Alameda's History Honored Through a Mix of Dance, Storytelling and Song

(L-R)Carolyn West, Kathryn Cabunoc, Ed Holmes, Janet Koike, Tina Blaine, Jeannie McKenzie, Megan Lowe are all in the show 'Island City Waterways' (Photo: Andy Mogg/Island City Waterways)

We're at a narrow park on the Alameda side of the Oakland Estuary, with cars clanking above on the Fruitvale Bridge and boats motoring by on the water.

Suddenly, a man wearing a pea coat and a captain’s hat begins to speak:

Ed Holmes in Rhythmix Cultural Center’s ‘Island City Waterways’
Ed Holmes in Rhythmix Cultural Center’s ‘Island City Waterways’ (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

“If only the mud could talk," he says, "or the water to tell who and what have come before and who and what have stayed and left their mark.”

Then a troupe of eight or so dancers weave and tumble out of a thin line of trees by the bridge, as a band of musicians begins a rhythmic whistling and drumming.

Dancers in Rhythmix Cultural Center’s ‘Island City Waterways’
Dancers in Rhythmix Cultural Center’s ‘Island City Waterways’

They’re evoking the arrival of the Ohlone Indians to Alameda 1,400 years ago.

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This is a rehearsal for Island City Waterways put on this weekend by Alameda’s Rhythmix Cultural Gallery. Waterways is an ambitious performance that combines site-specific dance, music, and storytelling, plus an art show that celebrates the legacy of those who immigrated to the island and helped settle the area.

Ed Holmes is a former San Francisco Mime Troupe member and once served at the now-closed Navy base in Alameda. He’s the narrator for this show, “About who are the waves of immigrants. Waves,” Holmes interrupts himself to add, “are an important metaphor in this production. The waves that have come through here since day zero."

The now closed W.F. Stone Boat Yard on the Alameda Estuary dates back to 1853
The now closed W.F. Stone Boat Yard on the Alameda Estuary dates back to 1853 (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

Island City Waterways will be literally moving, because during six shows Saturday and Sunday, the dancers will parade hundreds of audience members along the waterfront from the Fruitvale to the Park Street Bridge. They’ll do the same with students from Alameda schools on Friday.

Choreographer Kim Epifano of Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater hopes Waterways will nurture pride in the city for Alamedans and visitors alike. “It’s going to be an amazing journey to take,” Epifano says, “because I don't think many people walk along that waterfront. And then it makes you want to take care of it, it’s so extraordinary.”

Island City Waterways takes an upbeat view of Alameda history. It’s not about the city's current fights over soaring home prices, development and rent control. But the show's director, Rhythmix Cultural Center Founder Janet Koike, says audiences can share their own Alameda experiences-both good and bad. “We also have a kiosk,” she said, “for people to record their own stories of how they got here.” The video booth will be at Rhythmix for the next few months, and the recordings will eventually go to the Alameda Library for preservation.

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