Dance at SF International Arts Festival

A glimpse at what troupes outside the Bay Area are offering.

Dance programs from various companies

San Francisco International Arts Festival

Fort Mason Center, San Francisco

May 21 – June 7, 2015

Fort Mason (setting of the 2015 San Francisco International Arts Festival) is a beautiful site jutting out into the San Francisco Bay. Boats sail by, birds fly, islands and mountains loom in the distance. And then the fog comes in.

The most thoughtful dance production of the final weekend was by Mary Armentrout Dance Theater. Entitled “reveries & elegies Volume TWO,” it consisted of several short episodes, inside and outside of the Fort Mason Firehouse. Until 9:30 p.m. it was intriguing to follow Armentrout’s work. Then the fog came in and the site-specific event was hard on this viewer.

With fellow performers Christof Gallegos and Kim Ip, “reveries and elegies” consisted of four sections, each an elegy or a reverie. A sound installation by Evelyn Ficarra and a video by Ian Winters added to the complexity and geography of the events.

Armentrout projected dialogue and simple, effective movement sequences with “change, dislocation and ungraspableness of the present” — words not easy to follow but sincerely offered and well presented. The “reverie of the lady in the black dress” and the “reverie of seeing in the blue hour” featured the black dress costume that drew attention as worn by the three dancers. To some extent, the dialogue and questions, the shift of settings and the many stimulating presentations were audience challenging in that setting.

Another dance event on the SFIAF program showed quite a different aspect of today’s dance exploration. Three groups appeared in the Fleet Room on Saturday, June 6. “Cookie Cutter” (ka.­nei­.see | collective) with dancers Mallory Markham, Rebecca Morris, Emma Salmon and Ali Weeks, were dressed alike in green/blue outfits, danced together in ensemble and were charming in an “all ­girls” choreography by Tanya Chianese (see video above). This was followed by “36 Questions,” a series of rather difficult questions seen on projections. The dancers, Alex Carrington, Shareen DeRyan, Juliann Witt and Katerina Wong, responded in short, pantomimic sequences. This work might profit from questions that were not so complex and psychological. The dance/movement might then accomplish a more interesting response. “Beckon” (excerpts) from Detour Dance, with dancers Liane Burns, Rric Garcia, Jana Griffin, Melissa Lewis, Wiley Strasser and Erin Mei­Ling Stuart, was more a theater event, cited as an event that “unravels the complex territory between our voices, our bodies and our desires.” We are confronted with catcalls, embraces, falls, lifts, undressing and, alas, some of the contemporary gestures that gendered dance has explored recently. There was little dance gesture, no rhythm but mostly enthusiastic participation.

Andrew Wood and his remarkable staff are to be congratulated for bringing all these performers to one place over the festival’s short three-week duration. For Bay Area audiences, it would be valuable to see more companies of international stature. We love our own, even in the fog.

Joanna G. Harris

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 and her e mail,