San Francisco International Arts Festival Presents Multi-Company Dance Performance, “A Pirouette With Asia”

by Charles Kruger

Multi award-winning Chinese choreographer Gu Jiani will present “Right and Left” as part of the program, “A Pirouette With Asia” at the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Photo credit: Qiao Zi.
This author of this article is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

When President Obama coined the phrase, “a pivot to Asia” in reference to a change in focus in American foreign policy, many Asians were perhaps discomfited, remembering previous American misadventures in that part of the world.

The organizers of the San Francisco International Arts Festival  remembered that phrase when they began to program this year’s performances, focusing on the theme of “San Francisco, Sanctuary City.” The thought occurred that perhaps instead of a “pivot” to Asia (which might suggest the possibility of unwanted attention and interference from afar) the Festival could promote a “pirouette” with Asia, offering sanctuary from political travails and focusing on a shared appreciation of cultures. These thoughts resulted in the program: “A Pirouette with Asia” featuring three modern Asian dance performances from Hong Kong (“Victor Fung Dance”), Bejing (Gu Jiani), and Japan (“Scarabe”).

SFIAF describes the program as representing, “. . .the yin and yang of contemporary Asian dance, the light and the dark, the humorous and the reflective, hard and soft, male and female.”

“Victor Fung Dance” company will present “From The Top,” a piece that explores the relationship between dancers and choreographers. Although it has been described as “very funny” (in a Huffington Post review), it also has a serious side as it explores the challenges of creating collaborative art. “From The Top” features dancers Ronny Wong (who has performed with many high-profile dance companies since completing his studies at Trinity Laban in London) and Kenny Leung, an MFA graduate from the Taipei National University of the Arts who joined “Victor Fung Dance” in 2014. Choreographer Victor Fung founded his award-winning company in 2011, and since then they have performed to acclaim in festivals throughout the world.

Ronny Wong and Kenny Leung perform Victor Fung’s witty choreography in “From The Top.” Photo Credit: Victor Fung Dance

Also performing will be “Scarabe,” a new company from Japan, presenting their first production, “Sell Our Body”, originally performed at the Kyoto Art Center. Created by former members of the world-renowned Noism Dance Company, “Sell Our Body”is a dance and performance piece focusing on survival through physical creativity.

“Scarabe” company members perform “Sell Our Body.” Photo Credit: Scarabe.

The final corner of this triangular “Pirouette With Asia” is Beijing choreographer Gu Jiani’s “Right And Left,” performed by the choreographer herself, along with dancer Wang Xuanqi. Gui Jiani is trained in both Ballet and Chinese Classical Dance and has performed with Beijing Modern Dance Company. Her work has been seen throughout China, at festivals in Australia and Hong Kong, and Shanghai. “Right And Left” had its North American premiere in 2015 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

By inviting these Asian dance artists to perform, the San Francisco International Arts Festival is working to realize its theme of “San Francisco: Sanctuary City,” reminding us that San Francisco is not only a sanctuary for undocumented aliens (important as that is), but also celebrates a long history of welcoming and offering sanctuary to innovative artists from all over the world, artists whose work pushes the  boundaries of tradition, transcends parochial cultures, and celebrates creative expression in all its forms and variations.

This performance represents an exceptional opportunity for lovers of dance to see multiple works by modern Asian artists. It is an opportunity not to be missed.

“A Pirouette With Asia,” featuring Gu Jiani, Victor Fung Dance, and Scarabe plays at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, on Saturday and Sunday, June 34d and 4th, as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival. For further information, click here or telephone 415-399-9554.

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