Sara (the smuggler)

By Keith Hennessy, Sara Shelton Mann, and Norman Rutherford

This dynamic solo performance by Sara Shelton Mann pays tribute to her iconic and iconoclastic role in Bay Area and international dance history, starting with her years in NYC with Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis through her decade plus as the choreographer of Contraband to her subsequent collaborations with local and international artists. 

Taking risks with history-making, friendship, and borrowed choreographic structures, Hennessy honors Mann's extraordinary life in dance to create a lasting document of her embodied wit, magic, and intelligence.

Below you will find: a full description, performance texts, choreographer's notes, press coverage, credits, and bios... keep reading and enjoy!

Taking risks with history-making, friendship, and borrowed choreographic structures, Hennessy honors Mann's extraordinary life in dance to create a lasting document of her embodied wit, magic, and intelligence. Sara (the smuggler) focuses on an ongoing thread in Sara's work that links dance to energy and energy to magic, healing, community, and liberation. While Sara at 70 reveals an aging body and hip pain that slows her down, she is peaking in abilities to sense and shape subtle energies. 

Sara (the smuggler) is inspired by Growing Up In Public, a dance performed by Hennessy’s teacher Lucas Hoving and choreographed by Remy Charlip in 1984 when Hoving was 72. In this autobiographical talking dance, Hoving recalled stand-out moments with José Limon in the 40s and 50s, as well as his early experiences with legendary choreographers Kurt Joos and Martha Graham.  Sara (the smuggler) is also inspired by Veronique Doisneau (2004), an interview-based, talking-dance solo by Jerome Bêl for Doisneau, a retiring dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet.

Sara (the smuggler) includes dancing, talking, spell casting, and a ritual of ghosts conjured by a dancing body in the here and now. The performance features spoken stories, responding to many of the same interview questions that Charlip asked Hoving 30 years ago. Stories, used to trigger bodily memories, will then spark short dances, fragments of previous choreographies and embodied experiences from Sara's 50 years of professional dancing. The set evokes the non-ordinary, unseen, and ephemeral worlds that inspire Sara's esoteric and healing studies that then motivate her choreographic inquiry.

The performance was documented and edited into a film by Lola Films, which premiered at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland December 2015. Sara (the smuggler) made its world premiere at CounterPulse in San Francisco April 2015 and was presented at American Realness in New York January 2016.

Dancestor Bios

To read the full list of dancestor biographies, mentions, and credits, CLICK HERE

The Script

To read the complete performance script with footnotes, CLICK HERE

Choreographer's Notes

“In 1984, my teacher, the 72 year old Lucas Hoving returned to performing with Growing Up In Public, created by Hoving's longtime friend Remy Charlip. In this autobiographical talking dance Hoving recalls stand-out moments with José Limon in the 40s and 50s, as well as his early experiences with legendary choreographers Kurt Joos and Martha Graham. Working with Charlip's published text and archive video, I proposed making a similar solo for Sara Shelton Mann. She smiled and said yes. 

I will also be working in reference to the interview-based, historical archive, talking dance solos of Jerome Bêl, especially Veronique Doisneau (2004). Taking risks with history-making, friendship, and borrowed choreographic structures, I hope to make a high impact live performance and long lasting video archive that recognizes Sara Mann's iconic and iconoclastic gifts to the Bay Area and to dance history.

With this work I reverse a long standing relationship with Sara in which I become the choreographer and she becomes the dancer. This will be the first solo that I make for someone other than myself. I danced with Sara in Contraband from 1985-94, a radical experience that continues to influence my work. Norman Rutherford was also a core member of Contraband (1986-1996) and has continued to collaborate with Sara. Sara (the smuggler) is a work about dance history and lineage, about friendship and the gift, about legends and telling a good story. I was inspired by Sara's recent 70th birthday to propose this work.” - Keith Hennessy


*Click the title of the article to view the pdf*

"Sara (the smuggler) is more than a simple tribute, it’s an embodied history of one of the most influential figures in modern dance."
A Life in Dance - Mary Ellen Hunt - The San Francisco Chronicle (2015)

"It is a reminder that artists, like philosophers, can spend a life digging deeper to answer a single question, each time bringing new layers of their art form to light... Like a tapestry composed of pieces masterfully sewn together, Sara (the smuggler) succeeds in exposing the many facets of Shelton Mann’s identity in a seamless way."
Dancer, Healer, Shapeshifter - Marie Tollon - ODC Writer in Residence (2015)

"Sara (the smuggler) is an act of homage to a Bay Area dance legend who deeply deserves it. Now 70, Sara Shelton Mann has played both provocateur and den mother as the founder of revolutionary dance collective Contraband." 
Sara (the smuggler) - Rachel Howard - KQED DO List (2015)

The Lives of a Dance/Dancer - Rob Avilla interviewing Keith Hennessy - InDance (2015)

Sara Shelton Mann Celebrated in New Dance Production - Jean Schaffman interviewing Sara Shelton Mann and Keith Hennessy - SF/ARTS (2015)

Reflecting a Life in Dance - Marie Tollon interviewing Sarah Shelton Mann and Keith Hennessy - ODC Writer in Residence (2015)

Production Credits

Choreography: Keith Hennessy
Performance: Sara Shelton Mann
Composer: Norman Rutherford
Lighting Design: Grisel Torres
Production Manager: Alec White
Documentary Film: Laura Plotkin
Photography: Robbie Sweeny

About The Artists

Sara Shelton Mann is a legendary dance artist who has played a significant role in shaping contemporary dance performance and choreography. She is a protégé of Nikolais and Louis in NYC in the 60s, Sara is also deeply influenced by Contact Improvisation. From 1979-96 Sara directed Contraband, a ground-breaking troupe of artists working at the leading edges of contemporary dance, ritual, and music. She has received five Isadora Duncan Awards, a SFBG Goldie for Lifetime Achievement, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and received a 2016 receipient of a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award. Integrating chi cultivation and improvisation, Sara has taught dance in the Bay Area and internationally for over four decades. Sara has many years of study in various spiritual traditions, shamanic practices, and healing trainings. Her healing practice is deeply woven or embodied in her approaches to dancing, choreography, teaching, activism, writing, and community building.

Norman Rutherford has been creating music for works by Sara Shelton Mann for nearly 30-years. His first collaboration was in 1986 when he co-created the musical score for the first version of Contraband’s ground breaking piece Religare with Rinde Ekert, Gwen Jones, and Richard Klein. He then joined Contraband full time in 1989 to compose and direct the music for, and perform in, the 2nd version of Religare (also with Gwen Jones and Richard Klein), and all 3 pieces from the Mira Cycles. After Contraband disbanded in 1996, Norman worked with Anna Halprin, Bob Ernst, Keith Hennessy, and others, while continuing to create scores for Sara Shelton Mann and record with the instrumental group Closer To Carbon. Works by Sara that Norman has scored since the late 90’s include: Extravaganza, Monk at the Met, Monk, Lotus 695, Red Gold Sky, Tribes, and three of her recent solo works in the Eye of Leo series – The Love of Emptyness, C, and Future Life.


The world premiere and documentary of Sara (the smuggler) was made possible by grants The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Theater Bay Area's CA$H Program, and San Francisco Grants for the Arts. The presentation of Sara (the smuggler) at American Realness is New York was made possible by many generous individual donors.