Bandelion is CSU East Bay professor Eric Kuper’s core ensemble within the Dandelion Dancetheater (DDT), committed to exploring profoundly experimental and spiritual aspects of dance and movement. Its self description reads:
“We are a tribe. We are a found family. We are committed to pushing and being pushed by each other, past familiar edges.”
For over a decade, the members of Bandelion have met on a weekly basis to explore their art. They are as much a spiritual practice community as they are a performance group. A distinctive aspect of Bandelion is the emphasis on bringing together not just dancers, but other sorts of performing artists with a wide range of backgrounds and diverse artistic ideals. They are commited to what they describe as “Inclusive Performance,” in which people with and without disabilities “figure out how to move together.” They write: “We each come with unique skills and difficulties, and we communicate rigorously to create art we’re all invested in.”
For their world-premiere performance with the San Francisco International Art Festival, Bandelion has created its own myth to explore: “All humans have ancient dragon spirits hidden inside of them, waiting for the time when they are needed to bring the world back into balance. That time is now!” The performance piece (“We Are All Dragons In Drag”) incorporates “inclusive dance, music, storytelling, ritual, explorations of Drag, outrageousness, and opportunities for accessible audience participation to call forth connections to primal power.”
In a recent conversation, I was able to explore some of these matters and discuss artistic practice with Bandelion director Eric Kupers.
Charles: How would you describe Dandelion Dancetheater and the work that you do with Bandelion?
Eric: Bandelion is an ensemble of dance, music and theatre artists. The ensemble includes people with and without disabilities—inclusive performance—different body sizes, shapes, and disabilities, but also different art forms, backgrounds, and relationships to art. We are interested in difference. How can we join up with different sensibilities and life experiences, and work together over the long term? Many people in the ensemble have been working together for decades. We are interested in what it means to come together as a regular part of our lives to rehearse, explore and create. We do this whether or not we have a show coming up. It is an ongoing spiritual practice on a weekly basis. The performances are part of that but they are not our primary focus. The performances share the explorations that we’ve done, but it is the exploration itself that is the heart of our company.
Charles: Could you share some company history?
Eric: Kimiko Guthrie and I started working together in 1991 as undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz. She was in creative writing and I was studying the history of world religions. Neither of us were performance arts majors, but we we were spending a lot of time in the Dance Department. We started creating work together, became a couple, moved to the Bay area, and formed Dandelion. The first few years we worked together all the time, but when we split up as a couple we started making separate work. Dandelion continues, but I became more and more active when Kimiko started a family and in 2006 I formed the Bandelion ensemble as my core ensemble within Dandelion to do very intensive work. We are about our process as much as our performance.
One of the tricky things about performance is to figure out how to keep the process as the priority and let the audience into that process, rather then just presenting a finished and polished product. Performances have a lot of expectations It’s tricky.
Charles: How would you relate “We Are All Dragons In Drag” to the theme of this year’s San Francisco International Art Festival, “Down By The Riverside: 50 Years Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Martin King?”
Eric: “We Are All Dragons In Drag” is our response to the political mayhem that has been released since the last Presidential election. Using improvisations and writing exercises to deal with feelings of despair and hopelessness as we watch so many things fall apart, we have landed on the image of dragons. Dragons are forces beyond good and evil, right and wrong. In Asian culture, they are symbols of primal power. We knew we wanted to incorporate Dragons as a symbol in our work. At the same time, my own impulse after the election, as I felt the fear level coming up in our country, has been to counter that fear by being more outrageous, and wild, and authentically myself to try and not give in to the pressures of conformity. I look to drag performance as a place that is fierce and authentic and brings forth powerful aspects of spirit through the putting on of other personas. I have always liked to wear a dress and do my own version of drag in performances whenever I can. It helps me feel more in tune, as if I were robing myself like a monk. So bringing dragons and drag together has been a way to express empowerment, and authenticity, and personal dignity. Dr. King’s story is symbolic of the power of authentic social justice, and human dignity. He stood strong in the face of extreme prejudice, violence, and degradation, holding tight to spiritual ideals, letting his actions be guided by spiritual values and energy. In our own small way, that’s what we are trying to do. We try to stay connected to the spirit, not the chaos. We all need to come to a place of spirit, however we get there. In this case: through dragons in drag.
Dandelion/Bandelion Dancetheater will perform the world premiere of ‘We Are All Dragons in Drag’ at The Firehouse at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture on Wednesday, May 30th (8 p.m.), Friday, June 1st (7 p.m.), Saturday, June 2nd (2 p.m.) and Sunday June 3rd (7 p.m.)
Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) hosts these performances as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, which runs from May 24, 2018 to June 3, 2018. The Festival features more than 60 performances by close to 40 different artists, ensembles, and companies. Get discounts on tickets to see multiple shows at the Festival by buying a Festival pass. More details HERE.