The works presented at this year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival at Fort Mason Center represent every live performance genre imaginable — music, dance, theater, spoken word, improv, performance art, even a walking tour — thanks to the 50 or so participating individual artists and ensembles, including many locals.
Others hail from Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Tuva, South Korea, Spain, Syria and Taiwan at the invitation of SFIAF founder-director Andrew Wood.
The programming, running May 23 through June 2, has the theme “the path to democracy.”
For example, there’s the Czech Republic’s Spitfire Company with the acclaimed “Antiwords”; the satirical rendition of Vaclav Havel’s “Audience” — about a meeting between a Communinist brewer and a pro-democracy activist — includes absurdism, physical theater, masks and a crate of Czech beer. The text is minimal, so it should be easily understood.
There’s a version of the classic and often-staged, in various iterations, Chinese tale “The Orphan of Zao,” presented by the 20-member, Hong Kong-based physical theater troupe Théâtre de la Feuille, founded in Paris by a Chinese performer. The company’s artistry derives from famed French physical-theater master Jacques LeCoq combined with Eastern traditions. Once again, language issues are irrelevant for understanding the piece, which takes on the question, “How far does a person go to stand up for what is right?”
San Francisco-based storyteling theater company Eth-Noh-Tec presents Nancy Wang in a staged reading of “Shadows & Secrets,” which tells the tale of her grandfather Chin F. Foin, owner of the posh Chicago restaurant Mandarin Inn, who mysteriously plunged down the elevator shaft into the basement of his his eatery in 1924.
With more than a dozen offerings, dance, a universally accessible performing art, comprises a large portion of the presentations.
Chen Wei Lee, from Taiwan, and Zoltan Vakulya, from Hungary, appear in the U.S. premiere of “Together Alone,” a solo piece danced as a duet. The work, which addresses the pressures of individuals who are freelance touring artists with different companies, answers the query, “How do you get a marriage to work when you spend most of your time apart?”
Contemporary dancer Tara Brandel arrives from Ireland with the premiere of “Circus,” in which she embodies various characters “on a journey through gender stereotypes,” but interweaves video projections of a colleague, Nigerian street dancer Nicholas Nwosa, who is currently an asylum-seeker in Ireland and not permitted to travel.
On the local front, Deborah Slater Dance Theater, celebrating its 30th anniversary, presents “Solos Lost & Found,” a concert of solo works — or short stories — about memory, loss, identity and aging.
“Anima Magneta,” by Bay Area choreographer Amy Lewis and sound artist Agnes Szelag, is a multimedia piece based on theories in David Abram’s 1996 book “The Spell of the Sensuous” about how technology has fostered humans’ alienation from nature. The work conjures “an experience of a surrogate reality where seemingly disparate ideas and dimensions suddenly coexist.”
The dance is among a category of offerings with LGBT themes, including Zackary Forcum of OMPH Dance Theater’s new solo work, “femmes refusal,” a reimagining of Stravinsky/Nijinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” which explores society’s expectation of men to sacrifice the feminine within themselves.
Performance artist Ledoh, founder of Salt Farm Butoh Dance Company, appears in the world premiere of “Poolready!,” which explores “the complexities of climate change, and the irony in the futility of individuals being able to act collectively in their self-interest and for the good of humanity.” Ledoh, who was born into the Ka-Ren hilltribe and came to the U.S. as a child to escape Burma’s brutal dictatorship, dances with Monique Goldwater in the piece, which includes videography by Perry Hallinan and music by Matt Ogaz and Reverend Markus Hawkins.
Among the festival’s many musical offerings is a 40th anniversary show by world fusion group Ancient Future. The “World Without Walls” reunion concert features Matthew Montfort (scalloped fretboard guitar), Jim Hurley (violin), Doug McKeehan (keyboards, piano), Ian Dogole (percussion) and Kash Killion (bass).
In programming focusing on African diaspora perspectives, Abdul Kenyatta leads the inaugural event of the Speakeasy Storyteller Series, with performances by Steve Budd, Ann Bundy, Jeff Hanson, Imran I-g, Sureni Weerasekera, Justine Wu, Jamie De Wolf, Kevin Whittinghil, Corey Rosen, Hari Sanghvi and Kenyatta himself.
San Francisco Examiner staff writer Leslie Katz contributed to this report.