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In Practice: Patrick Makuakane’s Hula in Unusual Places

The last time I interviewed Patrick Makuakane, Artistic Director of Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, his company had just received a Special Award from the Izzies Committee for The World According to Hula. When he introduced the company, the emcee made a cringe-worthy Hollywood hula gesture, you know the one—Lucille Ball does it in Dance Girl, Dance (1940), Debbie Reynolds does it in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), the Minions do it in Despicable Me 3 (2017). Makuakane graciously accepted the award and gracefully admonished the emcee for promoting the very stereotypes he has long sought to dispel.

A hula dance company with arms raised to the sky.

photo by Ron Worobec

This was in 1999. Today, Makuakane is happy to report that hula is living its hashtag moment, at least in the Bay Area; folks have awakened to the cultural realities of hula as an art form, cultural practice, and way of life. This month, Makuakane and company present I Mua: Hula in Unusual Places at the Palace of Fine Arts. Right away the subtitle got me thinking about what constitutes an unusual place for hula, and the only thing that came to mind was “not Hawai’i.” I assumed that the moment hula hits the mainland it becomes unusual.

Makuakane explains that San Francisco both is and isn’t an unusual place for hula. Hawaiian music and dance were featured at the Panama Pacific International Exposition at the 1915 World’s Fair at the Palace of Fine Arts, where the company has its home season, and Hawai’i Pavilion headliner Lena Machado and her group were voted audience favorites at the 1939 and 1940 World’s Fairs on Treasure Island: “So there has been a longstanding appreciation for Hawaiian music and a relationship between California and Hawai’i, in part because of the proximity. Hawaiians move here more readily than anywhere else, making it easier for us to do our cultural work here.” Still, Makuakane concedes, “considering its traditional origins, this is a strange place to be doing hula. I guess because I’ve been doing it for thirty-something years over here it doesn’t feel strange anymore.”

What did feel strange was when Makuakane brought 10 members of his company to Burning Man for the first time three years ago. Indeed, images of the company dancing in a haze of gray playa dust contrasts sharply with visions of blue waves and lush green. But the burners embraced the hula dancers: “I can’t tell you how blown away I was by the inventiveness, the subversiveness, the acceptance, the radical expression of self, and the loving embracing community—it reminded me of our community, very welcoming.” The ubiquity of electronic music at Burning Man also inspired Makuakane: “I’ve been fusing electronic music with my dance for a while now. I put everything I had in my arsenal—electronic music, traditional chants—and people loved it.” When we spoke this past August, Makuakane was about to bring his whole company to Burning Man, an unusual place turned desert home for hula.

I Mua: Hula in Unusual Places is a proscenium performance that draws its spirit from Makuakane’s Hit & Run Hula, a series of hula flash mobs that have taken place all over San Francisco, in New York City (Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge), and, one time, on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Francisco to Hawai’i. Makuak?ne loves the way these performances work the element of surprise in two directions—audiences don’t see it coming and the dancers don’t know how they’re going to be received: “When Hawaiian Air hired twenty of us to dance on the plane to inaugurate a new flight out of San Francisco, they played one of oursignature pieces, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. One by one the women got up to dance in the aisles from first class all the way down to the back. I remember looking back and seeing this one gentleman very annoyed because he was trying to open the overhead bin to get his bag and there was this hula dancer in front of him. He was waiting for her to go back so he could jump up and remove his bag. For me that just made it. That was perfect. Not everyone was like, Oh, wasn’t that pretty. This guy was like, You’re in my way, I need to get my bag. Life is happening as it moves.”

Makuakane never gets permits to perform Hit & Run Hula and he has learned how long it takes on average for law enforcement to show up: “These pieces are a minute to a minute and a half long. Several times we’ve just finished a piece and some security person will come up and say, Hey, you can’t do that here although it’s really nice. And I just turn around and say, I’m really sorry, thank you, we’ll be on our way. But my piece is finished already!”

Makuakane calls his style of hula, hula mua, which he defines as “the kind of hula that moves forward.” The upcoming performance is titled I Mua, a common term in Hawai’i that means “move ahead,” among several related meanings like “straight ahead” and “let’s do it!” Makuakane says he titled the show “in a very Hawaiian way. That is, you never really refer to something directly but obliquely. Especially in mele or Hawaiian music, or poetry, the mele that accompanies the dance often speaks in metaphors and hidden messages. The power of deduction is what’s interesting.” I wondered aloud whether modernist dance forms have suffered from the autonomizing gesture that dislocated movement from other forms of expression, severing the ties to verbal speech in ways that prevents audiences from using that power of deduction to make sense of and thereby more deeply enjoy the work. “I definitely engage in that conundrum myself,” Makuakane said, “because hula is a dance form that we dance to Hawaiian language and 99.99% of my audience doesn’t know what the dances are about. So in my shows I incorporate narration in a way that gives the audience a little hint but doesn’t overwhelm them.”

A hula company seemingly hugging each other.

photo by Ron Worobec

Makuakane’s concept of an unusual place encompasses the geographic, the auditory, and the corporeal. Hula mua challenges essentialist theories that certain dances belong on certain bodies to certain music in certain places. One of Makuakane’s most cherished sites for teaching hula is San Quentin State Prison: “I teach in the chapel area. It’s not a hula class, it’s a Hawaiian spiritual group meeting, a service, under the auspices of the Religious Freedom Act. I went to (Catholic) church throughout grade school and high school, and never felt any connection. Then I started hula and realized this thing I’m feeling, this connection out of self to the world, I think this is what I’m supposed to be feeling at church. In some ways I can see that in the guys when they’re in class. There’s this connection with community, arms and hands moving in space accompanied by some kind of chant or music. It’s a time when I see their walls come own, and they’re vulnerable and open, and always very respectful. It just goes to show not only the power of dance—I hate that phrase, it’s more than that. It’s community, it’s acceptance, it’s acknowledgement, all of that plays into a successful community and then you add dance to it and, wow, how could you not be inspired and interested in that.”

When Makuakane was growing up on Oahu in the 1960s, native Hawaiian culture was very much on the periphery of his family and community events. But in the 1970s, a Hawaiian cultural renaissance invited people to ask questions about their identity as native Hawaiians. According to Makuakane, many moved into the fields of music and dance to find answers to those questions: “I found all those answers in hula. Dance is what saved our culture and language in the 70s. Now we’re in the midst of another renaissance of knowledge, people going back to study traditional applications and methods, dancing, canoeing, farming, wayfaring, sending their kids to Hawaiian language immersion schools. I’m amazed.” And since all identities are intersectional identities, hula offered Makuakane a way to embrace his ethnicity, spirituality, and sexuality: “In high school, when I told my mother and sister that I was going to be a hula teacher, they were like, ‘Oh, so you are gay!’” They didn’t really say that. But when Makuakane brought that conversation up 25 years later after earning the right to be a kumu hula, he asked his sister and mother, “Do you remember that conversation? Yes. And did you think that? Yes.” Makuakane had a good laugh over that one.

Stereotypical assumptions aside, Makuakane did find hula to be a place where he felt safe being himself: “My main teacher was gay, not out or anything, but a flamboyant guy being himself; he didn’t look like he was hiding anything. And he was the leader of all these young guys who were football players, big macho guys, learning to dance by moving their hips. And I was like, Where’s that magic wand at?” As hula began having its renaissance in the 1970s, more and more boys and men were drawn to the form as a way to express their native identity: “It was becoming more acceptable. You were still called a fag, and some groups were deemed more faggy than others. My group was one of the faggier groups.” This sparked a movement to develop a hypermasculine style of dance, “almost as if a way to let people know [grunts], we’re not gay.” Though this style may be traced to lua, Hawaiian martial arts, which “traditionally speaking, have a close relationship with hula, in the oldest archival footage of people dancing hula it’s very soft and flowing.”

Makuakane hadn’t planned to stay in San Francisco when he moved here to be with his partner in 1983. After three months, he’d found home. “I couldn’t do a show in Hawai’i called Hula in Unusual Places. Here I can. I am going to take the show back to Hawai’i next year, but it was important for me to plant the seeds in San Francisco. The gay scene, the modern dance scene, this unique experiment with life.” Makuakane’s whole career has emphasized the fact that dances are connectedto places and people, and, at the same time, are roomy enough to include and engage other places, other people: “Here I am doing hula outside of the mothership, and I feel like I’m set free.”

On Traditional Ohlone Land: Dancing Earth at Alcatraz

“As contemporary people we’re taking the responsibility to create the songs and dances that speak to our time now…and creating intertribal and global indigenous relationships, and creating new languages of collaboration…sharing what is appropriate to share in order to learn from each other.” (Rulan Tangen. Personal interview. 21 August 2018.)

This year, like many years before, in the twilight before dawn, boats will run from one piece of traditional Ohlone land, San Francisco, to another, Alcatraz Island, for the Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Gathering. This is a day of solidarity by, for, and with Indigenous people.

And this year is special. On October 8, 2018, for the first time, the City of San Francisco will officially celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day. It also marks 49 years since the “Indians of All Tribes” occupied Alcatraz in protest of the discrimination, land rights restrictions, and living conditions of all Americans native to Turtle Island, or the United States.   

This year, visitors to the island will experience GROUNDWORKS, a multidisciplinary and mobile performance art installation grounded in contemporary dance and traditional ceremony, curated by Dancing Earth Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations.

Dancing Earth, founded in 2004, “promotes biocultural diversity through Indigenous dance and related arts for the education and wellness of all people.” Founding Artistic Director and Choreographer Rulan Tangen, a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist and Blade of Grass Fellow among many other accolades, shared that the processes and productions initiated by Dancing Earth are community led and community oriented. Tangen’s process is to “transform by opening hearts,” and her work engages issues from environmental stewardship to the preservation and sharing of indigenous culture.

Tangen identifies as “Kampampangan/Norwegian with ceremonial hunka ( adopted ) Kulwicasa Oyate Lakota tiyospahe” Through GROUNDWORKS, Tangen explores the question: Whose ground are we on? [1]

A woman holding dear antlers, one is held by her head, the other by her hip.

Photo by Paulo Tavares

According to Tangen, “decolonization not only happens through our intent but through our process.” [2] Therefore, Dancing Earth’s process of collaboration begins with the understanding that they are visitors in someone’s home. When Dancing Earth arrives in a community, it is by invitation. Upon arrival, they listen first. Critically, they “come with something to give rather than extract.” Dancing Earth ensemble members share their skills as arts facilitators and contemporary dancers. They engage with elders and community members in conversations, visioning sessions and movement workshops to explore indigenous knowledge. Dancing Earth also welcomes collaborating community members to be a part of the dance production and choreography process itself. Tangen recognizes that everyone enters where they are most comfortable, that, “sometimes they want to witness and guide, sometimes they want to experience.” Tangen described GROUNDWORKS as the product of years of nurturing cultural relationships with California First Nations friends, relatives and collaborators. Dancing Earth is the product of a web of global indigenous kinship and exchange.

Tisina Parker (California Miwuk, Paiute, Pomo), dancer and project coordinator for GROUNDWORKS, emphasized that Dancing Earth is mindful to respect the autonomy of the cultures with whom they collaborate. Their pieces “carefully include what [local collaborators] want to share without appropriating it.” They contain elements of the ceremony without revealing the sacred, and “share [only] what is appropriate for public sharing.” Parker described the effect of the process on her: “[it] strengthens connections to my Indigenous identity and allows me to carry traditions forward in a contemporary way, express my heritage outside of the box … [and] … experience creative growth.”

Dancing Earth manifests the cultural heritage and prevailing existence of Indigeneity. Central to their work is the truth that Native peoples are living, contemporary people, who practice traditional and ceremonial cultures while innovating and creating new forms. Tangen’s audiences have experienced the traditional Western theater presentation of dancers on a proscenium stage, but that stage is overlaid with projections of red desert landscapes of infinite blue skies and rich red sand, and dancers clad in contemporary yet traditional garb undulate, the wind blowing in their hair. Dancing Earth incorporated elements of aerial dance, contemporary and traditional indigenous song, spoken word poetry, and reinterpreted traditional dance into these productions.

These performances demonstrate Dancing Earth’s understanding of metaphor, indigenous strength and beauty, and a deep understanding of the body, gravity, and contemporary ensemble dance practice.

Although I have not had the opportunity to preview GROUNDWORKS, I imagine that it employs some of the same “performance ritual” visual elements, and co-mingling of global indigenous forms as past Dancing Earth productions, with specific attention to site.

Both Tangen and Parker identified Alcatraz as a place for the activation of reclaiming Indigenous Land and a profoundly symbolic location for Native people in the Bay Area. Tangen described the performance as “an offering to the community in a way that is location-based…an offering to the land and intertribal community platform.” The site also liberates Dancing Earth from the Western stage. GROUNDWORKS will be performed among the thousands of individuals visiting the island and throughout multiple sites on the island.

Tangen and Parker stressed that GROUNDWORKS is an effort to connect people to activism through art, bring awareness to social and environmental justice in a digestible and beautiful way, to inspire each other, and to inspire artists and activists to keep moving forward.

For Tangen, this work is about collaboration and resilience. In a time where protest is the predominant mode of combating colonialism let us not forget the power of art, culture and beauty and the necessity for healing in imagining and creating the world in which we want to live. Dancing Earth is a living, collaborative manifestation of this vital process.


[1]  August 23rd interview at the Kennedy Center with Denise Saunders Jones of the International Association of Blacks in Dance.
[2] Blade of Grass

SPEAK

Edited by Zackary Forcum

No matter where I go I can’t help being informed and infused by the culture, architecture, history, and resonance of an area and its people. This curiosity began in 1979 during my time in Guatemala with the Peace Corps. We traveled from village to village (mules often carrying our equipment), creating a show with a cohort of clowns, guitarists, and community members as a part of the “Year of the Child. ” It was there where I first experienced how art can go beyond entertainment to be a cross-cultural and educational exchange with the ability to help people live healthier lives.

I came to San Francisco in 1982, when the city was bathed in wonder and imagination. It was a time of coming as you are and being who you were meant to be. Though I had years of training in movement (ballet, modern, jazz, gymnastics, swimming/diving) I wasn’t interested in fitting into any box or being easily categorized; even modern dance was too focused on a narrow view of bodily success, so I immersed myself in movement arts that blended dance, singing, ritual, and the playing of instruments, forms like Afro-Haitian Dance with Blanche Brown, Capoeira with Mestre Acordeon, and Congolese with Malonga Casquelourd.

During a Roda de Capoeira at Civic Center, two women approached me—Krissy Keefer and Nina Fichter—and asked if I also danced. Next thing I know I am dancing in the Wall Flower Order (Dance Brigade). Over the course of a decade, we created various sociopolitical and feminist works, such as CointelPro where we performed in drag as men in business suits in front of the San Francisco Federal Building. I went on to study with Sara Shelton Mann as a way to connect with new ideas and concepts in modern dance (such as contact improvisation), while staying grounded in the mixing of genres that I was experiencing outside of western concert dance. I joined Contraband for nine years, collaborating in all kinds of works for the stage (such as The Mira Cycles) and on the street in vacant and discarded plots of land, creating art that spoke to issues of the area and the time.

Simultaneously, I continued my cross-cultural arts exchanges, expanding opportunities to American teens through Mudd Butt International of the Telluride Academy. With my collaborators Wendy Brooks, Sally Davis and Mike Stasiuk, we established a youth program where art was the common value, language, and connector in creating performances in theaters, fields, broken down churches, gymnasiums, beaches, and temples.

Throughout all of these experiences, artists were cross-culturally exchanging and experimenting by mixing traditional and modern genres and practices, activating and involving the communities they were creating with. There was a confidence that we could do anything, even with cultural or language differences.

By 2000, I was constantly on the road touring and teaching, building a thriving company, Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater (now Epiphany Dance Theater), and while I had no interest in slowing down, I wanted to anchor more of my art back in my longtime home of San Francisco. I found my answer while choreographing for Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Trolley Dances. Bringing this site-specific event to San Francisco seemed like the perfect opportunity to: connect with and support local artists, continue Epiphany’s growth, offer dance performances free of charge (which at that time was a rare occurrence), and explore and share the culture and history of San Francisco and its people.

A woman sitting on a bench looking for the train with her suitcase.

Photo by Andy Mogg

In this constantly evolving city (that has grown more in the last decade than many of us are comfortable with), with distinct neighborhoods, people, architecture, and countless stories to tell, there are few better landscapes for site-specific work. San Francisco Trolley Dances (SFTD) began in 2004 with its primary partner, SFMTA/Muni, and others. I curated four artists: Joanna Haigood, STEAMROLLER Dance Company, Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater, and myself at four different sites along the F-Line. I had particular romance with the F-Line, “a Museum on Wheels,” that runs along Market Street. With magnificent trolleys from all over the world, I would often think about where they could take us and what the pathway would reveal. SFTD’s maiden voyage was a success (even with rain, audience members came in droves with their umbrellas), and so we returned the next few years and before I knew it, San Francisco embraced us as an annual event. Taking inspiration from my work abroad, and my desire to reach out to more of the Bay Area, it was important to commission culturally traditional arts groups, placing them side-by-side with contemporary artists. Since 2004, Epiphany has commissioned new works from more than 80 companies and artists and has collaborated alongside vital community partners such as SFMTA/Muni, Market Street Railway, SF Public Library, SF Recreation and Park, Friends of San Francisco Environment, Intersection for the Arts, and more, opening doors that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. SFTD, now in its 15th year, continues to celebrate the story of this city and its people.

Producing a festival has proved to be an outward-bound experience full of curveballs and lessons learned. I have been fortunate to work with some of the Bay’s brightest in troubleshooting these obstacles, such as: entertaining an audience group during an unexpected delay (and then rerouting the tour completely), finding a replacement for a stolen speaker mid-day, facing an ensemble of dancers ready to riot as they performed in the big meadow of the Botanical Gardens (in the pouring rain, in grass littered with duck-poop, no less). There are also the more pressing conversations on how we bring audiences into places where people work, live, and build their lives: How do we respect folks living on the streets? How do we keep our sound levels appropriate for neighbors? How are we working with the communities in which we seek to make art so that a valuable exchange can take place? How do we educate our audiences so that their presence as part of the festival is holistic and not an example of privileged voyeurism? Epiphany has faced these challenges head-on, and because of this, San Francisco Trolley Dances is still rolling.As the festival grew, so did the area’s desire for more site-specific work and accessible/free public performances, some of which I have been proud to mentor. The artistically and logistically strong formula for SFTD has led to my involvement in co-envisioning the initial years of similar events such as Baile en la Calle the Mural Dances with Brava! for Women in the Arts, Mission Street Dances/Walking Distance Dance Festival with ODC/Dance, and Island City Waterways with Rhythmix Cultural Works. As I look out on our SF Bay Area performing arts landscape, I see SFTD not just as a platform for commissioning artists, but as a launching pad for how various organizations consider their own site-specific efforts.

With continued requests to expand the event, I have considered sustainable and engaging possibilities. In light of its 15th anniversary, Epiphany Dance Theater is piloting “Transit Dances: Night Trolley” a night-time site-specific event atop the new downtown Transit Center at Salesforce Park on October 12. As more industrial buildings sprout up throughout downtown and fewer environmentally friendly spaces remain, it seemed natural to partner with this new transit center (a project of the TJPA) that offers a new green space. Transit is the vein of a society and Epiphany looks forward to expanding on the complex art of how we make a city move.

Just as you get to know a person, you get to know a place. I find it mesmerizing how by simply sitting, seeing, listening and absorbing details in a specific location has informed my cellular soul and investigative mind. Having created site-specific work all over, from the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, the Streets of SF (Natoma, Minna, Annie, Shotwell, Balmy Alley, and many more), along the waterways of Alameda, under Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan, a parking lot in Chula Vista, to a bar in Mexicali, Mexico, and more, the physical world and my own personal map have become fused. San Francisco Trolley Dance’s focus of site-specific art continuously feeds my creative practice in and outside of the annual event.

I’m often asked what my favorite moments of the festival are from over the years, which is a challenging question as there are so many. But one that often comes to mind is SFTD 2012 when Epiphany performed at the City College’s Evan’s Branch in the Bayview; the piece had a lot of moving parts, one of which was a verbal telling of the neighborhood’s past (its people and the history of the Dogpatch area). A local preacher, in his Sunday suit, approached me at the conclusion of performance and exclaimed, “This is amazing—where did you come from? You’re making history here!” To which I responded, “We just told the history! The piece is called Where You From?” We laughed. Over the years it is moments like these that show what San Francisco Trolley Dances is about. All of these everyday places have a vibration waiting to be magnified, explored, and experienced.

Speak: Beyond Gravity

with jose e. abad, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Gabriel Christian, Abby Crain, and Rachael Dichter

Founded in 2000 by Jess Curtis, ‘Jess Curtis/Gravity Inc.’ has primarily functioned as the vehicle for the production and administration of Curtis’s work. In the last several years and in the context of the rapidly changing cultural landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area, Curtis and Gravity Program Director, Alley Wilde, have begun to formulate ways to make Gravity’s production, administrative and institutional resources available to a wider number of emerging artists.

Jess Curtis: My artistic practice has always been very collaborative and involved in community. From my early days with Contraband through the seven years of my co-directing 848 Community Space my relationships to many different communities have informed and fed my work. At a certain point I got a little burnt out on the service side of things though and started creating more infrastructure around producing my own work and focusing more on that, which has served me very well. I founded Jess Curtis/Gravity Inc. as a 501c3 non-profit corporation and with various collaborators and administrators we’ve done a pretty fine job of creating an extensive body of work.

In recent years I began missing a larger element of community interaction and service in my work. It occurred to me that we might be able to re-organize Gravity in ways that allowed it to support the work of other artists, and allowed them to not have to spend a bunch of time to re-invent another non-profit wheel to make their own work. While several Bay Area organizations provide related services, we thought Gravity might offer a more comprehensive array of services—and more personal attention—to a smaller cohort of artists we feel directly related to both aesthetically and politically. Gravity’s new Artist Services Program is the result of that effort, and Beyond Gravity will be the first full evening mainstage artistic product of those programs. With the support of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s Impact program and SF Arts Commission’s Cultural Equity Program, Alley Wilde and I began to re-tool Gravity to serve as more of a community resource. We began offering Fiscal Sponsorship, curating a Pop-up Performance Project, Mentoring around production, fundraising and administration, Co-producing important international artists that we think Bay Area Artists need to see, advising Bay Area artists about getting their work seen abroad, and recently we began piloting our Access Services Program to help artists and venues make their work accessible to diverse audiences. We think this as an important kind of New Model that responds to the increasingly difficult economic landscape that independent artists face in San Francisco.

In October, Beyond Gravity will premiere as an evening of three intersectional body-based performance works by some of the artists involved in Gravity’s Artist Services Program: jose e. abad, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gabriel Christian; Abby Crain; and Rachael Dichter presenting her collaboration with Mira Kautto from Finland.

I’m really excited by the work each of these artists make—Experimental, Queer, Political work asking important questions about what it is to be a body in this world. I also find it a bit inaccurate to describe them as ‘emerging.’ Each of them are mature artists with important voices that have been making work for years. When the editors of In Dance invited me to write about Beyond Gravity and Gravity’s Artist Services  program, I thought what would make the most sense would be to invite them each to write about what they are working on for Beyond Gravity. I’m super excited to read about what they are each making and how they are thinking about it. I hope you will be too!!

Rachael Dichter: From the room beside me

Mira (Kautto) and I met at a dance festival in Vienna in the summer of 2015. She gave a talk on failure and we were both interested in knowing each other more after seeing each other’s work. We’ve had two residencies in Turku, Finland over the past two summers and what we’ll be showing in Beyond Gravity is what we’ve found together during those meetings.

Living and working primarily in San Francisco where the funding structure for contemporary performance is so extremely limited, being able to bring Mira from Helsinki to San Francisco is a rare, very sweet and much appreciated opportunity. The San Francisco dance scene is often quite isolated from Europe and conversations happening elsewhere, and I’m really excited that Gravity is offering the support to bring someone with a different perspective and aesthetic.

Mira and I approach work and ways into making very differently, and most of our process has simply been about exploring those differences. I tend to approach making from ideas, or an emotional landscape that I’m interested in exploring, whereas Mira’s process has much more to do with music and physical improvisation. It’s been really interesting to explore each other’s approaches and really exchange ways of working. It feels like a rare gift to get to work with someone who I respect whose process and ways of working question my assumptions around what’s interesting and what the interesting questions are to ask.

A dancer with heavy make up licking a dollar bill.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto / photo by KaliMa Amilak

We’re working with the idea of a peep show. Experimenting with creating a more intimate, private space for ourselves on the proscenium by creating a “box” (out of curtains that flow and rustle slightly with movement) that stop a few feet short of the floor to reveal feet, and have sets of eye holes spaced at intervals so that a number of people can simultaneously approach the box and look in. Inside we engage – dance/perform intimately with each other in the small space, interested in how larger dance movement is compressed and intensified in this smaller container, and how the moments of closeness and quiet intimacy are pressurized. The audience will be invited to sit on all sides of the square where they can hear our breath as we move, see our feet, and when they desire they can approach and engage with us through the eye holes. The holes will be positioned such that when you look in you are looking directly across at another set of eyes on the other side, and in this way it becomes a very intimate and active experience for the audience as they decide how they wish to participate with the performance, and also become part of the performance and visible in this mobilization. Where you choose to direct your gaze also becomes part of the performance. We’re also interested in what the audience experiences when they are seated. What the mysterious, imaginal space is that is created through seeing the curtains sway as we dance near, hearing our breath or our voices, seeing our feet as they move and stand still, or catching occasional glimpses of our bodies as they momentarily appear if we sit or move close to the ground. We’re curious about what can and can’t be transmitted through this intermittent and only occasional access, and what this does and doesn’t produce in the bodies of the audience. We want to use the idea of peep show to experiment with ways of investigating the lines between public and private, and the possibility of being alone onstage together with each member of the audience simultaneously.

jose e. abad, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Gabriel Christian: Alif is for Annals

As artists across phenotypically brown diasporas, we three must allow ourselves the breadth of narrative usually denied us in front of audiences used to witnessing only a myopic entanglement of bodies and stories. Working in San Francisco has been instructive to us about the kingpin of survival methodologies for (brown) artists: transdisciplinarity. Gabriel, Zulfi, and jose each metastasized through the arts until, by fate, we collided. Since then, we have collaborated in every permutation of a duet, but never as a triad. We have varying relations to Gravity, either having been commissioned, fiscally sponsored, or brought in as a collaborator.  

Our work/world initiates in the aftermath of our envisioned global queer revolution of apocalyptic proportions. Flaring up in the Middle East and the African continent, this uprising eventually made its way to the center of the plutocratic, apathetic empire – the United States – spreading first like wildfire from the thousands of redlined neighborhoods of black Americans. Having successfully dismantled Western imperialism, ecoterrorism, colonial-settler projects and white supremacy, new leaders emerge in this blighted terrain.

Faluda Islam (Zulfikar), a bearded Muslim drag queen guerrilla warrior was one of those martyred, killed by American-backed rebels and, miraculously, resurrected using Wifi technology. Her resurrection confuses the borders of time, asks us to suspend our expired mythos for her arrival. Her survival is contingent on Black Bussy (Gabriel), a night/mare born at the ruins of the Stud Bar in San Francisco, and jose, a necromancer and re/cycler, as no future can ever truly be a simple, solitary project.

What does the world post-radical-liberatory-revolution look like when its players are queer as fuck, high femme, high glamour and more extra than terrestrial? Do we make the same mistakes with each other or do we correct the pains inflicted on us by those who came before: straight white men with a narrow sense of fashion, politics, desire, time and space?

This dystopia emerges from the Quran and the Day of Judgement, symbolism associated with the Arabic letter Alif, storytelling traditions in South Asia and the Middle East, Afrofuturism and memories. Most importantly, however, these past-futures are a distorted way of returning us to our predecessors, those wound up in the movement of the 1950s, -60s and -70s, in which Black radicalism reigned in black leather and the Islamic bloc of nations held less of a religious identity and more a leftist and anti-imperialist one. Many blamed the death of these movements on the neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism of the 1980s (and are they really that different?), but could a simpler reason have been heterosexual hubris?  

Abby Crain: Lindenau (Rifle Club)—party for the other siblings

It seems fitting to me that at this point in time, Gravity asked us to show things in this group show. Gravity is one of the organizations in the Bay Area that continues to give me a tiny spark of a hope that perhaps live art-making can provide some sort of actual IRL sustainability. Gravity is one of the organizations who continues to believe in eccentric, illegible and sometimes unmarketable art-making as important to support. Gravity believes that we have the right to make a living from our work and Gravity works hard to move us towards finding that in each of our practices. Gravity is an organization that has not forgotten its roots in the days of 848 Community Space and a studio that never locked its back door and the strong belief and practice that community makes us stronger and better and more vulnerable and true.  

I am thinking lately about dancing and money. To be honest, this is something I am always thinking about. Dancing as a feminized form that thus doesn’t yield much profit. Dancing as a body based practice. Dancing as witchcraft. Dancing as an ineffable and adjacent practice to living. Dancing as a form that speaks to things that we just can’t fucking speak to in any other way. Dancing that has both ruined and saved my life. I have no savings to speak of, no retirement, no job security, but I have logged hundreds of hours of ecstasy and delirium and I have learned to make myself invisible, to be part of the wind and to set myself on fire.  

In small town Texas, the dance halls and the gun clubs are in the same building. These are often the buildings that are rented for family reunions, weddings, and the like. I have been thinking about these buildings a lot: shared spaces in the midst of brutally hot and shadeless pastures with a few scruffy cattle on them so the owner gets the livestock tax break; land with more gnarly and spiky mesquite trees than anything else; land with grass that is full of spikes and fire ants and rattlesnakes and scorpions. It is in fact a pretty brutal landscape, so the guns thing makes sense to me. But why dance? Why a dance hall? How is it that these people who teach their men not to move there faces and teach their women to say yes ma’am and yes sir never go to church without mascara on, are the same people who build huge beautiful monuments to movement with soaring ceilings and beautiful floors in the middle of the countryside? The cynical part of me sees this as a part of the capitalist machinery of fostering coupling, and childbearing as a means towards the creation of capital in the form of a workforce, but part of me wants to believe that these buildings somehow express a desire for something that is different.

Texas is confusing to me. It is supposed to somehow be my home, but it somehow is not.  I have a hard time in a culture that considers watermelon a sufficient vegetable for dinner, though I am proud to sign my line in the name of bad ass fun loving tough ladies with whisky in their trunks and cigarettes in their hands.

In Lindenau (Rifle Club) party for the other siblings I am taking the Texas dance hall, a structure that figures prominently in my personal family history, as a site where the culturally devalued (dancing) and the culturally overvalued (gun owning) are roommates. I am interested in this. As I am interested in dancing, but have never touched a gun, my interest is from the perspective of what it invites into the dancing. If dancing is worshipped in the same shrine as firearms, it must somehow be considered an important, if lunatic, activity.

A woman beside a goat.

Rachael Dichter / photo by Elena Zhukova

Thus, my project in this piece is to value my work as a dancer, as if dancing was something as central and revered in American culture as gun owning. Part of this is logistical and practical: I aim to keep as much of the money as possible from the fee for the piece as salary for my labor as a maker and performer. Anyone who has logged unpaid, unseen hours of labor as a homemaker or caretaker knows that no matter how much we love something, money imparts value and wields power. It means something. I want to see how it changes the work if I consider my own labor to be important enough to be decently paid. Part of this is craft based: I am working on the dancing. I am training. I am working on the dancing cuz I know those dudes are shining their guns. Part of this is existential: I am practicing believing that what I do is important, relevant, and essential. I am practicing believing that it matters, cuz they believe their stupid guns matter.

To do this work, I am calling on freak ancestors and misfits and dancing fools to call me out and move with me. I am a firm opponent of human exceptionalism so some of these are not human. I am calling out the ones who haven’t been invited to the party, to the reunion, the ones who disappeared, the ones who were made invisible through systematic omission and  withdrawal of support.

This past summer I saw an alligator gar. These are huge, ugly prehistoric fish that live in the murky brown waters of the Texas countryside. The one I saw must have been five feet long.   They are systematically killed because they eat the sport fish, but these monsters still persist. They are crucial for the balance of the ecosystem in the water, even though no one is taking their picture to put on their wall.

The alligator gar is invited to this party.

 


jose e. abad is a queer social practice performance artist exploring queer futurity through an intersectional lens. abad is a collaborator in two queer performance collectives, Yum Yum Club and Lxs Des, and has performed solo and collaborative works nationally and internationally with artists including Joanna Haigood, Keith Hennessy, Scott Wells, Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers, NAKA Dance Theatre, Seth Eisen, Ivo Dimchev, Brontez Purnell Dance Company, and detour dance.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto //Faluda Islam\\ is an artist, performer, zombie drag queen and curator of mixed Pakistani, Lebanese and Iranian descent. Bhutto was curatorial resident at SOMArts Cultural Center where he co-curated, The Third Muslim: Queer and Trans Muslim Narratives of Resistance and Resilience and is a fall artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

Gabriel Christian is a multidisciplinary blaq artist. After receiving a BA in Theatre Studies from Yale University in 2013, they shifted coasts and work from their native New York to the Bay Area. His oeuvre has pivoted from stage performance to reifying queer desire, genderfluidity (or “juicyness”), and black resilience through a broader spectrum of movement arts. They have mounted commissioned work at Finnish Brotherhood Hall, Counterpulse, SOMArts, Mason Chapel for San Francisco International Arts Festival 2017, and Red Poppy Art House for FRESH Festival 2018.

Abby Crain is a San Francisco Bay Area based artist who makes dances and other structures for performance. She also works as a teacher and performer. Her solo and collaborative work has been presented in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Liverpool, Chicago, Cork, Berlin, Portland and Los Angeles at a range of venues including Counterpulse Theater (SF), Headlands Center for the  Arts, Berkeley Art Museum, Movement Research , and Show Box LA. Her work has been nominated for a Bay Area Izzie four times.

Rachael Dichter is a San Francisco based dancer, performer, choreographer and curator. Having studied dance and art history at Mills College and was a 2015 Danceweb Scholar, and 2017 Artist in Residence at Caldera and a recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Residency. Her work has shown locally and in Berlin, St Erme France, Portland, Seattle and she had been lucky to collaborate with a number of fierce and talented folks and for four years she co-curated the San Francisco based live arts festival THIS IS WHAT I WANT.

Welcome

October 2018 In Dance cover.The happiness of others is my happiness.

Over the span of 36 years working with artists I’ve participated in conversations that have allowed me to encourage, cheerlead, empathize, and often just quietly listen. Essentially the major bonus of my job is that I get to discuss what the artist I’m with wants. In that moment supporting their creative desires and worries—what a gift, what happiness.

Yes, even talking about worries with an artist makes me happy because it’s a way to release the concerns that inevitably come up when navigating dance-making, dance-dreaming—it’s the opportunity to share the worry that each of us thinks about.

Recalling the range of artists I’ve had the privilege to talk with astounds. How did a kid from Bakersfield, California with no formal arts training until college, meet and work with so many dance geniuses? It wasn’t luck, it was desire. An early aspiration emerged to support artists; coupled with a belief that the moving body, colliding with theatrical ideas, creates transformation.

I value each time I get to talk about an upcoming project. This often includes responding to questions about strategies to seek more money. And when an artist wants to dive deeper into their process—the work, the audience, connecting to communities and touring—I nerd out. This trust-filled conversation provides bliss.

Highlighting a variety of voices and activities that promote dance continues to permeate my life and this publication. I’m not unique in sharing resources and making sure that artists have someone who will listen to and support their artistic desires. Longtime colleague, and friend, Jess Curtis, the artistic director of Gravity, has launched a new Artist Services initiative that will help a select group of artists that are aligned aesthetically and politically to Gravity’s mission. This program is providing production, administrative and institutional resources. In this month’s first of two SPEAK columns Jess and the first cohort of artists write about being in relationship to a company that is supporting them to create and question.

Kim Epifano is the second artist featured under the SPEAK banner. Kim writes of her ongoing interest in being part of cultural exchanges that allow her to experiment with practices and presentational methods that activate and involve the communities she creates within. This year marks the 15th year of one of Kim’s signature projects, San Francisco Trolley Dances.

Being in service with one’s community is age-old. This month Sima Belmar writes about Patrick Makuak?ne’s navigation of placing his art and life’s work in a variety of settings, including a recent full-company trip to Burning Man. Patrick states about the Burning Man experience: “I can’t tell you how blown away I was by the inventiveness, the subversiveness, the acceptance, the radical expression of self, and the loving embracing community—it reminded me of our community, very welcoming.”

Revealed in an article by Gabrielle Uballez, a first time In Dance writer, is Rulan Tangen’s new work, GROUNDWORKS, that explores the question, whose ground are we on? An excerpt of this piece can be experienced at the Rotunda Dance Series on October 5 at SF City Hall.

Enjoy creating conversations and moments that motivate and inspire—and especially ones that make you happy.

Welcome

Cover of Sep 2018 In DanceBodies are perfect. They are also complex, colorful and filled with tons of cool applications. Each body is the ultimate super computer, efficiently organizing 37.2 trillion cells that are in action 24 hours a day. As complex as our bodies are, we easily reboot with some rest and automatically update our operating systems.

The body recharges on solar and lunar energy and has built-in cameras with limitless capacity to store images; often taking selfies (think dancer in the mirror). Our body computer stores tons of information (the useful and the impractical) that can be recalled rapidly. And at times this data will come out fragmented—what was the name of that book I wanted to read?

There’re also some really fun tools that are pre-installed, like touch and voice activation. These come in handy when used in the studio and definitely help with many day-to-day tasks. And what’s especially cool is that when started early enough body computers quickly learn multiple languages—take that Google translate!

Models now last longer and longer and, based on usage, some upgrades may be recommended. Upgrades for me include being outfitted with a metal hip on my right side that will likely last another 15 years. The first upgrade went so well, I’m even thinking of getting the other one done to relieve some intense bone on bone action due to user wear and tear.

I also love my external computer devices that provide numerous ways to connect, while providing me with extremely efficient ways to gather and store copious bits of words, images, numbers and of course music, video and movies.

Our lives are now so intertwined with technology that the sci-fi notion of borgs (cybernetic organisms) in our midst is probably not that far off. And yet, as tech advances we are still a body-based culture and I believe that as consumption of gigabytes increases so does our need to focus on the body.

Dance forms continue to be taught, passed down and created from scratch—in person and on computers—in myriad ways that represent the complex nature of life today. Many create dances to honor a spiritual earthly life and this month M?hea Uchiyama talks about how in Hawaiian culture “The point is understanding who you are in relation to your community and the community is understood to be not just your people but the plants and the air and the mountains.” Writer Sima Belmar draws out how Uchiyama has navigated a life in dance that has looked to satisfy her curiosity about “all these different, fascinating, beautiful ways of saying the same things.”

Also featured this month is the work of Parangal, (puh-ruh-ngal) which means tribute in Tagalog. The company has performed dances from over 30 different indigenous cultures in their 10-years. Parangal’s artistic director Eric Solano ambition is to triple that number. In an article by Rob Taylor, Solano states “There are 110 distinct ethnic communities spread all over the Philippines, and I want Parangal to present as many of them as possible.” Now that’s some super body computing!

As new models of expression are brought into existence I give great hope to the next generation of human-computers that will network seamlessly world-wide—caring, creating and engaging without hate and always dancing. Happy reading and enjoy your body time.

Parangal Dance Company on the Road to Padayon

Two dancers out in the woods

Parangal Dance Company / This is It Photography

While experiencing Parangal Dance Company’s enchanting and powerful world premiere performance of Kiyaprawa a ko Arkat Lawanen (The Abduction of Princess Lawanen) during the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival at the War Memorial Opera House this past July, I was amazed by the scope and meticulous detail of this epic work, which was drawn from a legendary poem of the Meranao people of Mindanao (the Philippines large southern island).

I waited to interview Parangal’s Artistic Director Eric Solano and Musical Director Major Julian until after their run of shows so I could catch them at what I assumed would be a more relaxed time. After all, the amount of work that had gone into that performance was intense, and I knew they were preparing the performance on top of full-time day jobs, I was quite confident the week after the Festival was going to be a quiet one for Parangal’s leadership.

Making that assumption was how I found myself in front of my computer one morning at 6am, FaceTiming with Solano and Julian, who had in fact immediately followed their triumphant Festival performance by taking a large component of the company to perform at a city-wide festival in Barranquilla, Colombia. I should have known better – Parangal Dance Company are unstoppable and have a dynamic verve that can’t be contained to the Bay Area alone.

Solano comes to his work as director and choreographer of Parangal with great ambitions.
“There are 110 distinct ethnic communities spread all over the Philippines, and I want Parangal to present as many of them as possible,” he tells me. The company has performed dances from over 30 different indigenous cultures in their 10-year lifespan, which they will celebrating this October with a set of anniversary shows at the Scottish Rite Center in San Francisco.

Group of dancers in traditional Philippine costumes

Parangal Dance Company / This is It Photography

Born in the Philippines and raised in the Bay Area, Solano approaches dance as a means to reconnect with his culture. He danced with Barangay Dance Company into the early 00’s, gradually taking more responsibility within the group. As he developed his own approach to working with dancers, he decided to form his own company. Parangal Dance Company began in 2008, and for the first few years followed the same method of dance presentation that Solano had learned within Barangay.
In 2011, he shared that “the landscape of our work began to change…we began to focus less on the Christian and Spanish-influenced dances,” that are an outcome of 300 years of Spanish colonization of the Philippines “and more on the indigenous dances.”

As Solano describes it, he realized he wanted to make a “180-degree turn away,” not only in what kinds of dance he practiced, and in the process of how he and company learned about the dance and culture by “working more closely with the indigenous people” who had created and developed the dance forms. For Solano this process means “that you don’t only learn about their culture and traditions, you learn what their needs as a community are, and what it takes to pass the culture on to the next generation.”

As an outgrowth of this new direction, Julian began pushing the musical development of the company further. Born and raised in the Bay Area, he was also drawn to Filipino dance and music as a way to reconnect with his heritage. He had a background playing western music, and after dancing with Eric for several years, asked if he could take over the musical side of things in Parangal. With Julian’s musical leadership, they moved away from performing to recorded music and live music became a staple component of their performances.

Speaking with Solano and Julian, I begin to understand how the process of creation for Parangal has transformed from being exclusively results-driven in the past; using whatever means possible to learn the dance (often learning the choreography from videos) with the primary goal being the end product of a show, towards a process-driven focus. By placing an increased emphasis on the journey of creation and discovery in collaboration with leaders in the indigenous communities where the dances come from, and valuing creative process just as much as final performance, Parangal’s dance work has great depth.

And the way they do it know is certainly not easy: At the beginning of each year, Solano and a group of company members take immersion trips to the Philippines where they reach out to communities in the different islands to build relationships around the transmission of dance and music from the tribe or community to the company.

Eric says, “I pull out the iPad and show them what we’ve done with other communities and sometimes they say no, and we have to respect that.” While that’s a frustrating response for someone so enthusiastic about sharing the diversity of indigenous Filipino culture, Eric feels that “sometimes that’s just how it goes,” and respects that community’s autonomy. The Parangal process only works with engaged communities who want to be in partnership with the company.

Julian explains that the trust-building process can be challenging. There are times when a tribe’s initial response will be “you’re going to learn from us, you’re going to exploit us, and we’ll never hear from you again and then you’re going to make a profit.” But in most cases, leaders in the community place their trust in Parangal to serve as caretakers of their dance and music and agree to the partnership.

It’s important to Solano that audiences understand that while Parangal is “not the indigenous group performing – we take the dance and set it for a western stage – but the group is included in the process.” Each performance includes the input of “culture-bearers,” leaders and elders from the community where the dance originated, who are closely involved in teaching the dance to Solano and the company, and “we also try to do what’s in our control to support the group.” This includes paying the tribes and communities to create the traditional outfits that Parangal dancers wear during performances.

Two Philippine Dancers performing

Parangal Dance Company / This is It Photography

The partnership is central to how Solano re-designs the dances for the stage, and more importantly to how the dancers relate to the movements he sets on them. “I’m really happy they can experience it, it’s more hands-on for them, and they can connect the dots between how I’m telling them to move and their experience working with the group back in the Philippines,” he says.

Julian explains the complication of trying to gather the right instruments for a dance. “As a foreigner to them, as an American, I show up and ask for what is essentially a family heirloom,” which can lead to some difficult conversations, but he says it always comes back to the fact that Parangal wants to share the indigenous group’s culture, and the culture-bearers want their culture to be shared, “and the music tells your story as much as the dance does, so if they have an extra instrument … [they might] sell [us] an instrument that’s generations old.”

“Sometime if an instrument is made out of wood, a new instrument can be made for the company to come back to the states with,” Julian tells me, continuing: “there’s this one particular instrument, it’s basically a tree trunk, so they cut down five trees, and carve them to get the right pitch.” He continues, “once they do that, they ship it and we hope that it can pass customs, but there have been times when [wooden instruments] get to SFO and it had termites, so customs has to burn it.”

Julian laughs as he shares the struggles that went into acquiring that instrument: “when we bought it the first time the whole termite thing happened, when we bought it the second time it was lost in transit, but I guess third time’s a charm.” The instrument arrived and will be part of Parangal’s audition for the 2019 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival later this fall.

This coming October audiences will have the opportunity to witness the full scope of what Solano, Julian, and the company have been working on for the past decade. The show will cover forms of dance from all three island regions of the Philippines: Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the middle, and the southern Mindanao. In addition, the company is working to bring some culture bearers from the Philippines for the first time to participate in the show. The title of the show is Padayon, which means “moving on” or “forward.”

Solano tells me that “there will be four world premieres, including two [dances from] ethnic groups that haven’t been featured before.” He gets excited speaking about the breadth of cultural forms on display. When they sit down with the indigenous groups during their immersion trips, he tells me that “we always begin with a set of questions, and…once you start going through each of them you will see a pattern of similarities among the indigenous groups – they will have different terms and different ways of describing things, but you will see a connection with something similar in another group.”

At the same time he concludes that, “it’s really exciting to learn about all those differences and how they came about, and we try to put all of that into our performances,” the most important aspect to the Parangal process is that “we want to present dance with integrity.”

Dance of death: FACT/SF’s festive and funereal 10th anniversary

Elation, frustration, wonder, befuddlement – one experiences a full spectrum of thoughts and feelings at a FACT/SF performance. Founded by Charles Slender-White in 2008, the company’s oeuvre spans more than 30 works, from 2010’s intimate, intensely theatrical Consumption Series to 2016’s (dis)integration, an immersive dance/lecture exploring displacement and Roma heritage, and 2017’s wondrous Platform, a meticulously twinned duet for Slender-White and Liane Burns. For its 10th anniversary, FACT/SF will premiere the immersive ensemble work death at CounterPulse.

FACT/SF’s horizons are far-reaching. The company has done tours and residencies in Russia and Eastern Europe – after death, they head off for Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia – and Slender-White created the commissioning program JuMP (Just Make a Piece), the West Coast touring endeavor PORT (Peer Organized Regional Touring) and this August’s Summer Dance Festival.

Founding company member Catherine Newman and Slender-White met in 2003 at U.C. Berkeley, where he double-majored in English literature and dance and performance studies, and she studied dance while earning her PhD in mechanical engineering. We sat down in his CounterPulse office, and they reflected on a decade of ups, downs and dances.

Two dancers sitting in chairs one standing on top, all wearing white "A-Line" Shirts and white briefs, looking at red balloon across the room

FACT/SF in What She Taught Me photo by Tawnee Kendall

Claudia Bauer: The first piece of yours I saw was The Consumption Series at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, in 2010. Since then, whatever you do, I’m curious. I don’t always like it, but I’m always curious. More often than not, I love it.

Charles Slender-White: I love all my little dance babies, but The Consumption Series was so wild. That was such a wild space to work in. They were like, “Here’s the keys. You want to paint the floor? You want to figure out how to use the freight elevator? Go for it.” It was such a wonderful sense of possibility. And we were all a lot younger, and that critical lens that tells you something might not be a great choice wasn’t developed yet. It allowed us to make a lot of choices that, if I had to make that piece now –

Catherine Newman: It would be much different.

CSW: I’m not going to say more conservative, but probably a little less wild.

CB: Because you’re on to different things? Or because you know now what you didn’t know then?

CSW: The questions that we were asking in The Consumption Series, I’m not as curious about those things. I wasn’t concerned with the through-line; I didn’t really care. I cared about an energetic arc. Parts of it were much more imagistic than the work that we’ve made since then. Like the first 7 minutes was us dancing around with buckets on our heads. We couldn’t see anything, and we each had to turn off a light and then go into the freight elevator. If someone got lost and couldn’t find their light, then the other three in the elevator just had to wait.

CB: Did that happen?

CSW: Yeah!

CN: What comes from that piece was this really significant patience that we developed with each other. Like, “I did not mean to go 180 in the wrong direction, but the options are: I give up and take the bucket off my head, or I do my best to figure it out.” That really established a foundation of trust and a way of working that has propagated itself through the 10 years.

CSW: In those early, early years, we were figuring out how to not just create the space for that to happen: we are going to feel that anxiety inside, and we are going to feel like our colleagues should hurry the fuck up because the piece needs to move on, and we are just going to sit in that discomfort until it gets resolved. And we’re going to trust that the audience is capable of sitting with us.

CN: One of the things that I’m really proud of is our unique audience. Not just because they’re really committed to us, but they’re also really diverse, and that means a lot to me. What it feels like to me is that our audience gets to bring their whole self to the show. That makes me happy.

CB: The integrity of the creation process is what interests you.

CSW: It’s always a bit strange when we start a process, because people want to know what it is, how long it’s going to be. Even with death – is it optimistic, is it pessimistic, do we die and go to heaven? And when I tell people I don’t know the answer, it’s often disappointing to the person I’m talking to. By the time we get something onstage, there’s often a point of view that materializes.

CN: It’s true that a point of view comes out, but it never feels to me like “this dance is on death.” It’s like, “Here’s some portion of how I feel about things, right now, at this stage in my life.”

CB: FACT/SF works are mentally and physically intense – the dancers’ focus and energy make it exhilarating to watch.

CSW: There’s this really nice cumulative effect that happens when you have been seeing the same dancer onstage for the whole piece, you’re seeing their costume get all wrangled and weird, and sweat and heavy breathing. Making the labor visible is interesting to me.

dancer has chin on chair in grey room with body forms

FACT/SF in Remains photo by Gema Galina

CB: So how have you made it through the inevitable frustrations of running a company for 10 years?

CSW: I’ve never been bored with the work. I have not sat down to write a budget, or gone to rehearsals, or been writing a card to a donor, or buying plane tickets for a tour, all of the many things that the job entails – they’ve never once been boring. They’ve been frustrating, they’ve been exhausting, they’ve been disheartening, but not boring. I think that’s related to this persistent and insistent curiosity, and letting the curiosity drive the process, rather than the expectation.

CB: And not wanting to get a real job.

CSW: It’s because I’m so work-averse. I’m too lazy to get a job. [laughter] And then there is the whole FACT/SF family – whenever I’m starting to feel like ugh, what’s the point, I’ll get an email or a phone call or a text message, and I’ll think, oh, the work has value. There is also this field-development component that I find almost as satisfying as the art-making. When we decided to do JuMP, or PORT, or my consulting work – all of those things are coming out of my deep love for dance and dancers and dance-making, and a real sense of frustration about why things don’t work better. It feels empowering.

CN: It’s never been about sticking with it; that’s never been a question for me. I have a total trust with Charlie, in terms of his rigor and his way of working. I sincerely learn a lot about myself, the way my body moves, things that I end up implementing and taking into my other work and my life, from every project.

CB: You’ve performed in Russia, Bulgaria, Seattle, Portland, LA. How has that come about?

CSW: All of the tours have resulted from casual conversations with real people as I’ve encountered them. It’s following up on conversations that start after class, or over a beer, or someone emails you. PORT came about because [former ODC Theater Director] Christy Bolingbroke introduced me and the LA Contemporary Dance Company directors at APAP [Association of Performing Arts Professionals], and we just kept talking. It’s finding where the needs of the local partner meet or match the needs that we have to create an opportunity that’s mutually beneficial.

CB: What about when things go wrong?

CSW: All of the no’s are difficult to absorb. But the clearer I am about what I’m working on and why, they can still be disappointing without being tragic. We’ve had enough years when things went pretty sideways and we still managed to put on a season of work.

CB: So let’s talk about death.

CSW: It’s the fourth piece in this series of curiosities. We made one last year called Remains, then one in 2018 called Life, and I did a little solo called Memoria… The curiosity for me is not about the process of dying, or the anxiety that people might have around mortality; it’s more around the role that grief plays in a living person’s life. Another upper from FACT/SF. We’re known for our easy-going, lighthearted dances. [laughter]. Next year we need to make a clown dance or something.

CB: How does grief manifest in the choreography?

CN: I have no doubt that everyone in that room has their own real feelings about death and grief, and in a weird way, I have this understanding that we’re all in some way bringing that to the work, even though we won’t explicitly talk about our experiences.

CSW: Memory is something that comes up a lot with grief. What can it be to think about a choreographic phrase that changes over time? How do you make choreographic changes visible to an audience – are you really asking them to learn a phrase in their minds to notice the difference? I think part of it will be really beautiful; I think part of it will be hard to tolerate. I think all dances are about death in some way. Not all the dances –

CN: Yours!

CSW: [laughter] Either individual versus society, or it’s death, and often both. But I think that I didn’t have the confidence to name that until now.

CB: Is that confidence the result of working for ten years?

CSW: I could not have foreseen, and I had not ever heard from another choreographer, that you can use your dances as a way to learn more about making dances. The work of 10 years is starting to seem like, “Oh, I didn’t think about this as a long-term, durational education project in addition to a dance-making thing.” I’ve figured out a way to continue to play with form and composition. Maybe that’s why I’m not bored.

Did You Know?: Khala Brannigan

Headshot of Khala Brannigan

Khala Brannigan photo by Stephen Texeira

Khala Brannigan is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico and alumna of the LINES Ballet Training Program. She founded Brannigan Dance Works in 2013 and has shared work at the West Wave Dance Festival, Summer Performance Festival, San Francisco Dance Film Festival, and SF International Arts Festival. Khala currently dances with Robert Moses’ Kin and teaches for the LINES Ballet outreach program. Dancers’ Group asked Khala about her current projects and perspectives. 

How did dance enter your life?

I started dancing at the age of seven in a little studio – Moving People Dance Theatre, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I begged my mother to take me to at least one ballet class for weeks. When she agreed, we purchased a pink tutu, pink tights, pink ballet shoes, and a pink leotard. We had no idea what was “proper” attire for a seven-year old’s first dance class. When I walked through the studio doors, my first ballet teacher, Layla Amis, couldn’t stop smiling at the sight of my ridiculous outfit.

It was then that I found home in my heart, a place I could rely on to always be there for me. I fell in love with dance immediately.

How would you describe your current work?

I aim to create contemporary dance that draws from our bodies’ innate knowledge and accumulated experiences to foster a deeper understanding of ourselves as vessels of history and ferocity. I believe in the power of dance as resilience, cultivating phrases of movement that access feelings of joy, humility, grounding, and spirit. Through creative process, I hope for the artists and audience members to experience a language that truly speaks to humanity – beyond gender, skin color, social status, or income. Since I started choreographing, a common theme I keep coming back to is the importance of empowerment – and this desire for empowerment is much deeper than fame or fortune.

Tell us about your upcoming project.

My newest work, Bones, reflects nature itself, accessing the innate wisdom and feminine intuition that lives within our bodies. As a series of solos and duets, this new work aims to identify the inner battles that prevent us from experiencing our wild selves. For me, bones are a symbol of death and rebirth ­– a research of the soul. Though we may not share the same personal histories in society, bones could symbolize the truth of equality – once we dig deeper, we find that we all share the same matter. Bones will premiere at the Joe Goode Annex September 7 and 8 alongside artists David Harvey, and Courtney Mazeika. 

Dance Shot of Khala Brannigan

Khala Brannigan photo by Stephen Texeira

If no one knew anything about your dance practice, what would you want them to know?

My creative practice never stops, even though I spend at least 20 hours a week in the dance studio. When I go home or I am working a job that has nothing to do with dance, I am still thinking about the ways in which it impacts my practice. The more experiences I have, the stronger my art becomes.

What has been the most rewarding part of your dance life?

The moments when I offer [dance] to others with my full heart and don’t expect anything in return. When I offer a class to kids who know nothing about dance, or perform on stage with nothing to lose, or witness a piece that I choreographed finally come to life, I realize that the impact is so much greater than myself and that is the most rewarding; being in the unknown, just giving, and going for it without expectations.

What’s a future goal or dream?

I dream of living wages and more opportunities for artists in America – that we can see art as a necessity instead of an option. My biggest dreams involve the greater whole of humanity, because in the end, we need community in order to survive.

What inspires you?

Oh man. Books, people, stories, music, an impactful experience, and even sometimes just a small interaction with a stranger. I am also inspired by the human capacity to overcome challenges that once seemed impossible, and the strength we gain through that process.

Do you have a favorite dance move?

I wouldn’t say I do, there’s way too many to choose from! 

A favorite song or type of music to dance to?

It definitely depends on my mood, but hip hop, or anything with a beat really gets me going.

Khala Brannigan Dance Shot

Khala Brannigan photo by Stephen Texeira

What advice do you still hold on to today?

Robert Moses once told me, “Be the leader that you are.” I am forever grateful for the opportunities he has offered me to practice that. Also, my dance teacher growing up, Ronn Stewart always said “keep going.” I still hold on to those words today, because it is so easy to feel defeated. The only choice we have sometimes is to just keep going.

What haven’t we asked that you want to share?

What do you know now that you wish you knew six years ago? I have learned that a career as a dancer/choreographer/teacher looks different on every individual, and art, in its true form, is not graded in a hierarchical system. Not only that, but things change, and they will continue to change. Sometimes you have no control over it. So many doors are open for opportunities, and often we look in all the wrong places. The answers we search for are already within ourselves, we just have to remember to listen.

Find Time and Space with Residency Programs

Woman holding greek pose on platform in field

Aleta Hayes at Artful Harvest (2017)
Djerassi Resident Artists Program
Photo by Colson Griffith

Inspiration pours from your graceful fingertips and toes. If only you had time and space to explore the depths of your imagination freely, validating what you already know to be true: that you are a dancemaker and you must create.

‘Tis no fantasy. There is in fact a way to hone your skills, develop and present your work – as you so desire, and it doesn’t have to cost you a cent.

Artist in Residence (AIR) programs that cater to dance are distinctly designed for dancemakers. While some focus on research-and-development, others are performance or teaching-based. Long-term residencies are typically planned a year in advance or more.

The advantages are many. AIR opportunities are available to both emerging and established artists – whether local, from out of state, or abroad. One residency experience can lead to others. An artist can even make a career out of participating in artist residency programs if they so desire. However, a tremendous amount of research goes into finding the right programs. The application submission process is no less daunting.

The most sought-after residencies offer fully subsidized accommodations and creative time, space, and support including food allowances and housing, enabling artists to focus on their creativity. Artists are competitively selected for these residencies which can span anywhere from one week to several years. Many artist communities can support a single artistic discipline or bring together artists of other disciplines.

Settings vary anywhere from rural hideaways to urban warehouses. According to the Alliance of Artists Communities about 60% are in rural or small-town environments.

Established in 1991, The Alliance of Artists Communities is an international association of artist residency programs that provides artists of all disciplines time and space for the creation of new work.

During the alliance’s formation, the MacArthur Foundation—the funding source behind the creation of the Alliance of Artists Communities, and advocate in favor of nurturing the creative process—selected 18 organizations for a one-time $2.5 million, subsidized initiative focused on Artists’ Colonies, Communities, and Residencies. Organizations partaking in the initiative included the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Headlands Center for the Arts, and Jacob’s Pillow among others.

Important to note is the Alliance of Artists Communities’ “Mind the Gap” study published in 2011, an extensive survey of dance residency programs. The study was conducted following a 2008 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, bringing to light how “Dancemakers are under-served and under-resourced, even as compared to other artists.”

Advancement Director Terra Fuller of the Djerassi Resident Artist Program responds, “We are closely affiliated with the Alliance of Artist Communities. We are familiar with the “Mind the Gap” study and are proud to be among the 14% of residencies with dance studios, which is a statistic listed in that study.” Fuller acknowledges the shortcomings that exist in dance residencies. “Studio space dictates the number of choreographers in residence. At Djerassi, we have one dance resident each session (two if they bring a collaborator), whereas we can accommodate 6-7 writers and 3 visual artists per session.”

The alliance’s website, ArtistCommunities.org states there are over 160 dance residency programs in the U.S. and Canada and dozens more around the world. The website serves as a free, comprehensive online source connecting artists with residency programs everywhere. Resources include a residency directory with tips on: how to apply; how to create a residency; how to crowdfund; and also lists annual conferences and workshops happening around the country.

While the Alliance of Artists Residencies serves international artists of all disciplines worldwide, dance residencies in the Bay Area vicinity are somewhat plentiful compared to other parts of the country.

Artistic and executive director Julie Phelps of CounterPulse in San Francisco says, “Dance continues to be the most marginalized performing art form. If I were to take a guess it’s because art’s history traced industrial development, and as the body became more and more suppressed as labor standard became harder on the body, dance went into the shadow. Not to mention Victorian and Puritan moralistic body shaming.”

Phelps advocates that dance residencies should include: “sprung dance floors, adequate space, producing support to fully and professionally realize staged work, more grants geared toward dance.”

Residency applicants at CounterPulse are primarily comprised of up-and-coming dancers and choreographers, along with a few dance company ensembles. In most cases, applicants have completed one or more residencies elsewhere.

Dancer in giant gold shawl twirling

Monique Jenkinson at Headlands Center for the Arts, 2017. Photo by Andria Lo.

Communications and engagement manager Justin Ebrahemi shares, “CounterPulse does not have an application fee. We want to ensure our residency programs are as accessible as possible while offering a generous artist stipend to participating artists. We do however ask applicants to become CounterPulse members (we have a pay-what-you-can membership program) as we see our residency programs as a mutual agreement to support each other’s visions. All of our [four] residency programs include outreach and mentorship opportunities to our artists, including progress showings, discourse events, and publishing creative content about their work.”

Recognized as one of the world’s foremost artist residencies, the Djerassi residency program receives a combination of emerging, mid-career, as well as some established dancers and choreographers which have included Deborah Slater, Dohee Lee, Sara Shelton Mann, Derrick Jones, Weidong Yang, and Jodi Lomask.

Djerassi has a large dance studio with a sprung floor and offers overnight accommodations for dancers or videographers who collaborate with choreographers. Fuller proudly shares, “A Djerassi residency is fee-free to the artist; yet each 30-day residency costs the program about $10,000. The diversity of residency models makes a rich and strong field, but we are committed to remaining fee-free to artists.”

Fuller continues, “All artists arrive and leave at the same time, creating intense interdisciplinary cohorts. Another distinct opportunity for choreography and dance artists at Djerassi is the collegial interaction with artists of other disciplines. A quote from a painter, Paula Bullwinkel, from Bend, Oregon, illustrates the value of the cross-disciplinary experiences. She wrote, ‘Bonding with other artists at Djerassi was phenomenal. We had so much in common. When the writers gave feedback to one of the residents at a reading, I realized their ideas applied to visual concepts. When one of the dancers talked about moving instinctively versus choreographed moves, I saw how that concept could apply to painting as well. I began to experiment with mixing realism with expressionism.’ ”

Residencies for mostly mid-career and established artists at the Marin based Headlands Center for the Arts offer a unique model as well. Uyehara explains, “By providing the five key supports that artists need—namely time, space, money, validation, and networks—at a site ideally situated to foster introspection and exchange, we nurture original thought and spark vital new directions in art. Our vision is to provide the ideal conditions for artists and creative thinkers to develop new works and ideas, no matter their discipline. We provide: A private bedroom in a shared historic home, chef-prepared meals five nights a week, a stipend, round-trip travel to the site, opportunities to participate in public programs and open studios, connection to a wide network in the arts, including Headlands artists, both current and alumni. Performance facilities consist of a stand-alone studio in Headlands’ iconic gym or a redwood-lined former warehouse. Artists also have access to the campus at large, with a variety of historic spaces.”

To ensure residency programs at Headlands continue, consistent monetary backing remains a vital component. Uyehara says, “For Headlands and across the field, we need to see institutional and public support in the forms of financial contributions, public program attendance, and people and organizations voicing interest in the institutional support of dance production.”

Indian Dancer looking down

Jyotsna Vaidee at SAFEhouse. Photo courtesy of SAFEhouse Arts

SAFEhouse Arts (Saving Arts from Extinction) in San Francisco offers emerging and mid-career artist residencies focused on contemporary dance. Resident Artist Workshops (RAW) provide artists with rehearsal space, mentorship, marketing, and production support for performance. Residencies are dedicated to supporting queer and trans artists of color and people living with HIV/AIDS, and the RAW Lead Artist Program is designed for artists seeking a long-term artistic relationship with SAFEhouse.

Executive director and founder of SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts, Joe Landini says, “We accept the majority of artists that apply and most artists can stay for any period of time they want. Last year we supported 135 residencies. We don’t charge an application fee. Our program is completely free. I think that if there is value, then paying for a residency is fine. Each artist has to examine the program and decide if it’s a good fit for them.”

Words of wisdom to artists pursuing dance residencies:

“We [CounterPulse] recommend that interested applicants express interest in promoting their work and engaging with new/current audiences throughout their residencies. Also, get involved and familiar with CounterPulse. Come to shows, come to open call info sessions, get to know our community,” says Ebrahemi.

Uyehara with Headlands says, “Capture compelling documentation of your work. Apply with a thoughtful articulation of your practice. And don’t wait until the last minute to finish those applications. If possible, come to Headlands to see the facilities.”

Fuller with Djerassi says, “Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted – keep trying. The selection panels rotate every year. Each year we have about 900 applications for 70 residency spots.”

Landini with SAFEhouse says, “Each program has its own set of criteria, for example, ours is not very process orientated, it’s very much about generating public performance. Other programs are more about process and investigating.”

You’re a dancemaker and you deserve an audience. Residency administrators are ready to receive your letter of interest and learn about your unique aesthetic. Now that you have the right skill set and tools, take the next step. Leap toward your future and begin now.


Artist in Residency Opportunities: A Short-List

Those looking for a residency program may start their search with Alliance of Artist Communities (artistcommunities.org), Culture and Creativity (culturepartnertship.eu), or Res Artis (resartis.org/en) – all aggregate information about opportunities for all artistic disciplines and around the world.

Below is a selection of local and national residencies that are open to dance-makers.

San Francisco Bay Area
Brava! for Women in the Arts, SF
Supporting the artistic expression of women, people of color, LGBTQIA with space, technical and admin support. brava.org

Chalk Hill Artist Residency, Sonoma
For established, emerging, and “outsider” artists at the historic Warnecke Ranch & Vineyards.
chalkhillresidency.com

CounterPulse, SF
Four programs for emerging artists and cultural innovators, serving as an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture. counterpulse.org

Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Woodside
Six residency sessions each year, with one dedicated to the intersection of art and science. djerassi.org

Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito
10-week residencies for individuals at the cutting edge of their fields. headlands.org

Lucid Art Foundation, Inverness
Three week residencies with special emphasis on the integration of art, process, and inner awareness. lucidart.org

ODC Theater, SF
A three-year program. Next available residencies begin in 2021. odc.dance

SAFEhouse Arts, SF
Focused on emerging artists in dance, experimental theatre and interdisciplinary performance. safehousearts.org

Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
For emerging and established local artists, without expectations to produce a performance. shawl-anderson.org

Zaccho Dance Theatre, SF
Discounted studio and performance space to resident companies considered innovators in the field of contemporary and aerial dance. zaccho.org

National
Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, FL
A three week Program brings together three “Master Artists” from different disciplines. atlanticcenterforthearts.org

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE
Offers private live/work studios, financial support, technical/administrative assistance, and free public programs. bemiscenter.org

Downtown Dance Collective, Missoula
Supporting collaborative, original work culminating in a performance. ddcmontana.com

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
The In Process Series support research and develop of new work. jacobspillow.org

National Park Service: Arts in the Parks
Residencies for artists at parks across the nation, each with their own unique programming. nps.gov

Residency Unlimited, New York
Customized residency environments for artists at all stages of practice. residencyunlimited.org

The Yard, Chillmark, MA
Residency programs emphasize collaborative process in contemporary dance, devised theater and music. dancetheyard.org

Velocity Dance Center, Seattle
For dance and movement-based artists to develop performances, interactive events, and installations. velocitydancecenter.org

Yaddo, Saratoga Springs
200 artists from all disciplines are served by Yaddo’s process-focused residencies annually.
yaddo.org

44 Gough St, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 920-9181 phone
(415) 920-9173 fax