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PerformanceOnstageUnmasking a modern predator through dance in 'The Soul...

Unmasking a modern predator through dance in ‘The Soul Catcher’

Annika B. Lewis and Kassandra Production dissect a violent relationship at SF International Arts Fest

SF native Annika B. Lewis escaped to Sweden with her Leftist parents at three years old—after the summer of ‘67 proved itself the winter of their discontent. 

“They left San Francisco during the Summer of Love because of the chaotic and violent situation in SF,” she says. “My mother, who grew up in Sweden, wanted a calmer and safer place for me to live, closer to her mother and father.” 

Studying theatre in Italy, in the early ‘90s, before relocating to Denmark and becoming the founder and artistic director of Copenhagen-based performance art company Kassandra Production didn’t prepare her with the knowledge to bypass the less visible real-life threat of a toxic relationship with a narcissist. 

First cataloged by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined as comprising “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy…”

“I think relationships and how to navigate them should be a part of the educational curriculum,” says Lewis. “If I had known what I know today, I would have handled my situation differently.”

Her traumatic experience inspired her latest production, The Soul Catcher ~ Unmasking the Modern Predator, premiering at Mission Cultural Center as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) on May 1-4.

Using a mix of performance, dance, spoken word, and electronic music, Lewis’ chronicle of psychological abuse, manipulation, and power demonstrates how after a barrage of love bombing, gaslighting, and pity plays the narcissist’s prey is reduced to nothing more than food to fuel an insatiable ego.

The three performances of The Soul Catcher will be supplemented by a post-show discussion on NPD on Fri/3, led by psychologist and UCSF professor Jonathan Shedler, PhD.

I spoke to Lewis about the new work, how NPD impacted her, and what she hopes audiences take away from the show.

48 HILLS What inspired you to create this production?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS My inspiration is from my own life and personal experience with a very violent relationship with a malignant narcissist that lasted for some years, several years ago.

After this relationship and the necessary healing I had to go through, I realized that my experience was important to talk about, my story was relevant to so many, and my story is our story. 

I wanted to shed light on something hidden, denied, and stigmatized in our society—to shed light in the darkness. I realized this was important and something I could use my knowledge and ability as a theatermaker to do. I wanted to create meaningful art out of something seemingly meaningless and violent.

The Soul Catcher. Photo by Annika B. Lewis

48 HILLS Did you rely entirely on memory?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS The Soul Catcher is based on fragments and pieces of stories and memories. So I used the puzzle structure as a template for the creation. The ready performance structure is like a puzzle where the different pieces come together, making a whole and complex picture. Just like my own personal experience.

The texts in the performance The Soul Catcher consist of parts of my private logbook and texts I wrote to myself at the time and after the relationship as a way to heal and understand what happened and why.

During the relationship, my sense of time and space got distorted by being in a hypervigilant state, exhausted, and hooked by the trauma bond. By keeping a logbook, I had a tool to hold on to myself and my sanity and keep track of what “was up and what was down.” I first really understood what I had experienced after the relationship when I managed to loosen myself.

48 HILLS How did you heal from this trauma?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS Part of my healing after surviving this violent relationship was to empower myself. I survived—and today I feel stronger and much wiser.

48 HILLS Why are psychological abuse, manipulation, and power such compelling topics?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS For me, it’s about trying to understand the different aspects of situations like this—to get some tools to handle this and an empathic understanding. I’m trying to get wiser and empower myself.

48 HILLS NPD has been a recognized diagnosis since 1980. Why are we so consumed by it now?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS I don’t know. Maybe NPD is more common today? Or do we call it out more today because we know more about it? 

‘The Soul Catcher.’ Photo by Jens Peter Engedal

48 HILLS  What do you want audiences to take away from this production?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS I want to break the silence about toxic and violent relationships, to put light on something that is a stigma in our societies. 

With this performance, I want to share a challenging situation and hopefully help other people who have experienced or are experiencing a similar situation.

48 HILLS What sets Kassandra Production apart from other performance companies?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS Kassandra Production is an artist-driven platform for contemporary performative arts. We work internationally in the intersection of theater, dance, artivism, and performance art—with topical content and in different locations. We explore the use of unconventional performance spaces. In addition to traditional theatre venues, we have staged performances in private apartments, caravans, fairs, abandoned factories, clubs, vans, and on the Internet.

48 HILLS What’s it like for you to return to San Francisco?

ANNIKA B. LEWIS I’m so excited and honored to get the opportunity to return and present The Soul Catcher at the San Francisco International Arts Festival. I hope the audience will be touched and come out of the theatre wiser and more empowered.

Returning to San Francisco is a special feeling of home and belonging and also something foreign and exotic. I feel my roots and family bond. It taps into something deep-seated in me.

THE SOUL CATCHER ~ UNMASKING THE MODERN PREDATOR May 1-4. Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission St., SF. $20-$28More info here. For more on SFIAF, click here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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