May 2019 In Dance

Published by Dancers' Group

MAY 2019


Summer Workshop with Robert Moses, Jun 17-21 photo by Peter Earl McCollough

SHARING IS POWERFUL. And the wonderful part is that sharing comes natu- rally—like when a child eagerly shoves their ice cream cone towards your mouth, or when a stranger smiles to comfort because you’re pushed aside by someone needing the last seat on the bus. The forever lovely sharing of warm-smiles can quickly shift to more complex shares. Especially con- versations that question the ways we think about the mov- ing body. Sharing is how we come together to participate in dance class. Sure, there’s a teacher, and yet the gift of the 90 min- utes, or so, together is that everyone in class is finding ways to engage bone and muscle that aligns in a specific aesthetic that is primal and guided by numerous histories. Sharing allows us to learn. I am often on the search for ways to illuminate my ideas – yes, sharing has an agenda. These ideas run the gamut. A basic share for me takes the form of a meal and conver- sation. This connection through the act of nourishing our bodies harkens to the very beginnings of society. If an artist is interested in being considered for a grant or some other form of support – like a residency – they must articulate a vision of what they are creating. This sharing must come across as realistic and aspirational, grounded in thoughts of why, where, and how they will make this future-public presentation a reality. They must fully share their most precious ideas. Or do they? A cherished refer- ence to one person can be incoherent and unattainable to another person. A common hope is that talking about Welcome by WAYNE HAZZARD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

dances not yet made should be something natural and so much a part of everyday experience that its intimacy becomes matter of fact. What makes sharing easy for some artists and challeng- ing for other artists? Already I’ve implied a judgement in the notion that to not share – bare your soul – means that you might not be worthy of support. Sharing is risky. Ultimately my share here goes to the crux of what shar- ing is about – to feel equal in the equation of the share, to trust who you are sharing with, and that what is stated will be taken as it’s intended—meaning someone will under- stand what you are sharing no matter how it’s stated. Now we are at the place of sharing where thoughts shat- ter into millions of different ways to think about this con- cept—the ability to speak the same language in a share. If someone doesn’t understand our share/language/moment, is this the only time to state what we believe? To state our vision? Probably. And this means that sharing can come at a cost – a simple example is the smile that goes unanswered. And the more complex example is the grant proposal that’s rejected. And if rejected, does this mean the risk was not worth it? Do you not share anymore? These are the chances each artist takes at every step of creation. Sharing is powerful. And within these pages we are eager to share a bevy of opportunities to engage with workshops, performances, and ideas that will assuredly inform your own sharing. My hope is that you discover something that engages and compels. Step forward and dare to share.

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, May 4 photo by Lara Kaur

La Cumbiamba Colombiana, May 24 & 26 photo by Collin Johnson

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PURITY OF CUMBIA: Talking with John Jairo Roldán about sustaining the “mother of all rhythm”

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IT IS AN EARLY SUNDAY evening in late March, and I’m sitting on a barstool at Spats in Berke- ley where two large screen TV’s are showing two different NCAA championship games, but the March Madness action on the screen is being totally ignored by the bar’s patrons. Instead, dancers in the cavernous middle room are learning choreography they will eventually perform this coming May. But today, Carnaval San Francisco is still in the future and the pressure that will build as the May 26th festival and parade that celebrates the culture of Latin American and the Carib- bean approaches has not yet materialized. Today this group of 30 or so people, mostly women wearing red, blue, and yellow skirts over jeans and leggings, are just having fun spending the afternoon together, as they move to the beat holding candles, cups, and empty bottles of Modelo Especial up in one hand, hem of their skirt in the other. Their name is La Cumbiamba Colombiana. In short order one of the games on the TV ends, the rehearsal ends, and John Jairo Roldán, the group’s director, joins me at another bar in an empty back room. I have caught him at a perfect time for an interview. Clearly still feeling the high of three hours performing the music he loves, but before the inevitable crash, he explains in excited, pas- sionate detail what I have been watching this afternoon. “La Cumbiamba Colombiana is a folkloric group representing the Afro Caribbean tradi- tions of Colombia. We are doing the Cumbia, a very popular rhythm played from Mexico to Argentina and throughout the Carib- bean, but it was born in Colombia,” Roldán explains, continuing that “what we're trying to do is to bring Cumbia out in a raw and organic way—to show [how] it was played 400 years ago. Every country has put a little twist to it, their own rhythm pattern.” He emphasizes to me that, simple and beautiful, “Cumbia is the mother of all rhythm.” This will be La Cumbiamba’s sixth time participating in Carnaval. In those six years, they’ve had some success. Roldán shares that “we feel really proud that among 84 dance troupes, back in 2016 we were ranked first by the judges—these are people that know a lot about folkloric dance and music from the Caribbean and in Latin America.” They were ranked third last year, and are working hard to be ranked high this year. Roldán stops mid-boast to remind both him and myself that “it’s really not a com- petition. What we're trying to do is to share this spirit of Carnaval, so people can learn about our culture or tradition and feel invited to participate.” And he shares that dancing on the street is where Cumbia prop- erly belongs: “That's what the cumbiamba is. That word has a meaning, it’s when people get together and say, "we're going to play a cumbiamba, on that corner on this day, and the drummers and the dancers get together, and...” Roldán smiles wistfully and doesn’t finish his sentence as he glimpses some magi- cal memory in his mind’s eye. I don’t ask him to try and put it into words. Colombia has a Pacific and an Atlantic coastal region, and the cumbia is from the Atlantic side. It was born out of a mixture of the music that was brought to the region by enslaved Africans combined with the music from Indigenous people of the region, who themselves were often enslaved by Spanish colonists. According to Roldán, this is why the music I heard in the rehearsal included drumming that was African in origin as well as flutes that came from the native

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La Cumbiamba Colombiana / photos by Robert Werner

population. He tells me “that's the only thing they had. Just to play, to lay out all their mutual sorrow and their anger. And that's how cumbia was born over 400 years ago.” Today he is part of a Colombian community in the Bay Area trying to keep the cumbia in a pure and beautiful form. Sparing me from broaching a delicate sub- ject regarding the way many Americans tend to see his home country, he proactively tells me that “you know the media...sometimes they focus a little too much on the nega- tive. When people from other countries hear about Colombia, the first thing that comes to mind is cocaine…[and] this war between the government and the guerilla that’s been going on for 50 years.” He continues, “I’m from a city and in the cities, we don’t know war...people who live in the rural areas, the campesinos , they are the ones who are suf- fering.” The tenuous peace deal that formally ended the war a few years ago has recently come under review by a new government and some have wondered if it will hold. The piece that La Cumbiamba Colombi- ana is rehearsing is a response to this current situation. Roldán tells me that “the entire company will be dressed in white as a sym- bol of peace…the main thing that we want to do with our compasa [is] to represent that wish of peace for Colombia.” I’ve talked to a lot of people about their path to leadership within a dance company and for many there seems to be a pretty com- mon sequence. You’re a member of a group and you love it, and then you start helping out with little things here and there, just to keep the company moving along. And then one day the only person doing all of the little things is you and somebody asks you what they can do to help out, and congratulations: you’ve just become leader of a dance company. As Roldán shares with me, the path was some- what similar, but infused with more urgency: “I've been a percussionist doing salsa music, playing bongo, minor percussion with many different orchestras. I've been

participating in Carnaval San Francisco as volunteer drummer for almost 20 years.” One day Carnaval Executive Director Roberto Hernandez reached out to Roldán with the news that there were no Colombian com- panies performing in that year’s Carnaval. “The conversation with him was that, ‘hey, you know, Colombia is not going to be here. It's really crucial that you guys participate. I know you can do it…and I will support you every step of the way.” So with that vote of confidence and support, Roldán put together a group to participate in Carnaval and “it's been now six years and we're still working on it. And there's always room for improvement and growing.” This is something that could only hap- pen in the Bay Area: Roldán shares with me his belief that the Bay Area’s culture is unlike anywhere else in the country, even cit- ies like New York and Miami, where more Colombians reside. The music from the front of the bar has picked up again, despite the rehearsal’s conclusion and as Roldán looks back toward the direction the music is com- ing from, he concludes “that being in the Bay Area is the blessing, it’s like the universe con- spired to bring us all here.” If you aren’t able to make it to Carnaval this year, you can still see La Cumbiamba Colombiana this May in a venue that is both more intimate and more monumental than Mission street when they perform at the Rotunda Dance Series on Friday, May 24 at San Francisco’s City Hall. He tells me that in the Rotunda they will present cumbia in its most pure form. This includes the Carnaval piece with the dancers in white, as well as other traditional dances. Roldán tells me that they “want to show the people that this is very old and it’s something worth preserving and sharing with the world.” A simple goal, but sharing and sustaining the mother of all rhythms is vitally important.

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ON THIS PAGE / Purity of Cumbia by Rob Taylor 3 / Virginia Matthews Performs ‘50 Years’ in the Moment by Rowena Richie 4 / Setting Skywatchers’ “At the Table” by Rob Avila 6 / In Practice: Mary Armentrout by Sima Belmar 7 / Summer Workshop Guide 12 / May Performance Calendar 14 / Fog Beast Serves It Up in The Big Reveal by Sarah Chenoweth 16 / In Conversation with Lenora Lee by Heather Desaulniers

ROB TAYLOR is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

La Cumbiamba Colombiana: Rotunda Dance Series, May 24, City Hall Rotunda, SF,; Carnaval SF Grand Parade, May 26, Mission District, SF,

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DANCING NOW AND ZEN: Virginia Matthews Performs ‘50 Years’ in the Moment


there is a lot of stigma associated with danc- ing while aging. I embody that tension. I’m 49 years-old, 20 years Ginny’s junior, and like Ginny I’m still dancing, teaching and performing. I asked Ginny when she crossed over into considering herself an older dancer. She thought about it for a moment and then said, “I guess around 2000.” I did the math. That’s my age. The age of grace “I was reading a book about old age,” Ginny told me over a snack of chai and trail mix, between class and rehearsal. “The one thing this man was trying to say was: we need elders. We have tons of old people who are addicted to competency. He said you need to step out of that role. Your role is to tell sto- ries, to be further down the road, and maybe to be able to throw out a few pointers rather than wanting to still march side by side with your middle-aged self. He said he considers it a great insult when people tell him he doesn’t look his age.” As she spoke I thought, I’m extremely grateful Ginny is going out on a limb with this production. Role-modeling for us younger older dancers. First, I watched Ginny teach Modern Dance for the Returning Dancer, grand pliés, which Ginny identified as probably the tough- est thing for people who are return- ing, hitch-kicks with ballon , Cunning- ham-esque unusual rhythms, and changes of direction. She has impressive balance. Ginny dances with precision and ease – with what I would call grace. Maybe its fairer to say Ginny does dance her age. She embodies a life-time of grace in every movement. I asked Ginny if she felt she had any age- related limitations. “What are your limitations and what's your vocabulary?” she considered thought- fully. “A writer may not access all the vocabu- lary, but they have a vocabulary that's rich for them. I haven't yet felt like I wanted to say something that I wasn't physically able to do.” Have Merce-y Ginny told me a story that illustrates this limitation/vocabulary distinction. She saw Merce Cunningham perform with his com- pany when he was quite arthritic. “He didn’t do much. He moved, positioning all these younger dancers, and then he’d go to the back of the stage where there was a coat rack and put on an old-man sweater.” He repeated the act with different sweaters. “And I thought, yes. He’s telling it like it is. It was very, very moving. Moving because he was moving even though he wasn’t moving the way he used to be able to. But he found a way to still be self-expressive. * * * Ginny attended Sarah Lawrence College. She knew she wanted to go to an art school to follow music, theater, or dance. “I was the least skilled at dance.” But modern dance pioneer Bessie Schonberg was the director of the dance department at Sarah Lawrence. where participants ranged from older dancers to new moth- ers. Then I watched her run through a few solos that will be featured in 50 Years . I wanted to tell Ginny she doesn’t dance her age. She still does center floor

VIRGINIA “GINNY” MATTHEWS practices what she preaches. She’s ordained in a Rinzai Zen Buddhist lineage as well as immersed in the dance community as a performer, cho- reographer, and teacher. The guiding Zen principle, “You deal with what you got,” has undergirded Ginny’s dance career for half a century. The longest she has not danced is three months. This despite three pregnancies and three births. “I was going to take six months off after my second son was born. But my husband injured his arms, so I had to go back to teaching….I was also inter- ested in how my body moved when it was pregnant.” This sense of curiosity and accep- tance inspired Ginny’s upcoming concert, Approaching 70 – 50 Years of a Life in Dance – a retrospective of solo works from 1975 to the present, to commemorate her 70th birthday. She can’t help worrying, “What am I doing? Do people really want to come?” But perhaps because she sits and meditates, she teaches class to keep in shape, and she emphatically loves to dance, she’s dealing with it. "I think I'm exploring the difference between a sense of exposure and a sense of transparency. If I start to feel like I'm expos- ing myself to people's judgements, I don’t feel free. I feel inhibited. But transparency means I'm just going to show up and be as clear and transparent as I can be.” Watching Ginny is de light ful. Talking to her, too. As we say in both the dance and the consciousness worlds, she has a strong presence. “I'm sensitive to electromagnetic waves. If you don't have a practice that can help ground you, I worry for you – whether it's dance, yoga, meditation, walks in nature, playing tennis every day, whatever it is that gets you back in your body. And in a quiet and still place. We need to keep that balance. My favorite thing is to just sit in my back- yard and drink a cup of tea.” Dancing at 70 years of age and older is relatively unexplored territory. Ginny hopes to help shape our ideas about this landscape. She wonders: Does an elder dancer bring something unique and valuable to the art form? Is the loss of youthful technical virtu- osity balanced by a fuller and more mature artistic expression? Does maturity mean a more open and transparent persona on stage? Ginny considers performing an essential component to a life in dance. “If the ultimate goal of dance is expres- sion, you have to have that framework to express. Our framework is performance. It doesn't necessarily have to be in a theater or super formal, but it needs that – and this is where the interface with Zen is – it needs the present moment, time, and focus to live.” My present moment, time and focus is a year-long fellowship, at the Global Brain Health Institute, at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center. I’m a middle-aged dancer and senior fitness instructor who’s exploring the intersection of dementia care, movement, and performance. Aging is something everyone has in com- mon. We’re all going there. What if we view aging as an experience that unites us? I have learned that people over the age of 65 often don’t get looked in the eye. How does aging effect our literal and metaphorical focus on the present moment? As a fellow for brain health equity I’m learning that we should dance into old age. There are numerous studies that conclude dance is particularly good for brain health. (A good rule of thumb is to remember what’s good for the heart is good for the brain). But

know where your body is in time and space and relationship, so you're less likely to f ling yourself into injury. It's also very good for the brain. I always make my students face in different ways than they would nor- mally face, or go different directions. And that was Merce. That was part of your training with Merce, to be able to go any- where anytime.” I asked Ginny about the timing of 50 Years . Is it in any way connected to the Merce Cunningham centennial? Cunning- ham, who died in 2009, would have turned 100 this year, a milestone being celebrated by events, discussions and presentations. “I'm turning 70 in September, that was that impetus. I thought it would be kind of cool to revisit this long span.” She worked with teenagers for 36 years; with mother- daughter pairs; for a while she taught people ages 5 to 65. “I was protesting against what I call ‘the ghettoizing of the ages.’ Kids in school doing their thing. Old people at the senior center doing their thing. Adults at home doing their thing. Why can't we get together? I imagine that's how villages and communities were. Everyone came together for a celebration.” Merce Cunningham once famously said dancing gives you, “nothing but that sin- gle fleeting moment when you feel alive.” Ginny mused on this remark. “I think what he meant is that you get to be completely focused, which we don't get to be very often. I mean I actually do in my Zen training. But I’m not sharing, that's my own personal practice. Performing is taking that practice and sharing it.” ROWENA RICHIE is a dance theater artist and movement educator. She teaches life-long learners at City College of San Francisco, and is currently an Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at UCSF.

(Top:) 1975 / photo courtesy of artist, (left) current

/ photo by Gregory


“She was a force of nature and I thought, ‘I want to study with her.’” Ginny told me Bessie was a master at get- ting composition and creative self-expres- sion out of people. Jerome Robbins and Merce Cunningham used to show her things because she had such a great eye. While watching a student-choreographed showcase the light bulb went on: “Oh, I could choreo- graph a dance.” After college Ginny trained at the Cunningham Studio. She furthered her Cunningham training in San Francisco as a founding member of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. “My time studying with Margy and performing in the company was a foundational part of my dance life.” Ginny has retained strong Cunningham roots in her teaching and choreography. There’s a movement afoot to incorpo- rate dance into treatments for neurocogni- tive diseases. Mark Morris offers a program called Dance for Parkinson’s Disease. Tango for Parkinson’s is gaining traction. I share an affinity for Cunningham technique with Ginny. (After taking my first Cunningham classes at the American Dance Festival I transferred colleges – moving to California to study with former Cunningham dancer Jeff Slayton). Might Cunningham technique bolster cognition? In her Returning Dancer class Ginny uses Pilates to warm up the joints. “If we just started with the Cunningham exercises the joints would not be ready.” It takes longer for older joints, she notes. “Cunningham is actually very good for the aging body because it is very conscious. You have to

Virginia Matthews presents Approaching 70 – 50 Years of a Life in Dance: A Solo Dance Retrospective : May 4-5, Spreckels Center for the Performing Arts, Rohnert Park; May 10-12, Dance Mission Theater, SF.


in dance MAY 2019

Setting Skywatchers’ “At the Table”: Connection, Empowerment, and Art at the Margins by ROB AVILA

Skywatchers / photos by Deirdre Visser

direction by Adele Prandini) in which sub- jects imagine themselves without the con- straints and tribulations of their daily lives and instead cast themselves into an imagined past/future of heroic possibility. And there’s a series of home tours, “Inside the Iroquois Hotel,” on O’Farrell Street, made in collaboration with residents of this supportive housing community to bring wider public attention to the nature of life inside these vital sources of low-income housing in the Tenderloin. The multifaceted project—grounded in daily collaboration between Tenderloin resi- dent co-creators and Skywatchers' seasoned community-practice artists Shakiri, Zul- fikar Ali Bhutto, Gabriel Christian, Dazié Grego, and others—culminates in May in a three-day festival. The event will show- case much of the preceding two years’ work through documenting exhibits and perfor- mances, while crucially serving as an entry point for collective, creative action by other

sphere for its marginalized members and their neighbors, especially in the realm of supportive housing and laws and policies impacting the city’s homeless citizens. Like Skywatchers’ work as a whole, At the Table is more about process than prod- uct. Nevertheless, it has produced a host of related actions and discrete productions. Among them are forays into the physi- cal landscape to highlight (and creatively overcome, in videos shot and edited by jose e. abad and Malia Byrne) instances of “unpleasant design,” those structures of deterrence in the built environment – such as subdivisions on benches that prevent reclin- ing or speakers blaring classical music – that target homeless people, youth of color, and other members of the public deemed undesir- able as parts of the social flow. There’s also a publicly displayed series of large photographic portraits of Tenderloin residents called the Opulence Project (fea- turing photography by Deirdre Visser and

community groups, like Tenderloin Votes, to address that imbalance. At a more fundamental level, today’s pro- cession has been about relationship build- ing—the M.O. of Skywatchers since 2011, when choreographer Anne Bluethenthal founded the Tenderloin-based company in collaborative partnership with residents of the Senator Hotel (a low-income perma- nent supportive housing building owned and operated by the non-profit Community Housing Partnership (CHP)) on the principle that “relationships are the first site of social change.” This is a neighborhood that can use more of both. For DeMore, a self-described “vocal activ- ist” who has worked with Bluethenthal’s core company, ABD Productions, for over 20 years, the first point of relationship is always in song—especially among co-creators con- tending with various challenges that can include trauma and social isolation. “People don’t feel like they have a voice, and that’s how they’re treated,” says DeMore in a recent phone conversation, “like they’re not even seen. So when I start working with a group, we just start singing. To give people permission. The only qualification you have to have is that you’re breathing. That’s pretty much it.” While Skywatchers takes a multidisci- plinary approach to its projects, nothing so readily illustrates its underlying philosophy as the choral music that remains a central element in its work. “For a lot of people, it’s the first time that they’ve joined their voices together with oth- ers,” explains DeMore. “And it gives them strength. Every powerful movement in the world is pretty much led by song. You have to think about song as food. Song as fuel to keep you going ahead.” “Tenderloin Processional” is just one of a long list of disparate actions, performances, installations, instigations, and interventions being staged throughout the Tenderloin and beyond—in public spaces, in single-room occupancy hotels (SROs), in the corridors of power, occasionally even in theaters—that together make up At the Table , Skywatchers’ two-year exercise in politically engaged com- munity-based art. At the Table extends Skywatchers’ com- munity-driven work, while building ambi- tiously on its foundation of relationships and networks to claim space in the political * * *

MELANIE DEMORE IS LEADING a procession from the Tenderloin to San Francisco City Hall. It’s the last Saturday in October, a little more than a week before Election Day, and a cou- ple dozen people from the neighborhood— the majority associated with something called the Leadership Academy, a grassroots organizing effort instigated by Skywatch- ers in collaboration with GLIDE (where I work)—gather in Boeddeker Park to march together and cast their votes early. But first they sing. Addressing the diverse group of men and women through a speaker strapped to a luggage cart, DeMore raises several choruses of “This Little Light of Mine.”Wearing a T-shirt that reads “I am a Skywatcher” and a loose braided bob that gracefully frames her open and expressive face, the company’s choral director goes on to remind everyone, in song, that “Every- body Here’s Got a Place at the Table.” As if to underscore the point, a man wear- ing a motorcycle helmet studded with spikes comes over a few minutes later, yelling angrily at the proceedings. DeMore doesn’t hesitate to offer him the microphone, invit- ing him to say his piece, which he does, not too coherently but passionately, before qui- etly making his way out of the park again. Now the group is moving out, too. DeMore, supported by other members of the Skywatchers ensemble, leads the marchers in song along a zigzagging route through some of San Francisco’s most densely populated, poverty-plagued, vibrant and varied streets— Eddy, Jones, Turk, Leavenworth, Golden Gate—inspiring responses from people on the sidewalks, some of whom raise their heads from seated or supine positions to nod approvingly, sing along, laugh, or join the line for a block or two. The procession comes onto United Nations Plaza, pausing to speak and sing words of encouragement and solidarity to the homeless people gathered there at a time of increasing police presence in the area. Continuing on, the group crosses Larkin Street, passes through Civic Center Plaza, and arrives at the steps of City Hall, where they discover and rally alongside a youth group also assembled to vote en masse. Finally, everyone heads inside to cast their ballots. This scene, over in a few hours, could easily have passed you by. But it leaves a trace of itself nonetheless—not least in votes cast by first-time voters from a neighbor- hood woefully underrepresented in gov- ernment decision-making. Indeed, today’s action dovetails with a concerted effort by

Opulence Project / photo by Deirdre Visser


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neighborhood residents and a forum for dia- logue with neighborhood partners and city officials—all of it ultimately geared to shap- ing and advancing an agenda of, by and for the neighborhood’s residents. The idea for At the Table takes its cue from the funding model of creative place- making (although not uncritically), and came out of a conversation in the summer of 2016 between Anne Bluethenthal and Skywatch- ers’ then brand-new senior program man- ager, Clara Pinsky. Pinsky had majored in dance at Wesleyan where her thesis explored community-based performance projects (including Skywatch- ers) as important strategies for equitable community development. She gained first- hand experience in such collaborative com- munity-based projects while working as an assistant choreographer with Allison Orr’s acclaimed Forklift Danceworks in Austin. Pinsky had been speaking with Anne Blu- ethenthal about Skywatchers for two years before moving out to San Francisco in June 2016 to work with the company. No sooner had she started than she saw a deadline for the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Our Town” creative placemaking grant looming. “Clara had been working for a week,” remembers Bluethenthal, “and she said you have to apply for this. We had, by that point, this six-years body of work. It’s all about forefronting the voices of residents. And we now have stuff that people want to say. How do we get that in front of the right people? So that became the idea. How do we bring people to the table?” “I had spent the last year-and-a-half researching creative placemaking and under- standing the field, so it was really easy for me to translate what this program was already doing in the neighborhood into the terms of creative placemaking,” explains Pinsky, who with Bluethenthal has been a principal driv- ing force behind the planning and manage- ment of At the Table . “We were already making artworks that spoke to the lives of residents. That felt fun- damentally important. We just need to frame [ At the Table ] as political work, and we need to leverage partnerships in the neighborhood to position it, so that the voices that we’re capturing in this art-making process are heard. That was the seed of it.” Pinsky says that in envisioning the project, they quickly foregrounded the most salient issue emerging from the resident co-creators in years of regular Skywatchers meetings: the conditions of supportive housing. “We’d been on that path,” notes Blu- ethenthal, “We had this experience with the Dialogue Project , a film project within the Community Housing Partnership, which was about bringing staff, upper administration, and residents to the same table to talk about the conditions. “And now we embark on the next two years, in the same process, but creating new work with this particular idea,” she contin- ues. “What are all the different strategies that we can bring to bear that help us not just do the work we’re doing but with an eye towards positioning that work in the politi- cal context more overtly?” For the better part of the last two years, I have been a small part of the process, serving on an advisory board comprised of people from various Tenderloin community-based organizations, among them CHP, Coalition on Homelessness, Code Tenderloin, Faithful Fools, Tenderloin Neighborhood Develop- ment Corporation (TNDC), and GLIDE. The group acts as a sounding board to Bluethenthal and Pinsky as they develop At the Table , and as liaisons to the organiza- tions and coalitions in the neighborhood whose work resonates with the interests and goals of the project. In fact, At the Table accrues to a larger collective effort underway among local resi- dents, community organizers and anchor institutions—such as the Tenderloin People’s Congress and the Tenderloin Development Without Displacement Initiative—to support the neighborhood’s vulnerable populations in realizing their own collective power, and to stave off the forces of displacement and

Skywatchers / photos by Deirdre Visser

here.’ That to me is kind of remarkable, because I feel like it’s so little, but it means so much.” “So (a) the structure (b) the relationships and (c) the art,” she says, summing up the deliverables from the hard work of the last several years. We’re in dialogue often about things that are very difficult or challenging or even traumatic. And this becomes the mate- rial. We’re making something, out of our- selves, each week—song or poetry or move- ment. I actually feel it has its own beauty and ‘just rightness’ [but] just the act of doing it is life-affirming. The act of doing it together

improve conditions for themselves and oth- ers living at the margins. Such traces of self-awareness, connection and solidarity, which map onto what Pinsky refers to as the “relational ecosystem” of the neighborhood, might be the most signifi- cant short-term result from the preceding two years’ work. At the same time, as “out- comes” they are notably hard to quantify. “They’re not what you would normally put in a grant,” admits Bluethenthal, dur- ing a conversation in March. “But here’s the thing: We are actually creating structure. I mean literally. People come and they say, ‘This is the thing that I count on every week. There’s very little structure in my life. And I know I can count on every Wednesday after- noon that there will be a loving community

is community-building. And the glue of the whole thing is that we’re generating love.” How does a process like this conclude in one three-day festival? It doesn’t, admits Bluethenthal. “It’ll just evolve into something else.” ROBERT AVILA is a San Francisco-based arts writer who has covered theater, dance, film and perfor- mance for the San Francisco Bay Guardian , Ameri- can Theatre , San Francisco Chronicle , and other publications. He also writes at povertyartsjournal. com. Since 2016, he works as director of communi- cations at GLIDE.

Skywatchers presents At the Table: Visions Festival : May 17-19, Kelly Cullen Community Center Auditorium, SF.

at the Angel IslAnd ImmIgrAtIon stAtIon sAturdAys & sundAys 5/4–5, 5/11–12, 5/18–19 11Am or 1Pm dreams of fl ight and PremIere of the sequel Within these Walls the Award Winning by lenora lee dance

A Choreographic Rock Opera by LILI WECKLER | Unhinge With Musical Direction by JEN MELLER SAT. May 25th 6:30-7:30 pm SUN. MAY 26TH 5:00-6:00 pm San franCISco INTERNational arts FESTIVAL 2019 fort mason chapel (2019 program > dance) Updates on instagram: @l i l i annjeree

in dance MAY 2019

IN PRACTICE: Mary Armentrout Dance Theater's listening creates an opening


Now Mary’s work is being moved else- where again. San Francisco audiences will witness listening “re-sited.” Mary explained to me that when a piece is re-sited multiple times, it becomes a challenge to define what it is, to claim any sort of essence for it: “This modular way of working doesn’t have to privilege the first instance. The show gets mapped site-specifically every time so a lot of meaning markers are going to shift just because the space is different.” Audiences are invited not to think of the work as an origi- nal piece that has been reproduced but rather something more like a score that is reacti- vated in different time-spaces. As a dance critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian in the late 90s and early 00s, I watched Mary pull herself in and out of a turtleneck for the better part of a decade, so I know she doesn’t shy away from deep, slow investigation of an idea, movement, or concept over long periods of time. listening features manifestations of this process: Win- ters’ time-lapse video, Ficarra’s soundscapes, and Mary’s Feldenkraisian invitation to audi- ences to move with the performers while paying mindful attention to the space around us and to our own embodied experience. The Feldenkrais Method encourages a patient exploration of embodied experience, and lies at the foundation of Mary’s creative process. But so does her “wacky, ass back- wards dance training” that started in central Pennsylvania: “I got to start dancing where dancing meant making dances. I had an amazing dance teacher, Betty Jane Dittmar, who was really smart about teaching compo- sition at a young age. She studied with Louis Horst and Doris Humphrey at ADF in the 50s, but then went back into the wilderness

CHOREOGRAPHER MARY ARMENTROUT is my dear friend and Feldenkrais practitioner. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about Mary Armentrout Dance Theater’s (MADT) upcoming show at ODC’s Walking Distance Dance Festival, listening creates an opening . Mary and I talked for three hours and never even got to a description of the piece, so my apologies in advance. 1 listening creates an opening began as a commissioned project of EMPAC, the Exper- imental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Mary and her collaborative team, Evelyn Ficarra (sound/installation) and Ian Winters (video/installation) were invited by EMPAC Associate Curator of Theater/ Dance Ashley Ferro-Murray for a two-year curated residency to develop and perform listening . Ferro-Murray first encountered MADT’s work in Oakland, while a gradu- ate student in performance studies at UC Berkeley. (Yes, Ashley is also a bosom buddy of mine.) At the time, MADT was creat- ing evening-length, site-specific works at the Milkbar, Mary’s home studio, which was located in the repurposed Sunshine Biscuit Factory in East Oakland, and the industrial landscape reminded Ferro-Murray of the landscape of Troy. In her curatorial note, Ferro-Murray writes, “I was interested in how her approach to sites and the borders of those sites might probe EMPAC’s archi- tectural bearing on the precipice of both the small and bustling town of Troy, NY, and the nation’s first technical university, Rensselaer. But I wasn’t sure what it would look like to take Armentrout’s practice, which had been so deeply rooted in Bay Area sites for over two decades, and move it elsewhere.”

photo by Mic BelloEMPAC

about understanding the strange way we are both continuous and discontinuous.” For- tunately for Mary the choreographer, these questions don’t merely swirl around her mind, but meander through, lodge themselves in, and work themselves out through the body: “The thing that was important about the phi- losophy I was studying was not so much the content but the deep exegesis of text, which we know from dance making. Dancemak- ers get good at recognizing that there’s more than one meaning in a thing, that reflection takes time; listening to the many layers of self requires time.” Hooked on the “super slow” reflective process of philosophical inquiry, Mary seeks to create and present work from and in that state of being-doing: “I live in this crack between dance and philosophy. That’s why it’s so important to me that multidiscipli- narity is supported because there are cracks everywhere and experts are going to steer you away from the cracks.” Over the course of 32 years and counting in the Bay Area, Mary has made dozens of works in this crack. A rent-controlled apart- ment in the Berkeley hills and working first as a paralegal then in the restaurant indus- try made it possible to pay for studio time. After rehearsing for years at the Blake Street Hawkeyes space in Berkeley, Mary and art partners Merlin Coleman and Ian Winters took over a space in the Sunshine Biscuit Factory in East Oakland, where the Milkbar performance series was born. When they lost the Biscuit Factory in 2015, they mobilized to find another space. Now the Milkbar has its home in Richmond at the Bridge Artist and Storage Space. Having a space of her own to choreograph, rehearse, and perform in is key to Mary’s continued productivity as well as to how she navigates the institutional demands of theater spaces and presenters: “I had done my first solo show in 1996 at 848 Community Space. It was perfect for me. They were like, turn off the lights before you go home and don’t burn it down. They gave me the freedom I really needed but I also yearned for the sup- port and interest of the dance community.” Mary got some of that support in the form of multiple artist residencies and grants, includ- ing the most recent adventure at EMPAC. Although this support is welcome, Mary often finds herself at odds with a variety of institu- tional expectations: “There’s a flow of how dance production is done, an expectation of an orderly rehearsal process, and being done and ready to do tech week. Institutions are just trying to institute best practices for the statistical mean. But these practices can shut off other possibilities. In many situations, if I just change one variable—maybe we’ll use the lobby or the bathrooms in the theater as per- formance space—it starts throwing monkey wrenches everywhere. And once you’ve solved the physical problems, there can be a lot of mental armature under these things, people are resistant.” Continued on pg 15 »

to teach people creativity as a way towards spirituality. Learning to dance by making dances is a radically different thing from going to a dance studio and learning that you don’t know how to do steps well. If taught the right way, making dances gives you super powers. It makes you feel, ‘I know how to do things. I can say what I want to say. I have a voice.’ It’s so radically impor- “Dancemakers get good at recognizing that there’s more than one meaning in a thing.” —MARY ARMENTROUT tant. I was lucky to have that training from age 6 to 14. Dittmar had an amazing place in the summer on the side of a mountain with an Anna Halprin-style dance deck. You could look out down the Appalachians 400 miles on a clear day, trees growing up through the deck. So I did site-specific dancing in nature my whole life growing up.” After four years of “horrible RAD training” and “strip mall jazz and modern dance in LA,” Mary arrived at another radical dance site— Sarah Lawrence College. There, everything she had begun to doubt about her earlier experi- ence as a child in the mountains was validated: “Sarah Lawrence is basically choose your own adventure. The structure was such that I felt at home there. Choreography was super high- lighted. We didn’t do repertory. We didn’t do choreography by the teachers.” Sarah Law- rence gave her the time, support, and resources to become a choreographer: “It was still the Bessie Schonberg era—you choreographed all the time. I created my own work every year that was in a show presented by the dance department. The teachers weren’t so power- ful over us psychically. We felt empowered and supported to really do our own stuff.” At Sarah Lawrence, Mary danced in Jenni- fer Monson’s work and collaborated with John Jasperse. After a year abroad in Paris, she graduated and left for West Berlin to be with her partner, philosopher Randall Amano (they’ve been together since high school!), returned to New York City in 1986, where she spent most of her time modeling for artists, and then moved to the Bay Area in 1987. Alongside dance, Mary studied philoso- phy, and between college and arriving in the Bay Area, she struggled to draw the two fields together: “I couldn’t figure out how to make dances about the things I wanted to make dances about. I knew how to choreograph. I’d been choreographing since I was six years old. But how does my philosophical thinking fit with dance? I can’t make it say what I want to say.” Driven by existential questions—in par- ticular, “Why go on living?”—Mary landed on a notion of (dis)continuity: “How can we map the reality we have, which is made up of continuity and discontinuity? Since my Sarah Lawrence days, a lot of my work has been

6 in dance MAY 2019




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In Dance | May 2014 |

unify strengthen amplify unify strengthen a plify

44 Gough Street, Suite 201


Gaga People Master Class / photo by Gadi Dagon

Excavate Workshop with Joe Goode Performance Group / photo by Jessica Swanson

MAY MOVEMENT RITUAL AND DANCE EXPLORATIONS WITH JOY COSCULLUELA Tamalpa Institute Thu, May 2, 6:30-8:30pm Joe Goode Annex, SF Drawing on the Tamalpa Life/ Art Process, participants will dialog between body and imagination. Using movement, drawing, and writing, participants will tap into art’s language to integrate aspects of their kinesthetic experience. Part of Bay Area Dance Week. FREE (415) 457-8555; d g RELEASE TECHNIQUE MASTER CLASS WITH TARA BRANDEL Alonzo King LINES Dance Center Sat, May 4, 11am-12:30pm Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, SF Experience the thrill of releasing through space. Join Tara Brandel, artistic director of Croi Glan Integrated Dance, for a master class in collaboration with San Francisco International Arts Festival. Utilize Laban’s kine-sphere as an image to expand your technical possibili- ties through falling, form and function. In collaboration with the San Francisco International Arts Festival. (415) 863-3040; MURMURATIONS AND PROXEMICS Mpowerdance Project Wednesdays, May 8-29, 6:30-8pm; Fridays, May 10-31, 1-3pm Performance: Sat, Jun 1 NOH Space, SF With the use of movement, vocal sound, and props, learn spatial awareness and intention in terms of self, others and/or shared as a group. No drop-ins. The workshop culminates in an outdoor performance June 1. A free introduction will be available on May 3, 1-3pm as part of Bay Area Dance Week, see for more. (415) 294-0978; d g SCORING & PERFORMANCE WITH IU-HUI CHUA AND JOY COSCULLUELA Tamalpa Institute In this introductory workshop participants explore movement innova- tions through somatic and Tamalpa Art Life Process body part my- thology explorations. Participants will use these embodied movement innovations as resources for the scoring process and the RSVP Cycles developed by renowned dance pioneer Anna Halprin and distin- guished architect Lawrence Halprin, for performance purposes. (415) 457-8555; d g Sat, May 11, 10am- 5:30pm The Finnish Hall, Berkeley

JUNE d g CONTEMPORARY BALLET MASTER CLASS WITH VIRGINIE BRUNELLE Alonzo King LINES Dance Center Sat, Jun 1, 11:30am-1:00pm Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, SF Join Virginie Brunelle for a Contemporary Ballet Master Class in col- laboration with San Francisco International Arts Festival. Explore the work of Compagnie Virginie Brunelle as you learn how to make your contemporary ballet movement more raw, more visceral and more authentic. (415) 863-3040; d g INTRO TO ARGENTINE TANGO Alma Del Tango Wednesdays, Jun 5-26, July 3-31, Aug 7-28, 7-8:15pm Alma Del Tango Studio, San Anselmo This course is an introduction to the social form of Argentine Tango as danced in Buenos Aires. You will learn a code of movement that will get you started with this improvised dance. Embrace, posture, connection with your partner, and basic navigation on the dance floor will be emphasized. Musicality, cultural information and eti- quette is also presented. (415) 250-3593;

d g CONTEMPORARY DANCE THEATER MASTER CLASS WITH LILI WECKLER Alonzo King LINES Dance Center Sat, May 11, 3-4:30pm Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, SF Create a spacious, fully inhabited body in motion. Informed by GYROTONIC® and release technique, learn to move efficiently, from the viscera, playing with spirals, gravity, momentum and vocalization. Heighten your awareness using improvisation, embodied floor work, phrase work and compositional tools and investigate the voice as an element of the choreographic body. In collaboration with the San Francisco International Arts Festival. (415) 863-3040; LIFE/ART DANCES WITH MAGGIE SILVERMAN Tamalpa Institute Sat, May 11, 7:30-9PM Berkeley Ballet Theatre, Berkeley This workshop will blend somatic and kinesthetic awareness with creative exploration in a combination that brings art and life together in embodied expression. Drawing and/or writing will be used to expand creativity and integrate experiences. FREE (415) 457-8555; d g DUNCAN DANCE WORKSHOPS Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing Sun, May 12 & 19, 12-3:30pm; Wed, May 15 & 22, 6-9:30pm; Sat, May 18 & 25, 2:30-6pm Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing, SF Mary Sano introduces and explores the essence of Duncan Dancing. While focusing on harmony, nature, wholeness, and musicality; the workshop will cover basic concepts, history, improvisation, and cho- reography passed down from Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), the pioneer of Modern dance. Sano’s approach encourages individual expression connecting body, mind, and spirit. (415) 357-1817; d g FULL DAY OF DANCE© The Lively Foundation Sat, May 18, 10am-5pm Mountain View Masonic Center Full Day of Dance© is presented by the International Dance Festival@ Silicon Valley. Five classes in various movement styles. Suitable for any level, age 14 and up. Take any number of classes. Includes: Pilates Mat, Tap, Adult Ballet, Ballroom (Waltz, Cha Cha), Etta’s Electric Line Dances. (650) 969-4110; d g GAGA PEOPLE MASTER CLASS WITH CHEN-WEI LEE Alonzo King LINES Dance Center Thu, May 23, 7:30pm-9pm Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, SF Join Chen-Wei Lee for a Gaga People Master Class in collaboration with San Francisco International Arts Festival. Gaga is the movement language that Ohad Naharin developed over many years. Gaga People classes offer a creative framework for discovering and strengthening the body and adding flexibility, stamina and agility. (415) 863-3040;

Duncan Dance Workshops / photo courtesy of Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing

d g Discount for Dancers’ Group Individual & Company Members, more at

in dance MAY 2019

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