“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”
“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”
I started Rolldance blog in 2007. It evolved from link-laden posts exploring creative arts therapies and mental illness, into endeavoring to build a non-profit supporting people with schizophrenia — a brain disease which my older brother Michael struggled with for 13 years, and died as a result from.
The grief must’ve been too fresh. I couldn’t veer from writing about my heartache and loss.
But I suppose we all need to express that which strains to see the light. We all have stories to share or hide.
Thank you for reading my blog. I don’t know what it’s about. I entertain the idea of continuing an interview series with people around the neighborhood (sort of like these posts featuring Cera Byer and Arturo Duarte).
Perhaps what’s also craved is dialogue spoken in the dark.
Wishing everyone a happy new year. May each day sing with our stories and absurd awesomeness of life!
[I first met Cera at a dance showcase a few years ago in Los Angeles. She performed a solo choreography fusing Middle Eastern dance vocabulary with other genres, or perhaps with her own idiom. Her dance was bold and inimitable, with layered body isolations spiraling into polyrhythms, and unusual punctuation and phrasing of movement.
[When I heard she was choreographing a larger work, I was excited to interview her. But it was more challenging than I thought. Dance is temporal, visual, spatial, kinetic… and as my teacher Judy would say, it’s spirit followed by body. Without having seen Cera’s current work, and only drawing from impressions of a past unrelated work, how do I begin to ask questions that are really relevant to her now?
[In spite of my slacker last-minute email ping-pong (done in the eleventh hour), Cera was very gracious. An edited version of this interview was posted in Mission Loc@l on July 9, 2010. Below is the full interview.]
San Francisco native and choreographer Cera Byer is the founder and artistic director of Damage Control Dance Theater. “Looking Glass” is DCDT’s first full-length production, premiering July 9th and 10th at Victoria Theatre.
Tonight is opening night! What Wonderland character do you feel like?
Right now, honestly, a little Mad Hatter. If this thing goes down in flames, I’m gonna end up running my own private caucus race on a tiny patch of sand somewhere south of the border. Follow the trail of rum bottles and mercury vapors. Ok, seriously, it’s crazy putting together a production like this with no grants, and no budget to speak of, and promises and hope and love and elbow grease. However! I constantly give myself the following very good advice: I know it’s the most important thing in the world, but it’s just dance. And also: This is just rock n’ roll. No one dies.
What inspired you to create “Looking Glass”?
I knew that taking on an evening-length work was the next step for me as a choreographer, director and artist. I’d been presenting shorter works in showcases and festivals for several years, and had set concerts and musicals for others, but never of my own stuff. It was the goal I set for myself for 2010.
How is your show related to Lewis Carroll’s children’s tale?
I didn’t know it was going to be Wonderland-themed. I started just making stuff that I liked. One day I ran across this quote: “When you set out to tell a story, you can either tell Romeo & Juliet, or David & Goliath.”
Stories are really simple, there are only a few. More than love story or underdog story, this was a hero’s journey — but more inward than outward. That started me thinking about Wonderland. A clear narrative emerged. I started looking into all of the lore around Alice in Wonderland — tons of math stuff, Lewis Carroll, sci-fi renditions, “The Matrix”, and all the different ways Alice has been used in pop culture. And it gave me tons of rich material to source from.
Some of your own personal history is woven into “Looking Glass”. Can you tell us a bit about that?
When I started making this show, I started looking through the diaries I kept from the ages of 18-22. That was a really crucial and tumultuous time for me in my identity development; it was when I was most enmeshed in a lot of the personal struggles “Looking Glass” touches on. Throughout rehearsals, I talked with each key player about issues that affected them, and I chose cast members for roles based upon their personal relationship to the subject matter.
A lot of these bits touch on issues of idealized femininity (in all its many complex forms, and how trying to reach that ideal can make you a little batshit), conformity, essentially who to live your life for, and how. That’s something I think everyone struggles with, and when you have a group of performers who are really willing to get raw and transparent with the material, you end up with work that is really relatable. It’s not a complex story, it’s meant to be a mirror. (Heheh, get it?)
“Looking Glass” features an eclectic cast and crew. What’s it been like to work together?
Amazing and rewarding and challenging. There have been some bumps along the road, but overall I’m really impressed with what we’ve been able to put together. I think one of my biggest talents — more then choreographing or dancing or anything else — is putting together a good team. It’s about picking people who are really cool to work with; who are professionals and deliver a solid product. You frequently find people who have one of those qualities; finding a whole team with both is tricky! And when everyone’s onboard with the vision, it’s easy to guide the project forward.
Your show is being presented in the historic Victoria Theatre. I imagine it feels like a time warp.
I chose the venue very carefully, because so much of the show highlights San Francisco throughout history, in its visuals. The sets are a mishmash of time periods and aesthetics layered on top of each other. I really wanted to present in a beautiful venue with a lot of history and character. I wanted the show to be set ‘outside of time’, in sort of a steampunk way. Advanced ideas, 100 year-old technology.
Working in a 100 year-old house comes with its own set of crazy challenges (if you’ve never used 100 year-old rigging systems, it’s an experience), and you need a really skilled crew to make things work. I’ve been really lucky with the team I’ve managed to pull together to make this house come alive, so that we can do our work of transporting the audience into a bygone (or maybe completely fantasy) era of live entertainment.
Martha Graham said, “The body never lies.” What is “Looking Glass” reflecting back to you?
Wow. Okay. In no particular order: My entire life of issues, development of aesthetic, and clarity of purpose. The culmination of (in some cases) up to 15 years of local friendship and collaboration and building art in the Bay. What can really be done if you set your sights on a goal, and stay completely focused on the finish line no matter what hurdles come your way. The talent of my peers. The selflessness of a few key friends and collaborators. The ingenuity and creativity and beauty of my city. The depth of feeling that can be shown through space, force, and time. All of my training in visual art, music, theater, dance, and people-wrangling. The past 5 years of ideas and work with DCDT. In short, this is pretty much as close as I can get to shooting a projector straight from my brain to the stage and dreaming out loud for you. I hope you come, and I hope you love it.
Cera Byer and Damage Control Dance Theater present
Friday & Saturday, June 9 & 10, 2010
8pm show (no late admission); doors open at 7pm
Victoria Theatre 2961 16th Street (between Mission & Capp)
Tickets $35 at door / $28 advance
An evening of world fusion contemporary dance theater
With special guests bellydancer Kami Liddle and musician JD Limelight
Costumes by Medina Maitreya, Najla Turczyn, and Dusty Paik
Artwork by Raven Ebner
[This year I had the pleasure of interviewing some people doing interesting stuff around the Mission. These were posted in Mission Loc@l. My last interview was with my son’s godfather. An edited version of this appeared in Mission Loc@l on July 24, 2010.
[Here's the full version, which includes more of Arturo's personality and culture. This stuff in between the lines is what I find most fascinating about these beautiful people... more so than the event or object or objective...]
What are your favorite places to play soccer?
I’ve played in Franklin Square for a team in a league, and in Mission High for pick-up games. Somebody told me that Franklin Square was recently restored. I hope so, because the synthetic field was pretty run down. They have some pick-up games there during the week, but I haven’t checked them out since I come back late from work. I used to really enjoy the pick-up soccer games at Rossy Park and Golden Gate Park. I like team sports — it’s exciting to have a thinking group of adversaries.
Now I’m focusing more on long distance running because soccer injuries can put me down for a number of weeks. It’s not low-impact but at least I have more control over possible injuries. Running is just you against yourself. Some people find challenge in that (for example Haruki Murakami), but I don’t… or maybe not yet…
You said marathon running is an interesting way to experience a city. What’s it like to run through your own neighborhood?
I’ve only done three marathons and one of them was the San Francisco Marathon. It’s great because you go from the Embarcadero, to the Marina, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Golden Gate Park, the Haight, the Mission, China Basin, and back to the Embarcadero. So it’s a nice way to explore the city.
Running through the Mission was fun. Since the event is on a Sunday morning, 16th Street was desolate. But the neighborhood highlight was running the intersection of 16th and Mission, and being cheered by drug dealers, prostitutes, and police officers! This is a great city for becoming a runner. It has so many landmarks that can inspire you.
Any suggestions on how Mission residents can support marathon runners this year?
The run is on Sunday, July 25th. So people can just get up early and support the runners that go through 16th Street. It’s not all that exciting, I know, but later on they can go to church or breakfast, ha ha! I know that there will be a nice show at the finish line at the Embarcadero with Sila playing in the morning.
Your uncle fought Sugar Ray Leonard. What happened?
He lost it, and it was his last professional fight. His name is Armando Muñiz, and he was a welterweight professional boxer in the 70’s that had a few shots at world titles. The closest he came to becoming a world champ was when he lost a title fight in a controversial way versus a great Cuban fighter: José “Mantequilla” Nápoles in 1975 (Acapulco). He was accused of headbutting “Mantequilla”, but in fact, he was knocking him out. Later on, there was a rematch that “Mantequilla” won without a doubt. My uncle now lives in LA, where he is a bail bondsman.
Your family worries when you go out for a 10-mile run. Yet they live in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Well, I worry because they live in a very violent city, and they worry about me running for a few miles… I guess the situation is kind of unbalanced! They live in Juárez, which is nowadays a very dangerous place, mostly because of an ongoing turf war among criminal organizations — they don’t only move drugs.
I grew up there, so it really makes me sad to see the general situation in which people live in the city; that is, without knowing where the next violent episode will happen, and at the same time growing desensitized about the number of people being murdered every day. (By the way, “Mantequilla” Nápoles now lives in Juárez, where he runs a boxing gym.)
She’s fine! Thank you for asking! Ha ha! I’ll be showing some stuff at Cafe La Boheme soon. I can’t say much about it. I prefer to listen to what people say about it, especially people who don’t know me. It would be fun if somebody — after looking at one of them — says that they can tell that I have a desk job, that I take Caltrain to work everyday and love it, that I love science, that I constantly dream about being suspended inside clouds, that I love beer… ha ha! Oh well, what I do is not universal in any way…
When did you start painting?
I can’t really pin down the actual starting point. When I was a kid, I used to make religious paintings for my mom. I’d look at the paintings in a Bible and try to reproduce them, or add things so that the subject would look more impressive — making Christ the ruler of everything! That’s how I found out that I was good at drawing. (Later in life, I saw the images of Christ the Pantocrator in Greece, and I felt a little nostalgic, ha ha!)
Over the years I grew more interested in color, texture, and simple forms. There was a long period of time when I didn’t paint at all. It was more than ten years. Many things took over my attention, that I ended up pushing art completely aside. I tried becoming a serious scientist, then I got all into married life for a while. By the time I was getting divorced I started going back to painting, I went back to playing with color, texture, and simple forms mostly. I don’t know where things will be going in the future…
What influences your style?
Enjoyment. I guess that is really what it boils down to. Currently, I am doing stuff that I really enjoy creating — I have so much fun doing it, even if I end up not really liking the outcome. This enjoyment also comes from experimenting, I guess. I like oil paint. It’s a friendly medium, I think. It lets you make a lot of mistakes, and it also lets you create great textures. I only wish that it could keep the smell forever, or that it could make sounds too! Ha ha!
As I mentioned earlier, I have been playing mostly with color, form, and texture. Some of the forms resemble gears, mechanical things, or waves. My dad used to own a truck parts shop, so all the forms and roughness of the different mechanical parts always impressed me. I would also find it very appealing to look at random grease or iron rust stains over stuff. I guess all this kind of reflects in some way with what I do. But for a few years now, I have been thinking about some ideas for some figurative themes. We’ll see what comes up next.
¿Quién es más macho, Santo o Chuck Norris?
Let’s see… Both of them have many fighting titles. Chuck Norris can free prisoners of war all by himself, while Santo can defeat vampires and mummies. Chuck can dismantle drug cartels, while Santo can tame Frankenstein’s daughter. You will never catch either of them dancing or crying in a film. In any case, I think Santo is a more elegant and stylish macho dude.
Art by Arturo Duarte
at Cafe La Boheme 3318 24th Street (near Mission) Date TBA.
Paintings will be go up after current World Cup display comes down.