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International performance art arrives

by Sari Staver

Steamroller Dance Company will present the world premiere of "Loserville." Photo: Courtesy SFIAF
Steamroller Dance Company will present the world premiere of "Loserville." Photo: Courtesy SFIAF  

The San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) will present more than 40 different dance, cirque, musical, comedy, theatre, and performance art pieces, including several LGBT-themed performances as well as a panel on queer theatre, in its upcoming festival at Fort Mason Center, May 24-June 3.

This year's theme is "Down by the Riverside," celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "and a call to remember the power and importance of his mission and message 50 years after his death, including focusing on the subjects of white privilege and market capitalism," according to the SFIAF program. "The 2018 festival has something for every left-leaning, Trump-averse, anti-fascist, arts-loving denizen of the Bay Area."

Among the featured musical performances this year are Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra with activist and academic Angela Davis, a lesbian, performing a musical concert, "Down by the Riverside," which reflects Dr. King's 1967 speech at the Riverside Church denouncing the Vietnam War and the U.S. military role around the world.

Related issues addressed this year include "Under Ice," about the dark side of market capital by leading German playwright Falk Richter, performed by the Arturo Areimas Theatre from Lithuania. Yvette Dibos will perform as the character "Miss Appropriation," a series of vignettes that address gender, whiteness, and appropriations. According to the program, Dibos' show "critiques pop culture's adoption of historically iconic subversive acts, specifically those that counter heteronormativity and white supremacy."

Among the highlights of the queer performances is the world premiere of "We Are All Dragons in Drag" by choreographer Eric Kupers and his Dandelion ensemble. The performance "merges inclusive dance, music, storytelling, ritual, drag, outrageousness, and opportunities for accessible audience participation to call forth connections to primal power."

Another LGBT dance performance featured this year is the Steamroller Dance Company performing "Loserville," which the program describes as a "queering of the iconic film 'The Breakfast Club,'" one of director John Hughes' seminal films. In this performance, scenes from the movie are embodied by the performers, who play with gender and race, "using timing and comedic physicality to challenge the heteronormative terrain of this cinematic genre." "Loserville" questions how media affects perceptions of race and sexuality, and links the idea of the loser with the experiences of marginalized communities.

Steamroller is led by artistic director Jesselito Bie, a gay man who moved to the Bay Area in 1992 to dance with the High Risk Group, has since performed with many local companies, and has received many awards for his choreography. He is currently a lead artist at Safehouse Arts. Steamroller began in 1993, when a loosely knit group of artists came together to create guerrilla performances to address the spread of HIV/AIDS to other communities, such as women and people of color.

From Taiwan, the Tainaner Ensemble presents a one-man play, "Solo Date," in which a man tries to reconstruct his deceased lover through artificial intelligence and social media. Pao-Chang Tsai, the co-founder of the group, tells the story of Ho-Nien, a successful international businessman from Taiwan, whose longtime lover and partner Alan is killed in an air crash. Co-presented by the Queer Cultural Center, "Solo Date" uses new media to explore "loneliness and longing, desire, death, human loss, and need." It also "asks profound questions about amorality and the ethics of the interactive technologies humankind increasingly relies on," according to the program.


Queer Cultural Center will co-present Weighted Acceptance, a dance performance by the Bahiya Movement. Photo: Courtesy SFIAF  

Queer Cultural Center is also co-presenting "Weighted Acceptance," a dance performance by the Bahiya Movement. The performance fuses dance, music and poetic storytelling that explore the intersectional oppression faced by people of color. This multidisciplinary performance "seeks to heal urban communities by deepening the understanding of weights people of color collectively carry."

A panel of queer artists - Bie from Steamroller, Kupers of Dandelion, and Pao-Chang Tsai of the Tainaner Ensemble - will focus on LGBT themes as they have developed within contemporary theatre over the last three decades, and make predictions about the future. The panel, which is free, will be moderated by gay actor and producer Brian Freeman.

Two lesbians, aerialist Melodie Couture and trapeze artist Sara Duell, are among the performers of the all-female Canadian nouveau-cirque ensemble Cirquantique, which will present the U.S. debut of "Bang Bang," a fusion of burlesque-inspired acrobatic acts and live music. The production portrays the dark world of Prohibition-era Quebec, with artists from Montreal's underground circus scene offering "a night of transgression and rebelling against false temperance, in a parallel universe where speakeasies proliferate, bootlegging is rampant, and the black market rules."

In addition, Troupe Vertigo from Los Angeles (whose artistic director Aloysia Gavre has known global acclaim as a soloist with Cirque du Soleil, but is even more highly regarded in the Bay Area because she was an original member of the Pickle Circus) explores how women use weight and balance to embrace mutual trust and support.

For further information about the festival and ticket availability, see the festival website, www.sfiaf.org. Tickets range from $12 to $35, with passes and discounts available. The festival also offers a number of free events, educational activities, and parties.


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