Tosca Café evoked in music, movement

An intriguing San Francisco landmark is about to be … danced. American Conservatory Theater Artistic Director Carey Perloff and San Francisco Ballet’s Val Caniparoli are creating a “movement-theater piece” called “The Tosca Project” for workshop performances at the Yerba Buena Center Forum this week.

The cast features a rich amalgam of dancers and actors: Sabina Alleman, Peter Anderson, Kara Davis, Muriel Maffre, Pascal Molat, Marc Morozumi, Jekyns Pelaez, Stephanie Saunders, James Simonse, Ching Valdes-Aran and Gregory Wallace.

The title refers to the famed North Beach nightspot, named after Puccini’s opera. Tosca Café, having maintained its 1920s look for the past eight decades, still sports brandy-spiked cappuccino made with Ghirardelli chocolate, and the regular appearance of celebrities and the young crowd, along with such local notables as Francis Ford Coppola.

What’s the origin of this new choreographic celebration of a bar? It comes from two artists with long, distinguished histories of creating multimedia works. During her years at the head of the ACT, Perloff has produced many performances integrating music and drama. Caniparoli’s prolific, innovative choreography includes such brilliant ballets as “Lambarena,” set to African tribal music and Bach cantatas and partitas.

The idea of a movement-theater collaboration came before selection of the subject. Perloff was looking for something “in American culture that provides context for people to gather together,” when she experienced the “Tosca atmosphere” — “It was dark inside the bar, with the sun streaming in the front window, and the ghosts of that place were tangible … The surprise was looking around the bar and suddenly seeing the piece so clearly before my eyes in that magical setting.”

In a “visceral way,” Perloff says, the café is “rooted in this particular place in the history of this town.”

Although the Ballet itself is not participating in the project, the cast includes such stars of the company as Allemann, from Switzerland, an SFB principal from 1988 to 1999; Maffre, the French ballerina, who has just retired from SFB after 17 years as principal dancer; Molat, also from France, has been an SFB principal dancer since 2003; and Kara Davies, an acclaimed artist with numerous contemporary-dance companies, a founding member of KUNST-STOFF and Janice Garrett & Dancers.

Among the actors, Anderson, from Canada, had the lead role in the San Francisco and touring productions of “The Overcoat”; Wallace is an ACT associate artist and core acting company member, seen in many leading roles at the American Conservatory Theater.

The Tosca Project

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $15 to $24

Contact: (415) 978-2787 or www.ybca.org

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