The right track

All aboard for San Francisco Trolley Dances 2011

Christine Bonansea takes flight next to a Muni train.

DANCE Have you noticed that San Francisco is changing for the better? No, I'm not talking poor and homeless people being given services they need (I wish that were the case) — I'm talking public art.

The concept used to refer to murals, airport exhibits, sculptures in downtown plazas, and those arrows that would periodically pop up on mostly ugly buildings. But dance — unless you count parades and demonstrations as a form of dance — certainly wasn't part of beautifying the spaces we all live in. But today, dancers are taking to the street and other public arenas, and they look good.

Perhaps it all began in 1995 when Joanna Haigood and her Zaccho Dance Theatre troupers bounced off the Ferry Building's massive clock, daring it to stop working. Last year they ceremoniously danced down Market Street, memorializing the exodus of middle-class African American residents from San Francisco. Jo Kreiter's Flyaway Productions has taken to alleys, danced on cranes, and dangled off the mural-covered Women's Building.

Lovely about this trend is that all these performances were free, and audiences could come upon them almost accidentally. Though still modest in scope, dance is becoming part of our urban environment. "Jewels in the Square" is a weekly dance series in Union Square that runs April through October; the Rotunda Series (first Friday of the month) brings dance into a glorious public space, City Hall. The Mark Foehringer Dance Project curates "Dancing in the Park," a Golden Gate Park festival during National Dance Week in April, and Mint Plaza seems to have become the latest open-air dance stage for the late-summer Central Market Arts Festival.

But credit for the longest running commitment to taking dance to the people belongs to Kim Epifano's Epiphany Productions, whose Trolley Dances mark an annual celebration of public transit and public dance. For the eighth year, and for the price of a Muni fare, people can board a streetcar — or "trolley," as they are called in San Diego, where the event originated — and take a ride to be entertained by some of San Francisco's finest.

Epifano is an artist with flying hair, unbounded enthusiasm, and a firm belief that if something needs to be done, she can do it. This includes bringing out the creative spark in refugees in Oakland, or developmentally challenged adults in San Francisco, or, for that matter, young dancers whom she set loose in a Mexicali bar. So moving the San Francisco bureaucracy to grant her the various permits needed for this festival is, apparently, child's play.

The minute Epifano encountered Trolley Dances in Southern California, she knew she wanted to bring it to San Francisco. ("It was fun and it was free," she remembers.) Over the years, in addition to robust audiences, Trolley Dances has attracted a veritable who's who of local choreographers — Janice Garrett, Deborah Slater, Joe Goode, Sue-Li Jue, Yannis Adoniou, and Sara Shelton Mann among them.

This weekend, catch a glimpse of Jody Lomask on a seven-foot cube, and Salsamania on the sixth floor of the San Francisco Public Library. KT Nelson will preview a section of Transit: A Vertical Life, in which she celebrates what she calls "urban humanity." A bike that turns into a bench will be included.

In addition to seeing a panoply of artists — a total of seven this time around — Trolley Dances opens opportunities to visit less-familiar pockets of San Francisco. I had never traveled all the way down the Embarcadero to the Caltrain station until Trolley Dances took me there. This year, Epifano had her own eye-opener. "After all these years of living here, I didn't even know about West Portal," she admits — which is where this year's journey ends.



Related articles

Also from this author

  • Local movers

    FALL ARTS 2014 Looking ahead to a outstanding season of Bay Area dance

  • In tune

    Dancers explore fresh rhythms at the Music Moves Festival

  • Great leaps forward

    Emerging choreographers present new works at SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts' SPF7