. What text there is - stream-of-consciousness, abstract, yet personal musings intercut with some of what Shimi calls the "mind-boggling" statistics surrounding the politics of water use and "ownership" - has been recorded, textured, and layered into a soundscape created for the show by Eric Chapelle and Paul Harford. The music, like the movement, is entrancing, fluid, and evocative.

Dunn, a founding member of Jump-Start, and Shimi, whose most recent work for the company has been solo pieces such as In the Garden and Southern Discomfort, consciously avoid linear, narrative elements and fixed relationships between characters, opting to let everything about the piece shift, flow, and transform as they move around the space. The result is a series of resonant, archetypal images that allow each observer to construct a narrative of her own; images the genius of which is to appear so simple that the visionary minds and disciplined craft that produced them are rendered transparent.

Watermark, Part I

8pm, March 5-7
$12, $9 students & seniors

Southwest School of Art & Craft
1201 Navarro
Tickets: 227-5867

The lighting, by Steve Bailey and Billy Muñoz, is a third character, inhabiting and informing the piece like grace. Bailey's genius is to use light as a revelatory agent, illuminating the simple, human moments created by the performers, exposing their innate divinity. Bailey and Muñoz have created a design, elegant in its simplicity, that breathes firey life into the representations of water - fabric, wire, plastic, steel - that inhabit Jose Chapa's set design.

The lighting was created somewhat organically, according to Bailey. The logistics of the site, and the artistic goal of incorporating the architecture of the courtyard, called for simple, minimalist solutions. "We just took some instruments, plugged them in, and played with the moments," Bailey says. "Billy did some interpretation of what a section meant," he explains, "but we didn't even ask Sandy or Shimi if that interpretation was 'correct.'" The result is a true, multi-layered collaboration, arrived at experimentally, in best Jump-Start tradition.

"This is one of the most successful site-specific pieces we've done," said Jump-Start Artistic Director Sterling Houston during a critical response session following Monday's rehearsal. "It creates its own environment extremely successfully. It takes you on a journey, artistically, that does not disappoint."

The journey, in fact, is haunting. Deep and rich. Dense with images that play, like sunlight, reflecting on the many facets of water, its functions, its many moods. Water connects and separates us. It is sensual, healing, playful, lyrical. It is also needful, and our need can turn ugly. We can drown in it. We can pollute it. We can withhold it. Those images are here, too - images of need, of thirst, of beautiful, yet undrinkable water.

The show plays for one more weekend, and seating is limited. Brave the elements and lose yourself in this masterful evocation of the element of Water. It will change you. •