Dance Brigade
Richelle Donigan as the Yamantanka Photo by Anastacia Powers Cuellar

Dance Brigade

“Gracias a la Vida”
“Love in a Bitter Time”

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco
January 13, 2017
Dance Brigade website

Celebration and Witness

Krissy Keefer’s Dance Brigade began forty years ago as the Wallflower Order Dance Collective in 1975. The current program reflects Keefer’s continuing efforts to bring awareness, to examine, to protest and evoke audience response to women’s issues and the current political, social and environmental threats. To those ends, she has enlisted a large company, several musicians, including Holly Near, and a great technical staff.

Five works comprised Part I of the program. To “ Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, “ music by Gunnar Haslam, dancer Fredrika Keefer read a poem by Judy Grahn, followed by seven women performing “Tribe.” The high energy of the work set off the tone of the evening, celebration and protest.
I found the performance work of Leesher Zieber particularly arresting.

As a tribute to diversity and current ‘state-of-affairs,’ three men gave us “Defection-Deflection-Devotion.” Adonis Martin, Edisnel Rodrigues, and Delvis Frinon are both brilliant dancers but also fine actors in this work depicting ‘leaving one’s homeland with little or no resources.’ The men had defected from Cuba. The quality of their movement, both on the large and small scale is amazing. Hopefully, we will more of them in Bay Area dance.

“Swan Song,” a response to the BP Gulf Oil Spill of 2010, evoked the darkness of such events in the environment set against a vivid backdrop projection of a body of water growing darker and darker. The dancers used the familiar arm movements of the classical “Swan Lake” as recollection.

“Break it on Down,” a monologue by Yoko Ono, performed by Lena Gatchalian (Associate Director of Dance Brigade) and the dancers with soloist Kimberly B. Valmore, was a passionate statement of women’s condition. The dance vocabulary is that of contemporary modern-ballet,
leaps, jumps, pirouettes, arabesques as well as ‘now’ street dance moves.
The dancers are all adept at changing from solo to ensemble sections.

“Sin Palabras, “ (without words) is clearly a protest piece, accompanied by video clips from Terminal F, edited by Lena Gatchalian and Jaco Strydom. It was not always clear the subject matter of the clips (Snowden, keeping silent, not acting on events), but as usual the energy was high and the technical work excellent.

Guest vocalist and activist Holly Near was present in several of these program numbers, but the finale of the program brought her center stage. 
Gracias A La Vida (Thanks to Life) involving many songs, musicians, Taiko drummers and all the dancers. The complex choreography by Keefer enlisted the full company of dancers, drummers, musicians and technical wizards. Michelle Klaymoon and Vanessa Sanchez provided additional choreography. Lighting was by Jose Maria Francos: musical direction by Christelle Durandy and audio support by Aaron Gold.

The evening ended with Holly Near speaking and singing as the company gathered on stage with lit candles. It set a marvelous tone for a week of social action in and around San Francisco that will match and celebrate Krissy Keefer’s dedication to dance and social action.

Joanna G. Harris

Dance Brigade. “Gracias A La Vida” Photo by Robert Sweeny

San Francisco,
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.