Dance Mission is being inhabited for three weeks by Manifesti-Val, the Dance Brigadeâ€™s Festival for Social Change, with a different show every week. While most artists take a more measured stance toward the problems of the world, Dance Brigade, led by Krissy Keefer, plunges in with passion and urgency. Even the flyer for Manifesti-Val practically bursts into flames in your hands: â€śOur cities are not preparedâ€¦more and more people are dying in Iraq..the Presidentâ€™s lies are exposedâ€¦the news is fast and furious. Our response is as quickâ€¦Join us!â€ť
And join they did. The 140-seat theater was packed when I caught the second week, Border Wars. The final week will offer Dance Brigadeâ€™s full-length Spell, OR 13 Invocations For Regime Change. Spell, with music performed by Copper Wimmin, was a sold-out hit when it premiered in 2004.
Border Wars offered an exhilarating smorgasboard of Bay Area dance companies who fuse their political and artistic visions. Threaded between and sometimes through the dances was the poetry and speeches of poets and politicians. Some of them were our allies, like Jesse Jackson, who envision a freer, more peaceful world. And some were our enemies, like Condoleeza Rice, her ominous evasions calling us to alarm.
Dance Brigade opened with one of their thrilling taiko drumming dances, this one from next weekâ€™s Spell. Then Ann Bluethal & Dancers took the stage. They enthralled with a long excerpt from Unsing The Song, one of the few works without words. The images the dancers created, while never absolutely explicit, evoked a world of moving torments and fragile triumphs. The technically adept dancers offered us a pile of rolling, squirming bodies, then those same bodies spinning in a tight circle of light. It was strangely chilling. I found myself holding my breath. This is the kind of dance that evokes powerful associations in the mind of the audience, each person creating a different story from the visual feast.
For me, the small woman repeatedly flinging herself at the wall of dancers, only to be thrown back again and again, was a vivid metaphor forâ€¦ what? Was she trying to join the group or burst through and escape to freedom? She triumphed finally, by scrambling over the top of the othersâ€”only to be held by them and carried slowly off, above their heads, in a funeral procession. This was a rich and troubling piece of the larger puzzle of Unsing The Song. And through it all, a woman walked, not seeing the struggle around her, singing in a plangent and beautiful voice, in an imaginary language. I look forward to the full-length version of Unsing in 2006.
Arenas Dance Company got our blood pounding with their Haitian-inspired choreography. The movements of the brightly-clad women were by turns convulsive, frenzied and ecstatic. Accompanied by a wonderful chorus of drummers and singers, the dancers became warriors when they grabbed long poles which they manipulated with great dexterity.
Al-Juzoor, a Palestinian dance troupe, took over the stage of Dance Mission with Debkeh, the indigenous folkloric dance of much of the Middle East. This is a celebratory dance characterized by intricate footwork and rhythmic stamping. In the era of Palestinian displacement and exile, it has been reclaimed by Palestinians at home and in the diaspora as a means of political protest and cultural preservation. The intricate steps mesmerized in their variety, as the lines of men and women wove in and out and through each other. While they danced, we heard the song of a woman describing her love for her revolutionary lover and her country.
Border Wars gave us other pleasures: Jose Navarrette wearing butterfly wings, yearning to be as free as the Monarchs who fly every year from the U.S. to Mexico and back. The audience was driven to spasms of laughter as Navarrette took out his frustrations on a Bush-faced piĂ±ata that hung from the ceiling. Dance Brigadeâ€™s Dear Fidel thrilled the senses with gorgeous Latin music played live and expert, graceful choreography and dancing. But Keeferâ€™s shouted call for revolution was too much for me. Sorry, but becoming one with the masses is not a personal goal. It scares the hell out of me. However, I observed that the great majority of the audience was joyfully swept up in Keeferâ€™s fervor.
Beginning this Friday, Spell takes the stage for four performances. In this compelling full-length dance, youâ€™ll find the witches, lesbians, feminists and abortionists that Pat Robertson recently proclaimed responsible for all the evil in the world. When Spell opened last year, one reviewer said, â€ś Keefer is splendid as always, this time as Hecate, queen of the witches.â€ť Spell should be a spellbinding evening, coming from a company that has received national critical acclaim. The Sacramento Bee proclaimed Keefer and her dancers â€śPolitically savage, dramatically rambunctious, wonderfully tasteless and utterly brilliantâ€¦ There is nothing like the Dance Brigade.â€ť
Indeed, we are blessed in San Francisco to have this tenacious dynamo that is Krissy Keefer, a highly skilled and creative artist, committed to making art that changes the world. Thanks, Krissy, for this wonderful ManiFesti-Val. Donâ€™t miss Dance Brigade and the great music of Copper Wimmin in SPELL. Performances will be Friday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, November 19 at 8 pm, and Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2pm and 6 pm. Dance Mission Theater is located at 3316 24th Street, just steps from BART. Tickets are $20 reserved in advance and $22 at the door. For reservations, call 273-4633. After Fridayâ€™s performance, there will be a reception for the audience and the performers.