From Wallflower Order to Dance Brigade, SF

Written by:
Joanna G. Harris
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From Wallflower Order to Dance Brigade: A 35-Year Retrospective Celebration

Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Nov. 19, 2011


Krissy Keefer is, and has been, the moving force behind the Wallflower Order (founded 1975) and the Dance Brigade (founded 1984). She and her dancing group are still going strong, as evidenced by her 35-Year Retrospective Celebration. The audience, current and former members of both organization were cheering mightily as the history of these powerful, protesting, mostly women’s organizations took stage. As a colleague said, “Protest first; choreography after.”

Through Keefer’s narration, live performance reconstructions and excellent film clips, the enthusiastic viewers were able to connect to the history of both organizations. Particularly pleasing was “If I Were I,” performed by Kimberely Valmore, Tina Banchero, Sarah Bush, Lena Gatchalian and Fredericka Keefer, in which the personal sense of dedication to causes through dance were enforced.

When Dance Brigade was established in San Francisco, it produced “The Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie,” probably its most famous work. Dancers from all over the area participated in this delightful satire of the Christmas special, bringing the real plight of the “sweetie’ to focus. The work was a holiday favorite for 10 years. It will be performed again Dec. 10 and 11 at Brava Theater Center (San Francisco).

The first half of the YBCA program ended with a tribute to the young members of the Grrl Brigade to will continue the work. Entitled “It Won’t Take Long,” an excerpt from “Cinderella,” it showed the vitality of the next generation who has inherited Brigade’s flair.

After intermission, Keefer presented a revival of “The Great Liberation Upon Hearing,” a production seen previously in 1999 at Dance Mission. “Liberation” was conceived, written and directed Krissy Keefer, with choreographic contributions by Sara Shelton Mann in collaboration with performers. Matthew De Gumbia is credited with video and set design, Harry Rubeck and Elaine Buckholtz for lighting design, Floor Van Herreweghe for music direction, and Taiko director/composer Bruce Ghent, for songs Elaine Buckholtz and film by Ellen Bruno. It is a long, complex work, combining several theatrical elements with sources from “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” Although each segment of the piece is fascinating, moving from visions of the “Buddha Family” to the “Hungry Ghost Wheel of Karma,” each contains so many elements as to make it difficult to grasp the whole. Keefer’s goal as stated is to help us “recognize the luminosity at death, we will become liberated from the cycle.” Unique as this vision is, combining Keefer’s narrative humor and those of many other artists, “Liberation” does not solidify its impact as a staged work.

Over the years, local dancers such as Sara Shelton Mann, Keith Hennessy, Sue Li Jue and Pal Parish and many others joined to choreograph and perform. These and others have founded dance organizations devoted to special kinds of dance, bringing social and political problems and protests to the stage. Dance Brigade has toured nationally and internationally and continues its vital contribution to local dance at its Dance Mission Studio, 24th and Mission Streets, San Francisco.

Krissy Keefer, the Dance Brigade and Dance Mission have given the world many gifts; performance, protests, visions and talent. We expect the next 35 years will take them onward with continued energy and command.

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