Is being at the right place at the right time a matter of fate, coincidence or luck? Looking back at my life in 1982, the year that Dancers’ Group was founded, I am not sure which of these future-determining causes played the more significant role in my association that has lasted three decades. I do know that I was at the right place when I started volunteering and teaching for Dancers’ Group. As one of the founders, our idea for the mission of Dancers’ Group’s work was to support choreographers and present performances, and tenants are reflected in our programs and services today. It’s corny, but I count my blessings that our paths have stayed in tandem for the past 30 years and I hope I am lucky enough that my involvement with Dancers’ Group continues even longer.
To help celebrate this 30 year milestone, we have reached out to people to share a special remembrance. Throughout 2012 this publication will carry a few pieces per month, each telling a unique story of the impact our work has had on a variety of artists, educators, writers, and funders. These remembrances paint a remarkable portrait of a vital and relevant organization. We are particularly proud to start off with remembrances from Anna Halprin, Tim Miller and Janice Ross.
In a Golden State at 22nd and Mission
I created my solo performance Some Golden States in 1987 and it had its world premiere at Footwork/Dancers Group’ as part of the Edge Festival. Vernon Fuquay and Wayne Hazzard welcomed me into the amazing community that was being generated there in the Mission district of San Francisco. That space would become an essential crucible queer performance and work engaging the AIDS crisis. I want to remember what was going on in the three cities I had been living in—NYC, LA and SF—in that time. I was twenty-eight and my world was in complete chaos. That year AIDS began to take its toll on my closest personal circle with the first deaths of people who were my friends and lovers in NYC. I was constantly haunted by my own fears that I would soon be next. In 1987 I had moved home to California fleeing the cold panic and tightening noose in New York. That same year my hometown of Whittier, California was devastated by an earthquake. Whittier, the hometown of me and President Richard Nixon, has always existed as an archetypal place for me, somewhere off the Interstate between Brecht’s Mahagonny and Wilder’s Our Town. Faced with the post-earthquake reality of such iconic sites as the Whittier Cinema in ruins, I felt my personal cosmology further frayed. The world and my place in it was feeling very precarious indeed. This is what informed the performance Some Golden States on its opening night at the amazing space at 22nd and Mission.
Some Golden States was about dirt, California dirt in particular. Where we come from in California the dirty earth still lives, moves can shake your house down around you. With those grandiose intimations of mortality that the late ’20s can bring even without a plague or earthquake in your vicinity, the piece is haunted by the dirt that we will all eventually become.
Fecund and feisty, the stage of Some Golden States—not to mention the wheelbarrow that sat down stage right that Vernon or Wayne managed to borrow from someone—was strewn with the dirt into which I need to dig my toes deep and commit to the joys and terrors of my times. Like a resilient road-company Peter Pan who flies effortlessly on Flying-by-Foy wires only to splat against plague and catastrophe at the stage right wall, I manage to pick myself up and walk back onstage because I, along with my community of queer folk and itinerant performers, clearly do believe in fairies.
I would perform several times in that amazing Dancers Group space as part of the Edge Festival, but it is that particular time in 1987 that I most remember. We would lose Vernon and so many others in the years ahead and I often perform sections from that work these many years later. On the deepest level, Some Golden States was an effort to find an incantation, a prayer, a whistle in the dark if nothing else, to keep myself in the world. As someone who never met a metaphor I didn’t like, this performance is the piece where I willfully plant my young man’s feet deep in the earth with every intention of sticking around and making my garden grow. I am grateful I found such fertile soil at Dancers Group!
— Tim Miller, Los Angeles 2011
Fitting All Parts Together
Being asked for one memory of Dancers’ Group is an impossibility because I think of Dancers’ Group as a huge living time capsule of Bay Area dance. It is the embodiment of shared advocacy services that reflect the communal and intimate beginnings of Bay Area dance from the early 1970s forward. So much of what developed, and then faded, as support structures for local dance artists, audiences and students over the past four decades is now nested within Dancers’ Group. I think of the original physical space of Dancers’ Group in its first home at 3221 22nd Street. This space had its own history as a network of second floor rehearsal spaces that had formerly housed Footwork and before that Carlos Carvajal’s Dance Spectrum company and school, once one of the major alternative ballet companies in the Bay Area.
Wayne Hazard, one of the three founders of Dancers’ Group, had his own impressive history as a dancer with Joe Goode’s and Margaret Jenkins’ earlier companies, and his memory and physical understanding of Bay Area dance from this interior vantage point resides in Dancers’ Group priorities today. I remember seeing Anna Halprin’s restaging of her signature work from 1964, Parades and Changes, as part of the 1996 Edge Festival’s SRO event. Dancers’ Group has also subsumed the tasks of the Bay Area’s first dance service organization, the Bay Area Dance Coalition, later Dance Bay Area, by writing and distributing In Dance, the successor publication. Consortiums, studio spaces, artists, publications, non-profit umbrella, there are so many pieces of this community’s evolution as a leading national dance center that have been lovingly taken in, preserved, nurtured in the framework of Dancers’ Group for the past 30 years.
As Executive Director of Dancers’ Group, Wayne turned words into action when in 2009 he offered the entity as fiscal sponsor and friend for the Dance Critics Association and the Society of Dance History Scholars’ international gathering in San Francisco. He exercised a big and bold vision in seeing dance critics and historians as an integral part of the eco system of a healthy dance environment and in turn his faith in how all the parts of our dance community fit smoothly together has made it so.
— Janice Ross, Professor, Drama Department,Director of Dance Division Stanford University
A Love Letter to Dancers’ Group
I just can’t imagine San Francisco’s lively dance scene without the vital services that the Dancers’ Group provides. I can’t even count the ways you have supported me, and I wonder how many times I’ve called and asked, “Hello. May I speak to Wayne?” Whether I needed advice on a grant, fee, or an idea for a performance, Wayne has never failed in his kind, thorough dedication to my work.
One of the most meaningful productions that I have ever created was Spirit of Place at Stern Grove, a special tribute to my late husband, Lawrence Halprin, a landscape artist who designed the natural amphitheater. I could not get the support I needed, and Dancers’ Group stepped up to the challenge, producing the event in meaningful, in-depth detail. They amassed funding from several foundations, handled many complex, frustrating logistics, and publicized the event. Even Kegan attended every single rehearsal to help out however he could.
For example, the audience was seated on the stage and the performers used the hillside and grassy terraces as their stage. This reversal was confusing to Stern Grove’s management, leading to a series of careful behind-the-scenes negotiations to grant permissions and extend insurance. Wayne and his staff took care of these issues with grace.
But the real turning point that could have been disastrous was when it poured during all three performances. The dancers—and their costumes—were soaked, so Wayne himself drove all over the neighborhood looking for a laundromat. He had one hour between each show to achieve this task, and he did it. Being able to create and present Spirit of Place with a magnificent cast in a glorious setting, while sharing in my husband’s great delight and appreciation, was a truly memorable experience for both of us. That day culminated 70 years of collaboration throughout our life together. Without the generosity and support of Dancers’ Group, I would not have this cherished memory to live by.
On a lighter note, I want to share a favorite moment that showcases another side of Dancers’ Group and the many roles it plays in our community. One night I arrived at the Izzies and found Wayne dressed to kill—a gorgeous blond wig, exquisite makeup, an electric-blue sequence gown, sparkling high heels, and a perky little handbag (perhaps to carry his speech notes). I could not have asked for a more ravishing escort to take me to our front-row seats.
Dancers’ Group has a generous heart, a sense of humor, and a flair for creative imagination. I love you guys, all of you who make it work, and I cheer you on for the next 30 years.
— Anna Halprin, Bay Area choreographer
This article appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of In Dance.