To keep us on our toes, San Francisco's dance companies are mixing it up this summer, inviting us to venues where we don’t normally get to see them. Two weeks ago, we recommended getting up close and personal with a few dance companies who have tucked themselves into intimate spaces. Now we look at three more, all of which are embracing the summer of 2017 at both indoor and outdoor city landmarks.
AXIS Dance Company in Occupy - A site-specific journey through an urban garden
To ‘occupy’ a public space may be a potent act of protest -- or simply signal a resolute sense of belonging. This new work by choreographer Stephan Koplowitz for AXIS Dance, the pioneering Oakland-based company of disabled and abled dancers, is set in and around the halcyon Yerba Buena Gardens -- a site once considered among the city's most bleak, over which intense political and legal battles were fought.
Koplowitz has made site-specific dances around the country, on terrain that poses all manner of challenges and opportunities. “The process of making this work has been revelatory in that I am not only creating for a specific landscape but also working with an integrated cast of performers for the first time,” Koplowitz notes. “It has made my process challenging in the best sense of word, pushing me to a new level and thus making the work more meaningful to me and hopefully to our audiences.”
During performances, audiences are guided from space to space within the Gardens for dance segments that explore the history and design of each space. A score played live by composer and vocalist Pamela Z amplifies the immersive visual experience.
SF Ethnic Dance Festival
At the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival in July, two dozen Bay Area dance and music ensembles championing folkloric traditions collaborate to remind us of the power of diversity. This year, for the first time in its history, the festival takes over the august War Memorial Opera House.
New companies this year include the Alayo Dance Company, whose imaginative work weaves together strands of folkloric and contemporary Afro-Cuban dance. They're accompanied by the John Santos Sextet, innovators of Latin jazz. Kathak dancer Antonia Minnecola performs with tabla master Zakir Hussain. San Francisco Awakko Ren brings a joyful piece from the popular Awa-Odori festival in Tokushima Prefecture on the Japanese island of Shikoku. And Congolese drumming, courtesy BITEZO BIA KONGO, should sound tremendous in the acoustics of the opera house.
Among the cascade of illuminating narratives, Ballet Folklórico México Danza present a piece highlighting the role of women in the Mexican Revolution, while Fogo Na Roupa Performing Company performs a maracatu -- a dance rooted in Brazil’s enslaved communities, which the company dedicates “to Bay Area African Diaspora dancers and to indigenous communities of Brazil, celebrating resistance to tyranny and racism, yesterday and today.”
In the brief interludes between some of the spectacular numbers, expect to see some ingenious cross-cultural encounters -- a signature of this festival.
San Francisco Ballet at Stern Grove
Golden Gate Park may be the premier destination this season for euphoric 50th anniversary commemorations of the Summer of Love, but diehard San Franciscans hold a special place in their heart for Stern Grove -- that sylvan amphitheater and site of admission-free concerts since 1932.
A highlight of the Stern Grove Festival for many is San Francisco Ballet’s mixed program, a diverting change from the formal grandeur of the War Memorial Opera House. No one gives a damn if you spill mayonnaise on your T-shirt, and the occasional wisp of San Francisco fog weaving in and around the magnificent backdrop of redwood and eucalyptus trees only adds a pleasing mystery to the ambiance. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra sounds just as lush as it does in the opera house, and possibly even more romantic in this setting.