Spring 2024 In Dance

Published by Dancers' Group, In Dance is discourse and dialogue to unify, strengthen, and amplify.


P.16 Musings on the People's Palace

P.48 An Unfolding

P.54 Dancers for a Free Palestine



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WELCOME, SPRING. The articles and conversations in this issue — there are budding connections among them — explore the tension between what something is and what it means: What is resistance, and what does it mean to Liz Duran Boubion? “To build a coalition [of co-resistance] implies that we are all connected to the suffering in Palestine.” Why does contact improvisation matter to Jo Kreiter? “It matters as a carnival ride, inlaid into deep human connection…” What does Joy Chenyu Lewis and Melissa Lewis Wong’s mother–child relationship mean through the

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prism of performance? “I [Melissa] saw my mom in a new way when she sang the Songhua River song.” “...and she [Melissa] appreciate my being Chinese, being somebody loves to sing.” What is beauty and what does it mean to Michael French? “It has nothing to do with...aquiline noses, or the perversity of a white Jesus, or powdered wigs…” To Honduran artists Diana Lara and Isadora Paz Taboada having Indigenous Lenca ancestors means: “The body and the expression of dance are rooted in… the exchange between tradition and modernity…between multiple identities.” What is extended reality, and how will Yayoi Kambara use it? “To stimulate audiences into imagining a diverse community where colonial modernity con- verses with these majestic lands.” What is “The People’s Palace?” And what does it mean? This is a particularly central question in this issue of In Dance. Enjoy three articles on the topic from the perspective of : The People’s Palace creator Joanna Haigood ; set designer Sean Riley ; and “muser” Ellen Sebastian Chang . “What avenue is open to us…who still have dreams (plans)...in this place we call home?” Sebastian Chang muses. “Do all avenues and roads lead to City Hall, aka ‘The People’s Palace?’” The People’s Palace is a new site specific work by ZACCHO Dance Theatre. Conceived and directed by Joanna Haigood, it is set in the bustling, “like twenty weddings happening all at the same time,” laughs Haigood, San Francisco City Hall. “The People’s Palace” is also the nickname for City Hall coined by mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph when it opened in 1915. “At the end of the day… ‘the people’ are very specific and not inclusive,” Haigood tells Maurya Kerr. The Beaux Arts architectural style of City Hall was chosen to represent the ideals of whiteness. Constructed whiteness. That’s what City Hall’s architecture means. I’ve been to City Hall many times. I know what it is. I’m eager for it to mean something new. Come May 9th, 10th and 12th ZACCHO’s performance will trans- form City Hall’s architecture into: “...more inclusive narratives that more accurately reflect San Francisco's diverse and dynamic cultures and community.” This is one of the transformations — rebirths, unfoldings, blossomings, portals I want to go through this season.

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38/ Mujer Sav/bia, Guatesi torta Yalabitata

10 / We, The Majestic by Maurya Kerr 16 / Musings on The People's Palace by Ellen Sebastian Chang 20 / Designing for More People in the Palace Sean Riley Interviewed by Rowena Richie 24 / Beauty in Search of a

Dancers’ Group gratefully acknowledges the support of Bernard Osher Foundation, California Arts Council, Fleishhacker Foundation, Grants for the Arts, JB Berland Foundation, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Koret Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission, Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation and generous individuals.

DANCERS’ GROUP Artist Administrator Wayne Hazzard General Manager Kat Koenemann Community Resource Manager Shellie Jew Administrative Assistants Alex Tiscareno

por Diana Lara y Isadora Paz Taboada —en español

44/ Dancing Toward Futuring by Yayoi Kambara 48/ An Unfolding: Reflections on 花和霧 flowers and fog by Kat Gorospe Cole and Kim Ip 54/ Dancers for a Free Palestine:

Resting Place by Michael French 32/ Mujer Sav/bia, Guatesi torta Yalabitata

Danielle Vigil

Tactics of Resistance that Artists Understand by Liz Duran Boubion

Bookkeeper Michele Simon Design Sharon Anderson

60/ My Father's Swimming Pool by Jo Kreiter

Welcome, spring!

by Diana Lara and Isadora Paz Taboada

Cover: The People’s Palace, Photo by Wayne Hazzard

Photo by Bryan Gibel



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Megan Lowe Dances Just a Featured Artist of Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center’s 27th Annual United States of Asian America Festival PRESENTS


A performance journey of duets that celebrate life and honor memories of lost loved ones Featuring AJ Gardner, Sonsherée Giles, Josh Icban, Frances Teves Sedayao, Roel Seeber, Shira Yaziv, + Megan Lowe MAY 31 - JUNE 9, 2024 FRI/SAT/SUN | 7:30PM THE JOE GOODE ANNEX SAN FRANCISCO, CA MEGANLOWEDANCES.COM


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We’re welcoming back our community PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT* Now accepting applications for Summer Institute 2024

SUMMER DANCE CAMPS* 3 weeks of kids camp start June 24 STUDIO LAB FOR KIDS* Mini session starts May 11


*Visit Luna Dance & Creativity

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APRIL 26  MAY 5, 2024


(Left) CounterPulse Saraswathy Lakshmivaraham, photo by Sean Anomie; (Clockwise from bottom) Arenas Dance Company, photo by Jim Watkins; Big Moves’ emFATic DANCE, photo by Lisa J. Ellis;, Ballet22, photo by Natasha Adorlee; Joaquese Whitfield, photo by Jim Watkins




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We, The Majestic J OANNA HAIGOOD’S The People’s Palace pre- mieres at San Francisco City Hall May 9, 10 and 12. I had the pleasure and honor of watching a rehearsal and later interviewing Joanna (all over Zoom). Rooted in the knowledge that neoclassical architecture, both implicitly and explicitly, reinforces the invisibility of marginalized populations, The People’s Palace is both intervention and celebration meant to lift every voice. Joanna shared with me this deeply germane quote by adrienne maree brown: “…we have to understand that imagination shapes the world and so those of us who have been oppressed by how others imagine the world, the suprema- cists, the patriarchs, the war mongers, the capitalists, we have to imagine some- thing so compelling it moves us beyond and out of the compliance with our entrapment in these systems that do not love us.”

Let us radically imagine our worlds.


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[Henri Crenier’s four Civic Virtues: Learning, Liberty, Strength, and Equality], or how they relate to them in general from where they stand. And also, what are the expectations of these ideas and ideals. The whole piece, for me, is about upending the notions that the architecture pro- poses: white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. MK: It’s an incredibly white space on every level. JH: Yes, very white. When we talk about liberty from a European per- spective, it’s based on politics, class, and religion. But from our perspec- tive, as people of color, it’s all of these things plus these really horrific notions of race and caste, as Isa- bel Wilkerson would say. Liberty is linked to our struggle for humanity, a struggle we’ve been in for many generations. MK: With that, the sense that not much has changed. I think you’re saying that as well. JH: It’s changed… some things have changed on the surface.

we’re really far off! We’re always try- ing to control and harness nature. That idea of being the superior being on the planet has interrupted this relationship that, when it works from the point of view of integration and harmony, feeds and creates this environment where we really thrive. MK: I think thrive in ways that we can’t even comprehend. And it does seem, too, that City Hall is the antithesis.

JH: Completely!

MK: That kind of edifice, that kind of architecture, the literal and figurative whiteness is the antithesis of harmony with nature. JH: Yeah, and there are no direct ref- erences there to our connection to nature, and no references to Indige- nous people, in terms of the statuary or anywhere. MK: It’s important to go into a room and ask who’s missing. And it’s usually Black people; it’s almost always Indig- enous people. I’m never in spaces with Indigenous people. Society doesn’t ask that enough—who’s missing from this work space, this dance space, etc. More on aerial-ness—the balance of support and surrender feels important and in line with Indigenous culture. I was also thinking about the folktales that slaves could fly, which I know is very present in your mind and work. Those are some things I was thinking of as I was taking notes and watch- ing, some of those ideas and motifs that feel integral, I was going to say a Black experience, but I think it’s more an integrated experience, speak- ing with some of the language you’ve been using around indigeneity. JH: I’m impressed you could see that through Zoom. Like, that was really good watching! [both laugh]

OWN This interview has been edited for length and clarity. MAURYA KERR: I’ll just share some of my impressions from rehearsal if that’s cool as a starting point. I was really struck by so many of the artists saying they felt beautifully small and held. I was thinking about that return everything is slightly askew compared to people who aren’t marginalized, either racially or through class. I’m wondering if that figures in for you— or what does aerial offer you? JOANNA HAIGOOD: I guess for me, it’s many different points of perspective, being able to see the world from all these different angles. Oftentimes, we feel like we know where we are, but

MK: But the essence of how we deal with Blackness or class…

MK: That sense of scale, it’s a different virtuosity and a holding space. I know that having been in your work and seen your work, it is so much about the holding of space and presence, as opposed to choreography or physical pyrotechnics. I think that’s one of the great beauties of your work, plus this sense of working to place, or of place, or from place. So I was wondering about how you, within this process, how you’re directing the artists, for example, in the section about liberty. JH: For me, it is much more about mining, exploring, connecting, and sharing each other’s life experiences, things that people have gone through that relate to these particular virtues

really. If you’ve ever been down to the desert, like Death Valley, or amongst the giant sequoias, those feelings are immediately apparent or bubble up. MK: It’s also feeling small in safety, as opposed to feeling small and dimin- ished. I feel like we’re always having to be big in the world to survive, and when we feel small, it’s often at our expense. So that ability to be cradled felt unique and special. JH: Yeah, because in this context, feeling small is really about being able to feel and acknowledge the larger scale of the world. Not that we are insignificant, but that there is so much happening alongside you.

JH: And how we see and respond to each other, where our priorities are, it’s still very imbalanced. The whole thing of learning: I’m working with Indigenous culture bearers Gregg Cas- tro and Jonathan Cordero, who are helping me navigate through the idea of decolonization and come to some deeper understanding of our histories. One of the virtues is learning, and thinking about what that is from an Indigenous point of view. So much of their teaching and from where they build their social structure and rela- tionship to life in general is anchored in this notion of harmony with nature. And that is precisely the area where we have gone so astray. Like,

to embrace and how rarely we get that in our lives. I’d written down in my notes something about the safety of the fetal-ness, being held that way, womb-like. Also this sense of being sideways and aslant in the world, off-kilter, that the aerial work allows you to do, and how that relates to the double consciousness Du Bois talked about, seeing the world as if

as soon as we change our relation- ship to up and down, it’s very differ- ent. And the things that are revealed are sometimes, well, life-changing in the biggest respect, and illuminat- ing in terms of where we are, who we are to each other, what we are to our environment. It’s a sense of scale,

MK: I taught over Zoom for three years, so I’m zeroed in!


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I love the title The People’s Palace . Obviously that’s a reclamation—we don’t think of ‘palace’ and ‘people,’ so the combination of those words is important.

site that feels critical to talk about with The People’s Palace ?

it’s a reflection of the time,’ but that’s also what they say about the people who enslaved others, right?

JH: Well, there’s been a lot of dis- cussion around dismantling many things—dismantling white suprem- acy, colonization, statues—and I’m not really calling for this building to be torn down. I’m more interested in being in conversation about what these things mean, what these built environ- ments are there to support, and then how we can rethink or create interven- tions that bridge these worlds. And I’ll be curious about what conversations come up, how we can move forward in a way that creates environments where all people feel like they belong. MK: What’s your utopian result of peo- ple seeing this performance? Or what kind of conversations would lead to praxis as opposed to just another con- versation about an art piece? JH: Well, I think it would be really great for a group of architects and artists to get together and explore what are the things that we can honor about this architecture and what are the things that we can intro- duce to bridge this really gaping hole.

MK: Yes, ‘that was just what happened.’

JH: Yeah. This is what it was called when it was built.

JH: And it wasn’t like Asian people weren’t here; they were here. There were Black people here, all kinds of people here. They weren’t the major- ity, but they were here. MK: There was enough representation to be included. JH: That’s just the thing, I mean, even in the Exposition [1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposi- tion], there was a Primitive Pavilion, where visitors got to look at these ‘underdeveloped Native cultures,’ while around the corner were gor- geous examples of the Beaux Arts and European architecture and cul- ture movement; we can see which was considered to be more aestheti- cally beautiful and intellectually superior. But we, of course, know that to not be true. MK: Yeah, it’s always the vaulting of European intelligence. It is interest- ing though for a building to fulfill its intended intention, yet be modeled after whiteness. I mean, it fulfills its intentions for “the people,” but “the people” aren’t represented within the architecture. JH: Well, again, it’s true that at that point, white people—well, it’s still true—were the dominant voice and everything else was considered lesser. [Thomas] Jefferson was really influential in this movement, partic- ularly with the Beaux Arts and these classical styles as representing these civic ideals, and at the same time enslaving people. MK: So we’re talking about architec- ture and working against those sym- bols into more inclusivity. Is there anything beyond what’s on your web-

MK: Oh really! I didn’t know that.

JH: That’s what the mayor [James “Sunny Jim” Rolph] called it. That was his desire, to create a place where people felt like they were being hon- ored and had a place to feel celebrated. MK: Majestic and grand, that “the people” are allowed to feel that, have that invitation. JH: At the end of the day, it ends up that “the people” are very specific and not inclusive. But when I was at City Hall with an architectural historian, he mentioned that for him, the diversity of people in the building dispels the ideologies of whiteness and patriarchy. I don’t know if you’ve been there on a busy day, but there are like twenty wed- dings happening all at the same time [laughs], quinceañera celebrations, just so much activity. Really, every possible type of human is there doing something deeply meaningful to them. It feels like their place, their right, and I love that about the building. MK: That’s awesome. I didn’t know that. So it sounds like the intentions of the building are happening! JH: Yes. But I also feel that the architecture, what was chosen and what it represents on the physical plane, is the antithesis of that. This project is focused on the intentions of neoclassical design in civic archi- tecture. I think those intentions are very clear, even in the choices of the added statuary on display around the building. People might say, ‘Oh,

JH: We’re constantly navigating that relationship. I was trying to explain to someone that for us, we’ve been thinking about this since the moment we were conscious, and about how I work through these varying identities—that when I wake up and am going out, first I prepare Joanna, and then I prepare myself as a Black person.

JH: Yeah, it’s a very deep, heavy, sad loss. He was supposed to be in this piece—I’m dedicating it to him. He was such a deep wanderer and so incredibly gifted.

JH: I really miss him a lot. I’m think- ing about certain parts of this piece and about him, the conversations we would be having right now, both ver- bally and non-verbally. MK: And also as someone who’s prob- ably been in your work the longest, the loss of that legacy of communica- tion and collaboration, I imagine it’s quite large for you.

MK: Oh my God, so gifted. Like his ability to shapeshift…

MK: Okay—we’ll put the word out! That would be amazing! [both laugh]

JH: Yes, shapeshifting.

JH: There are some conversations about architecture and whiteness get- ting some traction right now because it’s all operating on such a sublimi- nal level at this point. People are not walking around in their environments aware of the lineage of whiteness. MK: Well, I think that particularly for white people, whiteness is invisible, and so when you go into these sort of vaulted spaces, white people generally aren’t asking that question of who’s missing, or ‘how is my whiteness loud in this space and time,’ as opposed to just assuming it as the norm. White- ness is not invisible at all to people who are not white.

MK: I wanted to talk briefly about Robert Henry Johnson.

MK: … was so remarkable and it looked like he did it with such ease, but I also know the appearance of ease takes a toll. JH: He worked deeply on his craft, he really did. He worked a lot of things out, studied a lot. He was one of the few people I would only have to say a few words to and he knew exactly what I was after, almost like there was a kind of telepathic connection. MK: I think part of the deep wander- ing of him was also that his instincts were so attuned from the vastness of how he inhabited the world.

JH: Yeah.

JH: Yeah. [sadly]

MK: So lovely to connect; thank you Joanna.

MK: I was looking at your website and it was wild to see photos of me and Robert from Departure and Arrival [2007]. He was such an integral part of your process from the very begin- ning. I feel like he was such a mas- terful carrier of narrative in his body, of storytelling. So I don’t know if I want to ask what it’s like not having Robert Henry in your processes right now, just wanting to bring that huge absence into our space.

JH: So when do I get to interview you?! [both laugh]

MAURYA KERR is a bay area-based choreogra- pher, writer, filmmaker, and the artistic director of tinypistol. Much of her work, across disciplines, is focused on black and brown people reclaim- ing their birthright to both wonderment and the quotidian. She is the Resident Curator for ODC Theater’s 2024/25 season and recently published her first poetry chapbooks, MUTTOLOGY with Small Harbor Publishing and tommy noun with C&R Press.


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16 unify strengthen amplify in dance SPRING 2024 16 A In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org unify strengthen amplify 44 Gough Street, Suite 201 San Francisco, CA 94103 www.dancersgroup.org ARCHITECTURE IS THE ANCIENT GLOBAL ART OF THE STRUCTURES OF A PLACE REVEALING THE FUNCTIONAL AND BEAUTIFUL NEEDS OF THE PEOPLE OF THE EARTH. JOANNA HAIGOOD’S ZACCHO DANCE THEATRE IS ALSO AN ANCIENT ART THAT PORTRAYS THE LIVING BODIES OF A PLACE IN MOTION, FLIGHT, AND PROXIMITY TO THE STORIES THAT BECOME ENSHRINED BUILT AND UNBUILT PLACES UPON THE EARTH. ERIKA CHONG SHUCH | INTERVIEWED BY ROWENA RICHIE PHOTO BY HECTOR ZAVALA MUSINGS ON THE PEOPLE’S PALACE by Ellen Sebastian Chang Joanna Haigood describes her collaboration for The People’s Palace as “an artistic interven- tion and dialogue with the architectural ico- nography with the intention to insert the com- munities and the narratives that are excluded from representation, and to provide a more accurate picture of who and what defines San Francisco.” I recall the architectural ideas of Christopher Alexander and his colleagues who crafted a Zen like approach towards the built world noting the beauty and soul of architec- ture is born from the people as a “living pattern language…A quality in buildings and in towns cannot be made, but only generated, indirectly, by the ordinary actions of the people, just as a flower cannot be made, but only generated from the seed.” ZACCHO Dance Theatre is also a pattern language soulfully seeding for decades: dancing, singing, speaking within the natural world of trees, butterflies, and bees as an expression of the interdependent unity of all things; and a researched chore- ography interacting with site specific struc- tures to reveal forgotten enforced labor or cultural contributions of enslaved Africans, silos of urban renewal and gentrification, sites of love and sustenance and the “ghost archi- tecture” that inhabits our memories. ZAC- CHO Dance Theatre’s visions are spiritually engineered within the divine site of the body as an ongoing reminder that we, the cultur- ally diverse peoples, have always been here as sacred stewardship, valuable knowledge, and creative contributions. SPRING 2024 in dance 17

to belong via ownership. We moved into the house before it was finished. My Gran Mama, Rosetta Rankin from Forest, Mississippi, wept, “Lawd have mercy on us. I was raised to never move into an unfinished house. It’s a bad sign. This house will never get finished.” The house was livable, just unfinished. Our unfinished house welcomed all to our table as Mama believed that she “cooked like Jesus;” there would always be enough for us and whomever knocked on the door. In 1970, I moved to California to live with my biological mother in Berkeley. I would visit my unfinished house every year. Daddy Hicks’ intention was to finish the house, but his nephew over time succumbed to alcoholism and became unreliable. Daddy died in 1975. And Mama never wanted “another man up in my house.” Financially there was no money or skilled bodies to complete what was started. When my Mama died in 1996, I walked down the old stairs to the basement with its dirt floor, the open studs that represented two guest bedrooms, a den, a bathroom, the narrow, low sliding glass windows encrusted with cobwebs, dust, and outdoor splatters, an old couch with piles of unfolded clothes, a clothes- line strung to dry clothes in winter from the old washing machine balanced on unused cinder blocks and I cried a sorrowful, pitiful woe-is-me sobbing. As I have grown into the moral aesthetics of my homeplace the house feels magical to me now – it had everything living and useful inside and outside including dirt. We are the public, the private, individual and the collective. None of us are unique in our longing for a homeplace and a public space where we are able, as bell hooks says, “to recover our wholeness” and “be affirmed in our minds and hearts.” Yes, the settler empire’s extractive wars continue to amass mounds of rubble and slash wounds upon the lands where we struggle to live the lives we are born into as diverse crea- tures of the earth. It represents a lack of architectural imagination within bankruptcy of the embodied hungry ghosts of progress. Hope is also a design: Once upon a time the World Honored One was walking with gods and devas and humans, when he paused. He pointed to the ground and said, “This is a suitable site to build a temple.” The god Indra then plucked a blade of grass from nearby and stuck it into the ground at the spot where the Buddha had pointed. Indra declared, “The temple is built!” The World Honored One smiled. ELLEN SEBASTIAN CHANG is a multi-faceted creative force, renowned for her impactful contributions as a director and writer. Her current projects are “the boiling” in collaboration with writer SunHui Chang and visual artist Joan Osato, slated for premiere at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre in 2025, and “Post Pardon: the opera” with librettist Arisa White and composer Jessica Jones at Waterville, Maine’s Gordon Center for Creative and Per- forming Arts in 2025.

“…we have to understand that imagination shapes the world and so those of us who have been oppressed by how others imagine the world, the supremacists the patri- archs, the war mongers, the capitalists, we have to imagine something so compelling that it moves us beyond and out of the compliance with our own entrapment in these systems that do not love us.” — ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN What is the design of public and private spaces? What is the “pattern language” of these codified systems which represent our diverse cultures? Public remains the politized language that represents all of us in a democracy, taxpayers’ dollars generated for the public good that elects our public servants and yet… On closer inspection it feels like code for a kind of peo- ple struggling for access to a permissible life that has a value publicly and privately. Public becomes code for the masses as others, poor, poorly educated, poorly fed, poorly housed, lacking in health care, lacking in import- ant work, lacking access, black, brown, yellow, queer, dis- abled, immigrant, on the streets and corners and benches of built space – you know them as those people in public schools, transportation, libraries, needy for public wel- fare and public defenders. We are a jumble amassed in a Jenga-like structure where the invisible hand pulls a piece that can crash our worlds. Which creates the feeling of pri- vate 4 as so very aspirational, as in private property, private corporations, private equity funds, private sector, private reserve, private island, schools, universities, rooms, parties, exclusive access to that good life that is steeped in the leg room of first class. And if that is the case then why would we invite the public into our private realms? And this is why art and architecture are so very import- ant and very dangerous. “We are not simply receivers of aesthetics ... we are makers of aesthetics. Art has a social purpose [and] art belongs to the people. It’s not something that is hanging out there that has no connection with the needs of man. And art is unashamedly, unembarrassingly, if there is such a word, social. It is political; it is economic. The total life of man is reflected in his art.” — CHINUA ACHEBE The Unfinished House: a personal memory of my childhood home. My Gran Daddy, Willie Hicks from Selma, Alabama, and his nephew John built a cinder block house for us on a small, purchased lot on the high desert dusty sage-brushed lands of the Umatilla, Palouse, and Cayuse of Eastern Washington. Cinder blocks at that time in the early 60’s were humble, cheap materials accessible to the working class in pursuit of the American hopeful dreams of a place

PLACE. PEOPLE. PROGRESS. PALACE. Now as acknowledgement of Then. Before all of us, this Place was soil, sand, river, bay, live oak, buckeye, poppy, elderberry, swallowtail, sea turtle, otter, mule deer, badger and more. This Place birthed its People as Muekma, Ramaytush, Rumsen, Miwok, Mutsen, Awaswas and more. In the quest for more, a People birthed of another Place came sailing, marching, and charging, as Spanish, Colonizers, Settlers, Prospectors, or Westward Ho’s. With an intention to occupy Place and reimagine People birthed in Place as savages, slaves, chattel, coolies, wetbacks, or sweetly as salt of the Earth, in need of control and management. This was now a Place in the process of Progress. Called it New World, Yerba Buena, Gold Mountain, Barbary Coast, The Paris of the West, First World, Fog City, The City but never call it Frisco or San Fran. The Palace 1 is built and rebuilt as reflection of the beauty and aesthetics of occupying people who came sailing, marching, and charging in the quest for more. Here we are on the steps of the Palace…. In this “now” can we rematriate ourselves within and without Palace?

1 Middle English: from Old French paleis, from Latin Palatium, the name of the Palatine hill in Rome, where the house of the emperor was situated.


“Neoclassicism in the US is directly related to the con- struction of whiteness. It was whiteness that was sought after in the many plantation houses that chose the style, justifying it as an emulation of ancient Greek ‘culture’ to separate themselves from the Indigenous peoples whose land was stolen, and the enslaved African people forced to build and work in them. Thomas Jefferson’s excitement with the work of the Beaux Arts school in Paris was motivated by a desire to make America ‘Euro- pean,’ and white.” 1 Everyone and all bodies, in all cultures and societies, engages with the built world of architecture and interior design. Those high-minded ideas and concepts are sim- ply a built place made functional or useful, beautiful, or becoming, sacred, or cherished. A place fashioned from human imaginations designed in an alchemical collabo- ration with the divine materials of the world, be it mud, be it clay, be it straw, bamboo, or redwood, be it stone or steel, be it glittering glass or reinforced concrete. Let us, also, humbly remember that all creatures design and build; perhaps this is the heart of our shared planet, a gar- den palace, where we all began before we invented cities and city halls. Here we are in 2024 in the San Francisco Bay Area, within this modern urban city landscape where our rela-

tionships to land, architecture, interior design and built structures are strictly legislated and monitored by the bureaucratic bodies controlling and managing the status quo. What avenue is open to us people, citizens, and the public, who still have dreams (plans) for how we want our lives to be dignified and respected in this place we call home? Do all avenues and roads lead to City Hall, aka “The People’s Palace?” 2 This Beaux Arts structure is the symbolic locus for the paperwork for legitimacy of our dreamed (planned) lives: marriage, birth, and death cer- tificates, permits for buildings or inspections, starting and closing a business, public health, animal welfare and more. ZACCHO Dance Theatre is inviting us into the Pal- ace as a site of recognition, reflection, and creative civic responses. The People’s Palace is the location we reimag- ine our relationship to public and civic spaces: How we love us. How we belong and make beautiful public 3 space together, as an act so compelling that fear of differ- ence dissolves within our embraced wonders, curiosities, and possibilities. We are the original architects, interior designers, landscapers, and gardeners. We, also, have an aesthetic rooted in our patterns of the language of beauty and morality. There is an Indigenous wisdom and skills that lies dormant in all of us together.

2 “The People’s Palace,” named after Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph’s vision to provide a spectacular City Hall for San Franciscans. 3 late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin publicus, blend of poplicus ‘of the people’ (from populus ‘people’ and pu- bes ‘adult’).

1 The Members of the Architecture Lobby. (2020, February 7). The Architecture Lobby Statement on Trump’s Executive Order Affecting Federal Architecture . https://architecture-lobby.org/news/t-a-l-statement-on-trumps-executive-order-affect- ing-federal-architecture/

4 late Middle English (originally denoting a person not acting in an official capacity): from Latin privatus ‘withdrawn from public life,’ a use of the past participle of privare ‘bereave, deprive,’ from privus ‘single, individual.’


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RR: Tell me more. How do you as a set designer ‘draw attention to certain aspects that are aligned with the message of the piece?’ SR: I start to tease apart specific elements [of the build- ing] and try to figure out okay, so how does this emotion machine work? Like what are actually the moving parts here? And that’s where I’ve started to find elements that I can play with. RR: For example? SR: Throughout the building, there are these busts, busts of previous mayors and other figures. And all these busts are presented on these funny plinths. It’s like a box, you know, like a four foot high by two foot by two foot box that the bust sits upon. And what that plinth means is here is an object worthy of your attention, right? So I have latched onto that shape of the plinth as a method within the context of this building, of calling attention to an object worthy of consideration and of apprecia- tion. I’ve recreated these plinths without the bust on top as performance props. And then, because of the limited surface area on the top, right, you just follow the poetry of it. There’s all kinds of other vocabulary about the lim- itation of space, the confinement of that tiny plinth for human beings to dance on. And that leads to movement. It leads to storyline. It leads to all sorts of things. RR: Are there any obvious “elephants in the room” that need to be addressed? SR: In this space, there certainly are. The reason this piece needs to exist is the essential disconnect between what the building is today and what it purports to be, and the architectural style and the intention of that archi- tectural style. There’s a disconnect in what this building is — our political and social center — and what it rep- resents or what we hope it represents. What it strives to represent is inclusion, a governmental system that upholds all of the best ideals of our American style of government, which we profess to be equality and equal consideration and access. RR: Yes, and yet.… SR: And yet I think we all would agree that it’s a com- plicated history in this country, so unpacking what this building means is a complicated thing. I think it’s really important to note that it’s a gorgeous building. It is Joan- na’s position, and mine as well, that unpacking and try- ing to understand and comment on this building’s archi- tecture doesn’t take away from that fact. But the truth is that this Beaux Arts style has elements of Baroque and Rococo and is strongly influenced by Europe, and in turn back to Rome, and back to Greece. It’s got these classi- cal shapes and forms and it’s no mistake that it was cho- sen because of its association with these classical societ-

ies and these classical seats of power. It was designed to place American society and American power in this inher- ited lineage of the great societies of the world, right? It’s all about what this architectural style uplifts and supports. And what it lifts up and supports is a vision of what is relevant and good in a society. And this particular vision of what is relevant and good in society is patriarchy and capitalism and essentially, white supremacy. RR: And essentially, white supremacy. SR: Yeah. The roots of this style are part of the foundation of what it means to fabricate whiteness. What it means to build an identity of whiteness. And it does so by reaching out and borrowing history from other places that for better or for worse, or truthfully or untruthfully, were identified in the minds of the people that chose this style as flourish- ing whiteness. I think it’s fair to say that indigenous cultures were not considered and are not considered. We see this colonial style in plantation architecture, right? We see it in all sorts of places attempting to identify with whiteness, and trying to transplant that into this space in this country.


ROWENA RICHIE: “Sunny Jim” Rolph is the San Francisco mayor responsible for christening City Hall “The People’s Palace” when it opened in 1915. The expression referred to its intended purpose: it was not a palace for kings and queens, but for ‘the people.’ Tell me about your set design for ZACCHO Dance Theatre’s upcoming performance, The People’s Palace. SEAN RILEY: I guess we start with the building itself which is the essence of site specific work. Basically we’re mak- ing a piece of time-based art in conversation with this locale. This is different and distinct from what we would think of as traditional theater where the proscenium is a blank frame in which we create a world inside, and you can move it and plug it in somewhere else and have a similar experience. But in site specific work we’re talking about making the work specifically in conversation with that locale which can only happen in that place. So in this case, the building itself, City Hall, is that locale, right? So, in terms of my approach there are two pathways: there’s what the space is, and there’s what the space means. They are different ways of unpacking the building. Architecture is an emotion machine. It’s designed to evoke, to provoke a set of reactions from us as humans.

When we walk into a building, we get a feeling. With this space, where we have the huge vaulted ceilings, the tool that’s evoking that emotion is so powerful that you can’t help but notice it and be affected by it, but also notice that it is affecting you. There’s not a lot of subtlety in this Beaux Arts style. This style is specifically designed to inspire, to overwhelm, to impose. So, I look at the build- ing in terms of what it is to understand what makes this building stand up. The different ways that force is man- aged within the architecture actually has an effect on how we feel. But also because in this specific kind of work we plan to use these spaces in unorthodox ways. RR: This kind of work meaning site specific aerial work? SR: Yeah, I certainly have done other kinds of site spe- cific work, but I’m talking about doing aerial which is, you know, a wide umbrella of a term. Sometimes it involves ropes. Sometimes it just involves being in a place where humans can’t normally get to — unique access. It’s really all about drawing attention. In this context with Joanna, aerial is not just a trick, not only circus and spectacle. It is very carefully thought out to inhabit and embody the space in a unique way that’s positioned to draw attention to certain aspects that are aligned with the message of the piece.


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RR: What’s it like to work with Joanna? SR: A masterclass in how to be a person on the earth is how I feel about the privilege of being around and work- ing with Joanna Haigood. She creates art with a fierce bravery but without anger. How to separate those things is one of the magic tricks that she does so well. I have bene- fited from learning a tiny bit of that. RR: Do you have any sense of what her secret is? SR: Love, just love. An enormous bottomless pit of love. An enormous supply of love that governs what she does. She wrestles with subjects and realities that are often- times deeply disturbing and uncomfortable and she does so, without the bitterness that would be so understand- able and forgivable. She manages to find this way to pres- ent a subject without any hint of an attack, but also never avoiding hard truths. Without having a blameful attacking component to it really opens the door for healing. There are lots of people, particularly these days, in recent times, calling attention to wrongs and highlighting aspects of our history in our society that could be better, and that’s great, and they can be better and we should be looking at that. But Joanna does it in a way that makes a very, very large roof that even those who might feel alienated from the message can stand under. She holds space so that we can all come together to acknowledge and find a different way. RR: Obviously, The People’s Palace , the performance, is ephemeral. What trace do you want it to leave behind? SR: The same as always, to touch hearts and minds. The reason we do theater in the first place is to affect someone. I know that sounds like a platitude, but this time based thing we do exists for a moment and it exists in collaboration with an audience member. That transformation within the audience member is actually the object that I’m crafting. And in terms of Joanna’s always leading with love, I hope that we will leave with a feeling that is warm and good, even though not everything we saw is easy to see. That there’s hope in it. This is an important, timely message. And it’s an important place for it to be happening. I think there’s power in this. In City Hall, this big governmental organi- zation being the venue for this message to happen. This is right where the change needs to happen. This is like the bullseye. SEAN RILEY creates unique striking environments and apparatus for time based art. He is a founding member and co-director of Cirque Mechanics, the host of television series Worlds Toughest Fixes and Speed , and a long- time collaborator on the construction of the Long Now Foundation’s 10,000 year clock. Awards and nominations in design include: 6 Izzies, TBA awards, Bay Area Critics Circle, and an Isadora Duncan Sustained Achievement Award in scenic design. Riley studied Theater at UCSC and lives in British Columbia . visiblegravity.com

I must acknowledge that as a cisgender white man in today’s climate of identity politics, it’s very difficult to sep- arate the speaker from the message. Of course, I have invis- ible biases like anybody else that I can’t always perfectly see. But I have been really lucky to work with amazing artists. Joanna is really one of my north stars. I’ve learned a lot about how to talk about this subject and how to see things more clearly. And I’ve also learned how to have a voice and that it is okay for me to have a voice within the subject matter. As a cisgender white man, for me to talk about white supremacy is not only possible, but important. RR: Absolutely, yeah. SR: So now perhaps after that whole bit, you can see more clearly why I preface that by saying that this is an amazing piece of architecture, and it’s beautiful, and I love it. This is not, for Joanna, and certainly not for me, a criticism of the architecture as it sits. This is a contextual understanding of it, right? This is something that informs the way we’re moving forward. So the piece is not in any way designed to slam the things but rather further compli- cate it. This building is supposed to be for everyone. And I think it’s clear going through that building that not everyone is represented. So one of the things we really focused on — the elephant in the room — are these four rather large medallions in the ceiling. They have a relief carved within them representing the virtues liberty, learn- ing, strength and equality. They’ve compiled images of lots of different symbols like you’d have on the back of the dollar bill. All this different symbolism. But they’re clearly not representative of the full breadth of our society. RR: In other words, the moniker “the people’s palace” didn’t really mean all the people. SR: Yeah, in my words, I think this piece could be described as an intervention to add back and showcase the missing elements of society that have not had repre- sentation or a voice within this space. RR: What’s another example of an element you’re reimagining? SR: So the medallions — I forget exactly how Joanna put it, she said something like, ‘The strength medallion is a half naked man with a sword.’ Like a really muscular white guy sitting down with a big sword. This is the vision of strength that we are presented with. And I think the vision of strength that Joanna would like to present, that she lives through her life and presents in her art and that we would like to present here, is something more nuanced. It’s the strength of caring and trust and respect. This is the strength of a society. This is the strength of an interre- lated group of people inhabiting a piece of geography. The strength of that society lies in so much more than a sword.


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T he recognizing, capturing, and sainting of beauty is what separates human beings from beasts. In all honesty, I doubt this statement is true, but it sounds true, or at least true enough. This brings us to that fundamental, yet vexing question of what is ‘Beauty’? Hell if I know. Hell if anyone I trust knows. But unless gibberish is your preferred form of communi- cation, where else can we begin a conversation on beauty than with ‘why are you beautiful?’ BEAUTY IN SEARCH OF A RESTING PLACE Does an artist have a responsibility to anything or anyone other than their whim? by MICHAEL FRENCH | photo by SIMONE FINNEY


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The one thing I know for absolute sure and without even a shred of doubt, is that those wit- less Europeans behind slavery and colonial- ism, whose air of invincibility (better known as ‘power’) gave their Eurocentric ideas of beauty a certain divine vigor (better known as ‘truth’) have a lot to be accused of. When you take even a cur- sory glance at our world today and see what it holds dear when it comes to beauty, the blood- stained fingerprints of those thirsty Europeans are everywhere. Here’s the thing, the ‘Beauty’ I’m interested in has nothing to do with statues of naked men by the Greeks, or aquiline noses, or the perversity of a white Jesus, or powdered wigs, or eminent artists from the Renaissance, or the three-movement structure of a concerto, or fake beauty spots on TikTok, or anything to do with runways at fashion houses or airports. The ‘Beauty’ I’m concerned with is the one that every artist I know, and probably every artist I don’t know, made them want to become an artist in the first place. It’s the one that gives you reason to pause, to make you wonder, to make you ponder, that lets you believe in the idea of God, scrambles your senses, and has humanity at the very core of its existence. Ridiculous as this sounds, and I must admit I feel a little queasy at my confidence, I believe that every artist, no matter what culture or tribe they come from, became an artist because they discov- ered something that spoke to the good in them, the humanity in them. Of course, if that discov- ery arrives when you’re eighteen years old, or, if you’re really unlucky, six years old, humanity’s the last thing you can imagine your unconscious- ness wanting to talk about. But that’s okay, that’s okay. If you’re too young to realize what hap- pened without your consent, your only responsi- bility is to keep on keeping on with your draw- ings in crayon, your songs on your toy piano, or your scribbled stories about dolphins and boats and a universe of glittery stars. The moment of truth will return and the path which knows which way to go will show itself soon enough. Around about here, with this very sentence, in fact, if I’m to be fair to you, dear reader, I should take my untethered, abstract idea of humanity and shape it into something concrete, something you can actually see. But fuck that!

Go write your own damn article if you want a vision of fairness! Naw, I’m only clowning around with you. But why would anyone need a concrete version of humanity when their uncon- sciousness already knows what it is? It would be a lonely and desolate place indeed if our instinct for humanity was not a song we all shared. Fortu- nately, the person standing next to you at the bus stop also has the same knowing, just as the person watching their laundry go round and round at a laundrette, just as the person buying and selling a slice of the future on Wall Street. We all have the same knowing. We all have the same knowledge. My moment on the road to Damascus came while sitting next to my extremely self-con- tained Father on the dumpy yellow couch in our cramped, but lovable flat in Brixton, south-east London. Father was watching the drama “Angels are so Few” by Dennis Potter on the British televi- sion series, “Play for Today.” I’m sure all I knew was that it was about an angel named Michael, which was, thankfully, all I needed to know to keep watching. But what I couldn’t have foreseen was that this story about an angel that arrives on the doorstep of a bored housewife, would knock me off my feet and I would keep on falling for the next ten years. Eventually my feet touched the ground again and my falling stopped, but only after I had directed my first play, Barrie O’Keefe’s “Kill- ing Time.” That was it, that moment on the couch was my introduction to humanity and the rest of my life. So, to that end, an artist, any artist, once bitten by their hidden humanity, sets off on their adventure with a packed lunch and a dreamy desire to add their voice to the cultural conversation. Or put another, less poetic way, a dreamy desire to make the world a better place. In my experience, and the experience of every artist I know and probably every artist I don’t know, that desire is fuel enough to create countless paintings, and countless books, and countless songs, and countless dances, and count- less photographs, and countless creations that don’t have a definition. It’s an adventure fueled by the personal. But don’t be fooled by the eti- quette of that word ‘humanity.’ When pushed to stand its ground by dictators or fascism or

rampant intolerance, humanity thinks highly enough of itself to respond with bared teeth and revolution, which might be hard to believe at this precise moment in time, but you can see it throughout history. For years, all I had to do was have an inspira- tion by whim from the good in me and that was enough. For myself, that is, it was enough for myself to simply have a whim and follow it. And then I moved to New York City from London. And then in 1999 Amadou Diallo had 41 bul- lets fired at his body from point-blank range, and sometime during that same year I started to listen to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” which I had heard a million times before, but hadn’t truly listened to. To be honest, my return to “What’s Going On?” wasn’t consciously to do with the Diallo murder, but unconsciously…. ? And then, as if to relieve myself of any hesita- tion, I saw David Bowie at the Roseland Ballroom and had a night of pure, unrestrained, ecstasy. In the larger scheme of things, I don’t know why this rock concert has anything to do with anything, but it does, it really does. I had lived through the butchering of Stephen Lawrence, the steel-capped boots of the National Front marauding the streets, the rocks and fires of the Brixton riots, the rebellion of the Notting Hill Carnival. But there was something about the Diallo murder, about being in America, about being on the verge of the 21st century that made it hit differently. Not long after that hail of Police bullets rang through the air, and I wish I could remember exactly when, I felt a Divine Elbow thrust itself into my ribs with real intent. The Divine Elbow said, ‘Wake Up! You’re not just an artist, you’re a Black artist, and that should mean something.’ And for the first time in my life, it did. So, here’s the thing. I was always a Black artist, obviously, but the unspooling of my faith in nat- ural justice left me naked and shorn of all feath- ers, save for the fact that I now had a new coat of responsibility, and it was a coat weighted to the bone with history. From that time onward, as best as I could, I tried to correct, or at least challenge a past narrative that marooned the Black experience in the corner of the room. You could see it in what I wrote about, the plays I directed, the events I attended, where I spent my time, where I spent my business, how I let myself be.

That was how it was for close to twelve years and I’m proud of that time, but then fatigue set in. It’s an ugly truth that I don’t always want to admit, but slowly and surely I found myself exhausted from doing what I knew had to be done, by what I knew was my responsibility. To change a past narrative about the Black experi- ence was to constantly wade again and again and again in the struggle of the Black experience, and bit by bit, day by day, month after month, year upon year, it eventually used me up. I remember thinking when no one was looking, ‘Is it okay if I create something that’s just beautiful? Some- thing that doesn’t have anything to do with cor- recting a narrative? Something that doesn’t have anything to do with the meaning of history? Something that doesn’t have anything to do with anyone or anything but me and mine?’ Then I heard the painter Amy Sherald speak on the pur- pose of her work: “Public Blackness has been codified to be something that’s always attached to resistance, which limits our humanity and the ways in which we can imagine ourselves existing. There has to be some relief from the battle or we can never evolve as a people. I often say that my paintings are a ‘resting place,’ a place where Black people can see a reflection of themselves that’s not in resistance or contention. It’s just a Black per- son being a person.” All at once, as if laid at my feet on a velvet cushion, I was given a landing and a new respon- sibility: Art as a ‘resting place.’ So, here's the thing. I was always a Black artist, obviously, but the unspooling of my faith in natural justice left me naked and shorn of all feathers, save for the fact that I now had a new coat of responsibility, and it was a coat weighted to the bone with history.


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