Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bayview event is "so San Francisco"

by Jeffrey Betcher

"I love this," Marie Brunel told me.  "I'm from Paris, and this seems so San Francisco to me."  

Marie, a family friend of Flyaway Productions co-choreographer and educator Jen Chien, was absorbing the nice weather and Bayview views while positioning herself to see the finale of a unique public dance created by girls of color and their mentors.

She was one of several hundred people who experienced "Las Palmeras Saludan el Sol/Palm Trees Wave to the Sun" last Saturday at the Quesada and Bridgeview Gardens in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

"I love Paris, but you aren't likely to see something like this anywhere else but here."

She may be right, if only because the location is unique.  Seven young dancers performed a series of related pieces, flitting in and around the urban gardens that stretch from 3rd Street along Quesada Avenue, to the top of the hill and, above that, to the Bridgeview Teaching and Learning Garden.

The dances referenced the urban environment, including the people who bring it to life daily: neighbors gardening in front of their houses, locals cutting through the neighborhood by way of their favorite street, longtime denizens playing dominoes....  

The young dancers had spent two weeks at Bayview's gardens making the dance they performed twice on Saturday.  Between dance classes, they engaged with change makers from foreclosure-fighters to environmental justice and food access advocates, all as part of a structured partnership between Flyaway Productions and Quesada Gardens Initiative.

As the dance unfolded, the scent of marijuana hung in the air and people lit by stronger stuff danced along, youngsters showed off their own dance costumes donned for the day, dogs barked from behind fences, and parrots screeched overhead.  Neighbors stood in doorways, sat on stoops, or hung out windows to watch. And a trail of spectators followed music and motion from location to location

It was all uniquely San Francisco, if not uniquely Bayview.  The dancers had pushed performance and dance into what was new territory for some of them, and for most observers on Quesada.

Quesada Gardens is always a lively place, usually in the best of ways.  For the dancers and choreographers, the charming and occasionally unsavory things they experienced here became fodder for constantly evolving and alive work.  

Creating this sort of dance at the gardens, I thought, must be so different from doing it in an auditorium or other controlled environment, that it should be its own art form.  Like each day at the gardens, each performance would be different, responsive to an environment that defies prediction.

"These are courageous, powerful and creative women and girls," I said when I welcomed Flyaway Productions, Founding Director Jo Kreiter, and the GirlsFly performance to the gardens just before their first dance performance.

I looked back at the dancers posed around the flowers and palm trees.  I saw, laid out beyond them, the gardens that for me represent the challenged, changing and much-loved neighborhood they grow from.  I thought about the grit the girls and their mentors must possess to undertake an artful interaction with this place, and how that grit is the same stuff the Quesada Gardens neighbors are made of.  

This little stretch of urban life cries out, to anyone who will listen, about the folks who care about this place, the radically diverse people who live here and visit, and the roots of families who through the decades have called it "home."  It tells the story of one community's capacity and determination to lead transformation and to define the place where their children and grandchildren may live.

The dancers, close to the land and people after two weeks of very public dance-making, are among those likely to carry that torch forward.  Whether in Bayview or in other urban neighborhoods across the City and country that are facing similar challenges and changes, they may flex their right to create a community of choice wherever they go.

While handing the microphone to Jo, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  They wouldn't sit back down until the dance ended thirty minutes later.  

Change is a given here.  On the 1700 block of Quesada Avenue, over half the homes have switched hands in the past ten years, some more than once.  In that same time period, the block has come from ground zero for the drug trade, to being the safe route through town.  Now, there's a delicate peace here, a tenable social tension, and an ebb and flow in our quality of life as neighborhood changes continue to swirl around us.

In addition to Flyaway Productions' leaders and the GirlsFly dancers, many of whom live in the neighborhood, other community members pitched in to make the homegrown dance program a success.  Two groups from the Bayview YMCA came to the gardens earlier in the day to join neighbors in their Every Saturday Volunteer Day, and to clean up the gardens and streets in time for the performances.

Joel and Mary McClure, Quesada Gardens Initiative Board Members and projects leaders for the Bridgeview Garden, worked hard to save parking spaces where dances were planned.  They helped organize the event, secured food donations from 3rd Street's Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market, made healthy salads for the girls' lunches, and helped with a lemonade and watermelon reception for all the participants.

Discussion leaders included the McClures, Deborah Gerson, Vivian Richardson, Jazz Vassar, and Tracy Zhu.  Home base for the program was my house on Quesada where Quesada Gardens Initiative operates.  Assisting with everything was Program Intern Belgica Rodriguez.

The GirlsFly dancers were Pearl Khuu, Grace Nevarez-Ortiz, Annabel Hope, Celeste Zuleta, Brianna Robert, Alasia Allah, and Lewana Kidane.  The choreographers and educators were Jo Kreiter and Jennifer Chien

See Jo's Journal about the creation of the dance.

See more pictures of the work leading up to Saturday's performances.

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