San Francisco International Arts Festival features Japanese dance company, Baobab, in the U.S. premiere of “Laughing Frame” + San Francisco’s STEAMROLLER in the world premiere of “Loserville”

by Charles Kruger

Photo Credit: Baobab.

Established in 2009, Baobab is one of the leading young dance companies in Japan. Like many modern companies, Baobab draws freely on many dance styles, including classic, modern, and jazz, plus street dancing as well. Director and founder Waturo Kitao stresses that the company includes both dancers and actors. He notes that, in performance, “Sometimes they are talking, singing, laughing a lot and often crying.” Given such demands, the company stresses diversity in casting performers who may not have typical carees as dancers, or appear to be conventional types. One thing they do have in common, the company assures, is that “they burst with exuberant energy.”

That energy has brought them enthusiastic recognition. Their performance at the San Francisco International Arts Festival is jointly presented by the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN), and has received support from the Arts Council Tokyo, the Western State Arts Federation, California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Director and lead dancer Waturo Kitao seems to win awards wherever he goes. Recently, he won the best dancer’s  Yokohama Dance Collection Competition. Other awards include the 2012 Audience Award at the Toyota Choreography Awards and the third Elsur Foundation New Face Award for Contemporary Dance.

Baobab’s signature piece, “Laughing Frame,” emphasizes “krumping” or “clown dancing,” a style of dance first developed in South Los Angeles, made famous by David LaChapelle’s documentary film “Rize,” and now brought to San Francisco from Japan—and that kind of cosmopolitanism is what an “International Arts Festival” is all about!

Excerpts from “Laughing Frame” by Baobab

Appearing with Baobab will be San Francisco’s STEAMROLLER Dance Company. Founded over twenty years ago by Jessalito Bie, Steamroller began its work with street activism, creating guerilla performances that addressed the crisis caused by the spread of HIV/AIDS. Today, their mission statement says that they aim to create “physically articulate dances that examine how language and mass media shape ideas of race, sexuality and gender. ”

They describe “Loserville” (making its world premiere at the Festival), as “a queering of “The Breakfast Club,” one of film director John Hughes’ seminal films. Scenes from the Club are embodied by the performers who play with gender and race using timing and comedic physicality to challenge the heteronormative terrain of this cinematic genre.

STEAMROLLER company members in performance. Photo Credit: San Francisco International Arts Festival.

Among other venues, STEAMROLLER has performed at the Bay Area Dance Festival, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Festival of Bay Area Dance, Asian American Dance Performances, and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.

Baobab and STEAMROLLER perform “Laughing Frame” and “Loserville” at The Firehouse at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture on Friday, June 1st (9:30 p.m.), Saturday, June 2nd (5:00 p.m.), and Sunday, June 3rd (4 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.

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