Sharp & Fine Dances Neil Gaiman’s “Queen of Knives”

A few years ago I met Megan Kurashige at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, where we were both students of some of the world’s best speculative fiction authors, including Neil Gaiman.  Megan has a magical way with words that reveal a true artist’s way of looking at the world, with a sense of sharpness that is still imbued with wonder.  Though she is a fine writer, Megan’s primary passion is dance, and she works as a professional contemporary dancer and choreographer.  Her dance company, Sharp & Fine, which she co-founded with her sister Shannon, is the embodiment of the sisters’ combined dance aesthetic.  The name says it all.

This weekend Megan, Shannon, and their troupe are performing a dance interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s poem “Queen of Knives,” which can be found in his collection of short fiction Smoke & Mirrors.  I’ve heard about this project for years, ever since it was a dream spark in Megan’s mind. Though this is my busiest weekend of the year, there was no way I was going to miss it, even if it meant sitting in traffic for almost two hours en route to Z Space in San Francisco. It was totally worth it because the dancing was so gorgeous.  I was lucky to secure a seat in the front row, and here are some photos from the live performance on Friday night.  Please excuse the blurriness of my camera phone photos.

Glitter Ladies

During the pre-performance, the four Glitter Ladies (Shannon Kurashige, Shannon Leypoldt, Carson Stein, Megan Wright), dressed in white sleeveless leotards and tulle skirts, step, pose, and dance in the center of the stage.  Not only is there glitter on their clothes, but their white caps are studded with rhinestones that sparkle whenever they move.  Though their primary role is to act as a chorus, much like the core in a ballet company, each dancer breaks out throughout the show to dance a solo.

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The three principal characters of Grandpa (Eric Garcia), Grandmother (Katharine Hawthorne), and Child (Megan Kurashige) dance wonderfully. Grandpa & Grandma have an interesting duet around the kitchen table that repeats throughout the show, and when Child arrives, her dance insertions into the duet provided a counterpoint to their movements.  This is a family that clearly love each other but also struggle with fully embracing each other, something that becomes even more evident in the second half.

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When the magic show begins, the principal dancers become the audience. Grandfather is constantly scooting his chair closer to get a better view of the Glitter Ladies, while Grandmother and Child are keeping their distance, initially resisting the show within the show.

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Yet the allure of the Glitter Ladies is irresistible, and eventually Grandmother and Child join them on stage.

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And they move.

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And they kick.

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And they leap.

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Grandfather tries to bring Grandmother back in the audience.

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But Grandmother resists him.

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To continue dancing.

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Grandmother even steps into the box, and the Glitter Ladies Dance around the box while Grandfather, Child, and we the audience wonder what will happen.

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Grandmother emerges from the box like a phoenix to dance some more, with complete abandonment and joy.  Then she returns to the box and disappears.  This is not a huge spoiler because at the beginning of the show, Megan said that Neil requested that there be a big box on stage and that someone should disappear in that big box.  I especially loved the narrative twist at the end, which I will not spoil.  Grandfather and Child never knows what happens to Grandmother after the magic show, but the audience gets a clue.

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It’s not too late to experience the divine that is Sharp & Fine.  They have two more performances left this weekend, and there are still seats available.  Tickets can be purchased online, so get yours now!


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