Various Artists – D.I.R.T. Festival, storm SURGE edition – San Francisco

Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu publicity image.<br />© Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu. (Click image for larger version)
Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu publicity image.
© Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu. (Click image for larger version)

D.I.R.T. Festival: storm SURGE – edition
Tigre Bailando: Old Growth
Kumu Kau’i Peralto, Hi’i Wright, Sammay Dizon: LAVA (in our veins)
Primera Generación Dance Collective: Recicla tú madre!
Kambara + Dancers: Lateral Bias
Hien Huynh: wait & weight
Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu: I Love My Homeland in the Heavy Rains and Wind

and work by Danza Contact Puerto Rico
San Francisco, Dance Mission Theater
9 March 2019

From the queer psychedelia of the Cockettes in the 1960s to the resurfacing of African American history in Joanna Haigood’s site-specific modern dance, San Francisco boasts a long and influential legacy of protest art and political performance. But tech prospectors have claimed much of the land here in recent years, and our once-fertile ground for radical art has been desertified by a crushing cost of living and a corporate society that values wealth over the cultural commonweal.

San Francisco’s Dance Mission Theater, founded in 1998 by seminal dance artist, feminist, teacher and activist Krissy Keefer, is one of the last venues that provokes and presents the resonant art that used to pop up like dandelions in the cracks of the city sidewalks. Keefer and the other leaders of DMT are fearless, in your face and ever ready to take on the challenges of social justice, women’s rights, diversity and the environment. Long may they run.

Among DMT’s activist endeavors is the D.I.R.T. Festival, a biennial, two-weekend dance event centered on a topical political theme. The acronym stands for Dance in Revolt(ing) Times. This year’s festival, titled storm SURGE, opened Saturday, March 9, to a sold-out house of about 150. The bill brought together eight local and visiting artists with connections to coastal and island communities that are on the front line of rising oceans. Some are polished professionals of long standing, others brash youth bristling with passion; some works were finely honed while others want tightening. But the point of art like this is not to spoon-feed the audience sugar-coated commodities, it’s to raise a fist and punch a complacent world in the gut.

Swathed in chamois cloth and crowned with a helmet of twigs, Tigre Bailando stood in the center of the black-box theater for the solo Old Growth, slowly unfurling his arms into branches and his knurled fingers into leaves. Expanded upward and outward, his chest took on the presence of an ancient oak, an organism of massive strength yet hobbled by its roots and unable to flee the rising tides.

The 2018 volcanic eruptions of Mt. Mayon in the Philippines and Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii inspired LAVA (in our veins), a movement prayer led by native Hawaiian traditional artists Kumu Kau’i Peralto and Hi’i Wright, and Pilipinx performer Sammay Dizon. Three generations of women summoned the volcano goddess Pele in hula and Hawaiian-language songs overlaid with sampled text and music. Like a lightning strike, Dizon’s jerking, popping movements electrified the performance.

Wearing silver lamé pants and patriotic Western shirts, the young Southern California quartet Primera Generación Dance Collective formed a kinetic body-sculpture “bicycle,” played catch with heads of lettuce, danced aerobics and sang Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy, Breaky Heart” in Spanish. Recicla tú madre! was zany, old-school experimental performance that seemed amusing but directionless until the coup de grace: Your plate may be full, but the workers who put food on it deserve justice.

Two Hurricane Maria-themed pieces wrapped up the first half. Visiting from San Juan, the contact improv duo Rosa Lina Lima and Maidelise Ríos Medina, a.k.a. Danza Contact Puerto Rico, conjured women’s lives before and after the 2017 storm; compelling as it was, their wind-battered movement felt overlong in this context – overall, shorter works make it easier to process the massive input of an expansive and message-heavy program – but Joudy Santaliz’ live-mixed electronic score crackled with curious sounds. Solo dances accented with flicking skirts and scarves added visual percussion to the singing and drumming of BombX’s invigorating Afro-Cuban protest songs.

Kambara + Dancers publicty image.© Kambara + Dancers. (Click image for larger version)
Kambara + Dancers publicty image.
© Kambara + Dancers. (Click image for larger version)

The second half opened with Kambara + Dancers “Lateral Bias,” a more conventionally contemporary piece for four dancers and one singer, choreographed by former ODC/Dance star Yayoi Kambara. Thunderous waterfall sounds accompanied the remote, abstract choreography, framed by hanging panels of translucent silver Mylar; Terra Liu’s organically grounded movement elevated the piece.

S.F.-based contemporary dancer Hien Huynh’s solo wait & weight reflected on the health of the Mekong River that links China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand with his birth country of Vietnam. Video of whales, seals and fish were projected onto a white canvas spread across the floor, and the moving images lit Huynh’s body as he lunged and crawled with the coiled momentum of tai chi. After rolling his body into the canvas, Huynh heaved to his feet like a flailing apparition.

Patrick Makuakāne’s magnificent contemporary hula company Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu ended the evening with an incantation on fresh water, “I Love My Homeland in the Heavy Rains and Wind.” While Makuakāne tapped a drum and sang, a cast of twenty men and women brought his modern style of hula to life, with its complex canons, pacific gestures and potent power stances. Performing in concert with projected images of Hawaiian shores, mountains, volcanoes and sunsets, the dancers immersed us in a beautiful and endangered world.

About the author

Claudia Bauer

Claudia Bauer is a freelance writer and lifelong bunhead in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her writing has appeared in Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Critical Dance and SF/Arts Monthly. She tweets every so often at @speakingofdance.

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