Global movement

San Francisco International Arts Festival: dance highlights

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Studio Rue Dance artistic director Byb Chanel Bibene performs his solo, Clinic

Albert Einstein said that "dancers are the athletes of God." He didn't say which god he had in mind, nor has the quote made all that much sense. What's so hot about being in sports? Martha Graham tried to explain it by saying dancers achieved that exalted status through the practice and discipline of their daily work. But couldn't that be said for any artist? Still, looking at the lineup of dancers at this year's San Francisco International Arts Festival makes me think Einstein had a point after all.

Dancers are a breed not quite of this world. They certainly are among the most unpractical people roaming this wobbly universe. What they make doesn't last. It can't be bought, pawned, hung on the wall, or reproduced to bring in royalties. Their careers are short. Except for the very few, they can't support themselves with their work, and every time they practice their craft they risk one limb or another. Fortunately for the rest of us, they know what they are in for, and they learn to live on air and love. What dancers also appreciate is a good floor — no splinters, not too slippery, not too sticky. And, yes please, some decent lights.

That — and the till — is what the San Francisco International Arts Festival can offer its dancers, who come from as far away as Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo; Vevey, Switzerland; and Berlin. They also come from Boston, Brooklyn, and the Bay Area. Additionally, the festival, now in its seventh year and still a shoestring operation, assists with the intricacies of individual fundraising — and acquiring visas — but the responsibility for production costs and traveling remains up to the invited artists. This is not the way it's supposed to work. Whoever said that the biggest supporters of the arts are the artists hit it closer than Einstein did.

But in these parlous times, we take what we can get. The offerings this year certainly look intriguing. What's not to like in these double bills and single program evenings?

Dana Lawton Dances with Studio Rue Dance For Who is She?, Lawton and three colleagues choreograph famous women on each other; Lawton will be Marilyn Monroe, by Jia Wu — who had previously never heard of the blond bombshell. Perception also shaped Studio Rue Dance's Byb Chanel Bibene's solo, Clinic. On leaving the Congo, he had to learn the hard way that whatever he did, he was first seen as "black" and only then as a "man."

Christian Burns and Anthony Discenza with Company Prototype Status Rarely do visuals and dance support each other as effectively as in the Burns/Discenza Beneath Your Sheltering Hand which looks at how the media messes with our psyche. The Swiss Company Prototype's Marvin — watch an android come to life — will also be performed (with two other solos) on their own individual program.

Erica Essner Performance Co-op with Gretchen Garnett and Dancers Ten years ago the Erica Essner Performance Co-op moved to New York. Now they are back because Essner wants us to see "her astounding dancers" in two recent pieces. Last year Gretchen Garnett and Dancers performed as part of SFIAF's Mash — wild, wooly, and worthwhile — Union Square series. This year they have an indoor spot.

Single slots are taken by Amy Seiwert/im'ijre and motion sensor wizard Frieder Weiss' world premiere, White Noise, a collaboration Seiwert loved because it pushed her outside her comfort zone. Boston's Collage will bring East European music and dance. The Bay Area's The Foundry isn't asking you to come to see its Please Love Me in a theater. They'll come to you, perhaps in a bar, park, or parking lot. 

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

May 19–31

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