PUSH Dance Company choreographer Raissa Simpson has been building a body of work largely inspired by the cultural and social history of the Bay Area. Now she turns the spotlight on Hunters Point in “Point Shipyard Project,” a new piece that calls attention to the toxic environment at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
“The shipyard is not the only local Superfund site, but is one of the largest in the nation,” says the dancemaker, whose installation premieres Saturday at the Museum of the African Diaspora in The City.
“The Navy used PCBs to clean the ships at the dock. There are trace amounts in almost everything we eat. There’s serpentine left over from the Gold Rush days, used in the making of asbestos. This is also where they conducted the first radioactive testing for the bombs that eventually went to Nagasaki and Hiroshima,” says Simpson, who discovered that one in six children in the neighboring Bayview-Hunters Point area has asthma. “It all has an effect, both physically and emotionally, on the children.”
“Shipyard,” a site-specific work, is a collaborative and community effort. The soundscape for the piece was created by local children from the 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic who turned their personal observations, dreams and frustrations into poetry and music.
Video footage of the shipyard grounds and buildings will be projected onto the museum walls.
Throughout the museum, the dancers will perform solos and tableaux, eventually leading the audience to a seating area for the main portion of the concert, occasionally creating human barriers.
“For some of us life has quite a few obstacles and struggles,” Simpson explains. “We may not all have the same problems, but still we can appreciate them. You may find you have to stop and watch or move through. If we keep moving, we can adjust and adapt.”
The bitter irony of the shipyard cleanup is that, as with many geographically appealing areas around the Bay, it will most likely attract developers for upscale housing, portending a new kind of diaspora.
Also, residents who want to bring their education and skills back to the neighborhood foresee being unable to afford to return home.
“It’s sad because our art and diversity is what has made this city great,” Simpson says, turning philosophical about the prospect and reflecting on a recent successful tour to Atlanta, which she calls the San Francisco of the South.
“It is very diverse and has a gay community and is so affordable for artists,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Point Shipyard Project
Presented by PUSH Dance Company
Where: Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St., S.F.
When: 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Tickets: $10 to $25