When Sean Dorsey started the Fresh Meat Festival in 2001, transgendered artists were sequestered inside the alternative club scene. With this new event, Dorsey threw the doors wide open. While transgender and queer performances still have a special attraction for their constituencies, the festival’s need to move to Theater Artaud, its largest venue yet, proves its broader appeal.
This year’s presentations ranged far and wide, and so did the quality. That’s one of the perils of this type of focused programming: the desire to be supportive and inclusive can mean presenting artists who may not be experienced or even talented enough. The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival went through similar growing pains. But Fresh Meat which is fun, balanced, and thoughtful is on the right track.
Five groups received commissions. The Barbary Coast Cloggers and Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu presented excellent premieres; the first joyously clickety-clacking, the other lyrically flowing through new interpretations of passed-down dancing. In trying to show the breadth of its repertoire, however, Colombian Soul attempted too much. The troupe presented undeveloped, under-rehearsed fragments, including a religious procession and a same-sex partnered "maypole" dance. Musicians Nejla Baguio and Prado Gomez’s artistic partnership looked young. The tentative Who’s Your Daddy?, musings on being a parent, had a few sparks but ultimately fizzled. Also respectfully but unenthusiastically received was the transgendered Transcendence Gospel Choir and its invitation for a community sing-along.
Two artists I would like to see more of were the outstanding countertenor Jose Luis Muñoz, who sang a powerful aria from Juana (an opera-in-progress by Carla Lucero), and Scott Turner Schofield, a FTM word artist. In an excerpt from Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps, he performed a smart, witty audition for Hamlet. It was also a pleasure to see the nonchalant Shawna Virago, who performed two supersmart, edgy new songs.
Still, the evening belonged to Dorsey, and not just because he founded the festival. Lost/Found, a duet he performed with Brian Fisher, showed again how nuanced a thinker, writer, dancer, and choreographer he is. I can’t think of anybody, no matter their identity, who creates works about growing up as theatrically cogent and as tremulously alive.