By Mary Strope
On a foggy, windswept Friday, members of City College’s Strong Pulse dance crew donned brightly-colored clothing to shimmy, sway and climb all over the outdoor amphitheater as they rehearsed for October 18 and 19’s upcoming San Francisco Trolley Dances, an annual free event run by artistic director Kim Epifano of Epiphany Productions.
Viewers will hop on and off Muni – this year, the J-Church line – to see a variety of dancers and styles, beginning at 30th and Church streets and ending at the Ocean Campus spot, located behind the Wellness Center.
Featuring site-specific work adapted to both the dancers and the unique spaces they perform in, Epifano aims to highlight the people and places in our communities, and connect sometimes-overlooked neighborhoods like the Ingleside and Excelsior.
The whole arena, from the concrete ramps looping down to the courtyard, to the stairs’ steep incline, will become a performance space this weekend.
“The thing I like most is, we’re always sitting out here on a sunny day,” Strong Pulse member Francisco Arroliga, 24, said. “But today, we’re turning it into a stage.”
City College students must audition to be accepted into the 30-person crew, which focuses primarily on hip-hop and contemporary jazz dance. Epifano, who has produced Trolley Dances since 2004, reached out to the group to become a part of the event, and chose the unique space to perform in.
Performing in public spaces creates an audience of passers-by. Custodians wheeling trash cans stopped to watch, a couple on the balcony made out several floors above the scene, and a young woman, absorbed in her phone, stopped in surprise before running into the dancers.
The performance’s theme, “Pages Turn” played upon students’ relationships with the college, dance and San Francisco.
Joseph Chang, aka Cello Joe, repeated snippets of the student’s personal stories in a ‘60s coffee-shop-meets-’90s alterna-rock drawl as he performed with a loop pedal and cello.
“I started dancing by accident. I’m a computer science major,” Chang intoned as dancers formed their own audience, popping up from their seats on the stairs or following a dancer en masse. The choreography was whimsical, hopeful and celebratory.
“At first, I thought, ‘Who is this lady asking me to run up these stairs?’” said Nikalet Brownson, 19. Though she’s performed outside several times, Brownson wasn’t used to Epifano’s far-flung style, but was left impressed by the artistic director’s use of their surroundings.
“You would think to just stay in one place,” Brownson said, instead of making use of the entire area.
One of 16 short performances, “Pages Turn” also features Epiphany dancer Jennifer Perfillio and Antoine Hunter, founder/director of Urban Jazz Dance Company and Bay Area Deaf Dance Festival.
Hunter, an advocate for the deaf community and renowned dancer, will incorporate sign language into his routine. He regularly works with Epifano, who often integrates spoken word, theater and other artistic genres into her choreography.
On other sites, featured artists include Alayo Dance Company, Alternativa, Paradizo Dance and Printz Dance Project. Local flamenco troupe Misión Flamenca will perform directly before the Epiphany Productions/Strong Pulse show inside the Wellness Center, just steps from the amphitheater. Each piece will last eight to 12 minutes.
Epifano chose Ocean Campus to draw attention to the college’s current struggles with accreditation as well as its wide range of artistic programs. For the dancer, San Francisco is full of opportunities to bring people out of a typical audience environment and into spaces not usually reserved for performance.
“Every place I go in the city, I go, ‘That’s my special place,’ because I’ve danced there,” Epifano said.
Trolley Dances will run Saturday and Sunday for six tours, beginning at 11 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:15 p.m. 2 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., starting at Church Produce, located at 1798 Church St. Each tour runs approximately two hours.
Audience members will be greeted on-site by trained volunteers and have the option to walk or bike to performance sites on their own. Route maps will be available online and on site. Four more tours will also be open to the public on Friday, Oct. 17 as part of the Kids on Track program, which connects local school students with the Trolley Dances. Ocean Campus performances will occur between 12:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.