DANCE In 1960, San Francisco City Hall’s glorious staircase became infamous when police turned fire hoses on protesters at a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Fifty years later, these same stairs will become the stage for a very different event: Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project’s Love Everywhere, a celebration of love and marriage equality.
Chong Shuch had never heard of the protest incident when Dancers’ Group commissioned her as part of its ONSITE initiative — free performances in public spaces that offer artists the opportunity to create something otherwise not possible (Joanna Haigood, Patrick Makuakane, and Anna Halprin are previous participants; Benjamin Levy is next). When Chong Shuch received the grant, she was asked to consider the Civic Center area as a possible site.
She first looked at the San Francisco Public Library, but upon walking into City Hall she was struck “by the beauty of the architecture of this public space that belongs to everybody living here.” She knew she wanted to make a work about “love and joy and the big things in my life as opposed to the difficulties.” Deciding on a Valentine’s Day piece, she was reminded that Feb. 12 is the sixth anniversary of when the city started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That sealed the deal.
“I remembered how incredibly joyous it was to be in that City Hall space at the time, and I was inspired to try to generate that kind of joy,” she recalls.
You certainly couldn’t miss the love and joy in the couple dances, spiraling chains, and whirling circles practiced at a recent rehearsal in the Margaret Jenkins Performance Lab. Fifty or so performers (“At this point, I am not sure myself of how many,” she says) answered Chong Shuch’s call for volunteers to join her octet of professional dancers. These folks — primarily young, but with a gray head or two — were having the time of their lives.
Two also had a surprise awaiting them. In addition to calling for volunteers, Chong Shuch sent out a request for marriage vows that people had written for each other. She received around 30, ranging from “African ceremonial” to “quirky and artsy” and “formal, God-ly.” These vows form the texts for Love. One became the basis for a call-and-response: “I promise to pay close attention; I promise to listen.” But one couple recognized lyrics from a Daveen DiGiacomo song composed for the piece — because they had selected them for their wedding. “It’s a lovely way for this couple to have their own vows reflected back to them,” Chong Shuch says.
Using amateur performers — “I don’t like to call them that, I prefer to simply call them people” Chong Shuch says — seems to be something of a trend among Bay Area choreographers. Joe Goode, Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton, and Chong Shuch in her 2008 After All have done it successfully. It’s a way to fill large spaces where the added numbers often serve as choruses, but it’s also a sign of what might be called an attempt to “democratize” dance.
For Chong Shuch, this means thinking differently about her own role as choreographer. Just as she increasingly seeks her professional dancers’ input, she also thinks that “regardless of their training or lack thereof, individual expressions are still of value and of worth” — and, therefore, have a place on stage.
Fri/12, noon–1 p.m., free
San Francisco City Hall Rotunda
One Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, SF
Sat/13, performances TBA (check Web site for updates)
Sun/14, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., free
Glide Memorial Church
330 Ellis, SF