SAFEhouse showcases up-and-coming choreographers
By Lou Fancher
Fortunately, SAFEhouse Executive Director Joe Landini didn’t learn his lines from a San Francisco landlord. SPF8, SAFEhouse’s eighth annual Summer Performance Festival this week, promises a love in, not a lock out, for contemporary dance choreographers and their audiences.
“These kids are being told, ‘We don’t want you to live here. You can live with the outliers,“ says Landini. “That certainly impacts them. I don’t think artists will ever be welcomed in San Francisco in the way they used to be.”
But festival host Landini operates on a wave separate from the free-floating economic anxiety that has half of the festival’s choreographers coming from outside of San Francisco.
“This is a tight, passionate community. There are people who believe strongly about the work they make and that’s enough. We’re lucky to have them in our residency program at SAFEHouse,” he says.
Ten programs in five days at ODC Theater feature the culmination of three- to six-month residencies. Landini says the emerging artists – more than a dozen – are young, with a median age of 25 and an entrepreneurial approach: “They fundraise,” he says, “It’s like having 14 cultural CEOs running around.”
A cursory glance through programs that often present two artists on one bill reveals interesting pairings: flying and fear, alienation and answers, second migration and immigration, the body or the mind as source material, the uncertainty of nature and natural law; and more.
“I’m definitely matching them aesthetically,” he says. “Audiences have expectations. If they’re only familiar with ‘Company X,’ I’ll not present ‘Company Y’ on the same show.”
Two overall themes surface: a shifting sense of identity and chaos that seems personal more than inevitable.
“Economic anxiety is shaping the cultural landscape,” Landini says. “Artists feel ostracized and victimized. Universities lied to these kids, telling them they’d make a living at their art.”
Yet when the focus shifts to pockets of creativity still operating in the Bay Area and other locations across the nation, Landini sees energy — and choreographers wasting no time exploiting the connectivity available on digital platforms. “Because of the Internet, there’s huge communication between the groups,” he says.
Artists bouncing ideas back-and-forth — especially when audiences get involved — is one reason SPF8’s “pack it in” format is stimulating.
Artistic director Kevin Hockenberry selects narrative, emotional work for his Emote Dance Theater; other programs “rooted in critical thinking” are being presented in the smaller Mott Studio’s “laboratory” setting.
Any of the programs offer patrons an appreciation for the festival’s intense variety and for Bay Area artists’ enduring creative impulse.