Fear Factor: Epifano, Jan 2007

By Michael Wade Simpson

January 1, 2007, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Kim Epifano and Michael Bernard Loggins couldn’t be more unalike–dancer vs. person with developmental disabilities; white woman vs. black man. Epifano is a long-time arts community leader, a choreographer who thinks big, someone interested in creating multi-dimensional events like her “Trolley Dances” project which sent audiences all over the city on muni in search of installations by various choreographers. Loggins, 45, lives in a world circumscribed by his emotions. A typical day involves heading out from the home he shares with his relatives to Creativity Explored 2, the art center in Potrero Hill where he works on his writing and draws.

Fears of Your Life is a book of Loggins’ writings, a listing of 100+ fears. But it was also the inspiration for Epifano’s latest dance-theatre work, a collaboration with AXiS Dance company. She discovered the book at an art opening at the Creativity Explored Gallery on 16th Street. “His words hit me in the solar plexus,” she said. “it made me realize how many fears I had.” Epifano chose not just the book, but Michael. She got to know him. He drew pictures especially for the project. He sat in the front row at the opening and laughed. By now, several years into this process, the two unlikely collaborators have become close. “Michael became a mentor for me,” said Epifano. “he has deepened art for me… I have to slow down to be with him. I have to have time.”

Epifano conceived the project while she was in the MFA Program at UC Davis. “I had a lot of fears about going back to school,” she said. “I was afraid of failing.”

Michael’s book of fears may have helped put things into perspective:

“Fear of Godzilla.
Fear of Tall Woman.
Fear of killer whales.
Fear of Dinosaurs bird.
Fear of invisiable (sic).
Fear of Blob.
Fear of getting molester (sic).
Fear of mountain lion.
Fear of apes.”

“Fear is like this: someone like a woman that you grab a hold of her hand and going down the escalator when of a sudden you happens to be holding a stranger hand not realizing that she isn’t your mother is scarey.”

“People are fearful of me which I wonder is they think that I’m all that terrible or I’m thinking that they think I’m not human at all because when they sit next to me than they get back up and move away from me I maybe a stranger but that doesn’t make me a created monster or something like that. People aren’t humans they act like ignorance Dogs with their tail in back of their legs of in between their middle bodies their legs. They don’t think who’s feelings they hurt at all they just do it no consideration for whatever.”

Francis Kohler is the Studio manager at Creativity Explored 2 and has been working with Michael for 8 years. “I’m like Michael but I stuff it down. Society says, ‘get over it’, but Michael doesn’t do that. Michael doesn’t have that filter. When someone bumps into him and doesn’t say, ‘sorry’ on the bus, it might send him into an emotional valley— he gets obsessed with it. There are slights he remembers from years and years ago. There’s no difference between two hours and 7 years ago. He has an incredible memory.”

Michael’s desk at Creativity Explored is covered with writing, a file cabinet is jammed with papers. “He writes every day,” says Kohler. “Michael’s concern is to chronicle his life. His needs from other people are simple: listen to him, don’t contradict him, understand him.”

Epifano enjoyed taking the words and opening them up into a sonic dance theatre piece. She applied for and won a Creative Work Fund Grant that allowed her to team-up with AXiS Dance company, to bring in sculptor Mike Stasiuk to build life-size puppets based on Loggins’ drawings, and to develop the piece further. She will broaden and deepen and explore the characters and relationships and dances in the rehearsal time she has this year, before an engagement at the Yerba Buena Forum in February. Working with the members of AXiS adds a powerful layer to the process because of that group’s blend of dancers with and without their own disabilities.

And then there’s the actor playing Michael. He narrates the evening, casting off sheets of paper as he calls out fears, filling up the stage with them. C. Derrick Jones says playing the part of the artist at the heart of this whole project isn’t so daunting as it might seem. “I have a background as a social worker. I had a caseload full of young Michaels. There’s a lot I can tap into.”

“I’m afraid and fearful that pigeons don’t know right from wrong to not go out into the street. They don’t have the kind of memory as we humans does to know what to do. And what shalt not do. They must don’t know the danger of their lives are being jeopardize and they must don’t know what can definitely happen to them to human’s knowledges in sense, right safe lives and danger wrong lives of theirs. They land just anywhere they can find to land on surface.”

This article appeared in the January 2007 issue of In Dance.

Michael Wade Simpson is editor of culturevulture.net and has written for the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. He holds an MFA in dance from Smith College, founded “Small City Dance Project” in Massachusetts, and was an NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival, in 2004.