Woman launches queer arts festival in San Diego

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022
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San Francisco Bay Area native and queer dancer Desiree Cuizon is the visionary and co-director of San Diego's new Queer Mvmt Fest set for June 24-27. Photo: Courtesy Doug McMinimy
San Francisco Bay Area native and queer dancer Desiree Cuizon is the visionary and co-director of San Diego's new Queer Mvmt Fest set for June 24-27. Photo: Courtesy Doug McMinimy

San Diego will see an inaugural queer arts festival this month. A queer San Francisco Bay Area native is the visionary behind the event.

Former Vallejo resident Desiree Cuizon, a 36-year-old Filipina woman, is co-director of the City in Motion's Queer Mvmt Fest, scheduled for June 24-27.

The art festival will wrap up June's Pride Month and kick off San Diego's month of Pride events, said Cuizon, who is a lead artist with Disco Riot, the festival's sponsor organization. San Diego Pride is July 9-17.

Cuizon and fellow Dance Riot lead artist Trystan Merrick, a queer nonbinary ballet dancer, are bringing more than 25 queer artists, many of whom are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego to perform and host educational classes at the four-day virtual and in-person festival that will feature dance performances, panel discussions, and workshops.

"These artists are boldly confronting their intersectionalities through their movement art and I am in awe," said Cuizon, calling the artists "incredibly brave to perform, create, and be vulnerable" for their performances.

The Queer Mvmt Fest team also includes Disco Riot artistic director Zaquia Mahler Salinas, operations manager Gloria Lanuza, lighting supervisor Taylor Olson, and panel moderator Gibran Guido.

The event will, in addition, host a screening competition of films from around the world.

The film competition features different films, some of which will be seen at FilmOut, San Diego's LGBTQ film festival held in the fall, Cuizon said. The Queer Mvmt Festival received more than 300 films and interest from more than 50 artists from Southern California and several from San Francisco and New York for this year's inaugural festival, Cuizon said.

The organizers anticipate about 600 people coming out for the in-person festival.

Cuizon, who went to college in San Diego 16 years ago and never left, envisioned producing a queer dance space at San Diego Pride four years ago. In 2018, Disco Riot was just launching. She joined the diverse collective promoting movement-based art.

Cuizon thought of the dance festival due to a desire to have a space for queer dancers like herself at Pride. After joining the collective, she saw her friends in the Bay Area and New York producing dance and art festivals during their respective Pride celebrations. She looked at what San Diego Pride offered and found not much in the way of queer arts outside of live music.

"I really want a place where me and my queer dancing friends can go and have our own festival," said Cuizon.

San Diego Pride disagreed with Cuizon's assessment of its festival entertainment offerings. In an email statement to the Bay Area Reporter, San Diego Pride Executive Director Fernando Lopéz, who is nonbinary, said, "The San Diego Pride Festival is a beautiful large-scale LGBTQ event that combines art and advocacy that has brought our community together year after year since the 1970s. The weekend showcases LGBTQ artists, photographers, drag queens, DJs, dancers, musicians, poets, authors, and playwrights."

They pointed out the Our Prism area, which highlights a juried art show, artisan booths, LGBTQ history with Lambda Archives of San Diego, and Lit Cafe in partnership with San Diego Public Library, among creative events for children and families.

"LGBTQ arts and culture has been at the core of who we are as an organization," Lopéz stated, adding that supporting the city's LGBTQ community's cultural events helps fund more than 40 year-round arts, education, and advocacy programs.

The dancers told the B.A.R. they are excited about the festival, seeing other queer dancers' works, and being with other queer dancers like themselves.

"I'm really looking forward to returning," and seeing other performances at the festival and meeting other artists, said James Gilmer, 29, who declined to state his sexual orientation, a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for three seasons in New York.

Los Angeles-based professional ballet dancer and choreographer Tylor Bradshaw, a 26-year-old bisexual man, couldn't agree more.

"I'm really excited to just be able to give something to my community to share, to learn from others," Bradshaw said.

Added Gilmer, "I am so excited to be a part of it." Gilmer is a modern dancer who also does modern jazz and some contemporary ballet.

Gilmer, a Pittsburgh native, will dance a solo piece called, "Untitled for You," choreographed by Antonio Brown.

He performed the piece one time in his hometown last year.

"I'm really looking forward to revisiting it," Gilmer said about improving upon the dance.

This will be the first time Gilmer will return to San Diego since he last visited the city three years ago, he said. Gilmer called San Francisco home from 2017 to 2019 before he returned to the East Coast.

Bradshaw will perform "Libra," a dance he choreographed that explores relationships and breakups.

The festival is produced by Disco Riot with the support of partners Visionary Dance Theatre, Balletcenter Studios, and Art Produce.

The festival is funded by grants from the California Humanities ($10,000) and the California Arts Council ($18,000). The festival also received in-kind donations provided by the Art Produce, BalletCenter Studio, Diversionary Theatre, Mingei International Museum at Balboa Park, and Visionary Dance Theatre, which provides the performance spaces.

Many of the performance spaces are reopening after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID pandemic. Others have had renovations or are completely new.

Registration for Queer Mvmt Fest is now open. The event is free to the public. Space is limited. Registration is required.

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