“Feminism is an f-word at this point,” says Krissy Keefer, the activist, choreographer and artistic director celebrating 35 years of dancemaking with a retrospective celebration in The City nextweekend.
“I think it’s really lacking from the public dialogue right now,” says Keefer, who made her mark on the dance scene in the 1970s with her all-female, feminist troupe the Wallflower Order Dance Collective. “I would like to pay homage to someone like Lady Gaga, but for all of her inventiveness, there’s a lot of S&M. I’m not a prude, but it’s one thing for adults who choose it and another for easily influenced young women who think this is normalized behavior.”
“From Wallflower Order to Dance Brigade: A 35-Year Retrospective Celebration,” a multimedia performance covering the span of Keefer’s career, runs Friday through Sunday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The show combines archival film footage of early work with live performances from Keefer’s collaborators, including dancers from Wallflower Order and her current troupes Dance Brigade and its daughter company, Grrrl Brigade.
Keefer’s latest work, “The Great Liberation Upon Hearing,” which traces the journey from death to reincarnation as inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, closes the performance. In true revolutionary spirit, the presentation is free and open to the public.
“It’s a big deal to me, to bring all of this work together and to be able to invite the community there,” Keefer says. “We tie a whole journey together of ourselves as artists and of the different movements we attached ourselves to over the last 35 years.”
Keefer, whose mother was a dancer, grew up with formal ballet training but became known for her feminist-oriented take on dance when she founded the Wallflower Order Dance Collective in Eugene, Ore., in 1975.
The first dance company of its kind, it incorporated outspoken, impassioned dedication to the causes of feminism and social justice. A traditionally silent performance art became outspoken and vocal.
“It was a reaction to what was happening in the United States and the world,” Keefer says. “It was a big part of the women’s and collectivist movements. People were reinventing their sense of community. Women audiences everywhere, but especially in Eugene, encouraged us.”
Community is big for Keefer, whose companies Dance Brigade and Grrrl Brigade are based at Dance Mission Theater, a multicultural school she founded on the principles of inclusiveness and diversity.
Grrrl Brigade, a youth company that started with 10 members, now boasts 90 dancers, steered by Keefer’s message of female empowerment and social justice.
“It’s a leadership program,” Keefer says. “The girls learn how to cooperate instead of compete.”
While the group’s members may be tender in age, they address adult topics, including immigration issues, domestic violence and feminism.
“When I was young, the women’s movement was obvious and militant,” Keefer says. “That doesn’t exist anymore. Today’s girls don’t have that foundation, so we try to provide one.”
IF YOU GO
Dance Brigade’s 35th Anniversary Celebration
Where: Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (415) 826-4441, www.dancebrigade.org