by Allison Frost
San Francisco Trolley Dances, now in its ninth year, is an annual outdoor festival linking dance, public transit and San Francisco’s neighborhoods. This year, the free, site-specific event comes to Bayview Hunters Point.
Trolley Dances director and curator Kim Epifano and Campo Santo founder and director Sean San José told me about Trolley Dances and what makes this year’s show a must-see.
Q&A with Kim Epifano:
Allison Frost: Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for Trolley Dances and how it got started?
Kim Epifano: After creating a site for Jean Isaac’s San Diego Dance Theater’s San Diego Trolley Dances, I realized we have a great Muni line in San Francisco. We started on the F Line – where you find the historic streetcars – but after San Francisco Trolley Dances got more popular, the trains got a little tight. We branched out and now we’ve been all over the city.
I’ve always loved site-specific work; I like to reveal what’s in front of people that they might not see. I love working with the community and bringing people together to see the neighborhood – what’s going on there, who’s working there. It’s art for citizens.
AF: Tell us how Trolley Dances works.
KE: It’s a free festival; you just pay for your own ride. You get on and off a train to see site-specific dances along a Muni route. Since we can only fit so many people on each tour, we encourage people to ride their bikes or take alternate transportation. We also like people passing by to stop and watch with the tour.
There is also an educational element to SF Trolley Dances called Kids on Track. We develop a workshop for schools along the route and invite kids to see the work during our Friday dress rehearsal. We help them see dance through the history and landscape of the area.
AF: Why are you still doing it today?
KE: We get a lot back from it and the city loves it. It’s good for kids, families and all ages because it’s free and has a great variety of dance and places. It’s easy to take a break from the tour to eat a sandwich on the grass. Plus, it gives choreographers and dancers the opportunity to get in front of new audiences and create a new community.
Throughout this process, I’ve gotten to know San Francisco funders, politicians, Muni, and Parks and Rec. They see it as a really positive experience for locals and for tourists, which is good for the financial health of the city. You can reach out to a larger audience with this kind of event. This is a grassroots festival that is big on word of mouth; people come year after year and there is a loyal, persistent following.
AF: How do you come up with your routes? Why the T Line this year?
KE: My office moved to Intersection for the Arts at Fifth and Mission and I thought it would be a great place to begin. Then I decided to do the T Line this year because when we went to the Bayview Opera House in 2008, people really enjoyed seeing that part of the city. We want to bring San Francisco Trolley Dances to Bayview to get the community out and about, talking about the great things that area has to offer.
This year, I took the T Line to Evans stop and found Youngblood Park. I didn’t know it was there, so other people probably don’t either. It is so beautiful. It’s in tiers, and the further you walk up, the more you can see of the Bay. City College Evans Branch was also interested in making a connection. We don’t want to just come and leave; we like building a relationship with the school.
AF: How do you find the artists you work with each year?
KE: A lot of people are interested. Sometimes they contact me and I find some people because they would be a good fit for the site. I try to have a good mix of artists, using modern, ethnic, sometimes circus artists. Trolley Dances is curated to include groups that reflect the city’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
In terms of African American and other Black performers, Antoine Hunter has danced with Epiphany Productions for years; Laura Elaine Ellis will appear with Anne Bluethenthal; Tommy Shepherd and Assad Invent Conley are performing with Campo Santo. There are others; this year’s performers are very diverse.
We look at each group in terms of who they are and where they’re from. We try to think about what people in each neighborhood will want to come out to see. Diamano Coura West African Dance Troupe will be in Youngblood Park. Mas Makers, a Trinidadian carnival group, will perform for audiences as the train passes them near Third and Embarcadero. Campo Santo will be at Halliday Plaza.
AF: How and where can Bayview residents see San Francisco Trolley dances?
KE: They can join us at Intersection for the Arts at Fifth and Mission and take the whole trip. Or they can come directly to any of the sites, such as Third and Galvez, Youngblood Park or City College Evans Branch. There are six tours each day; they can make a whole day of it if they wish. There are great restaurants out there and lots of fun things to do.
Q&A with Sean San José:
Allison Frost: Tell us a little bit more about Campo Santo.
Sean San José: It’s cool that SF Trolley Dances brings together different groups, not just straight up dance. We are certainly not a dance group; we are a new theater-based company focusing on new, direct and exciting ways to tell stories. We like working with musicians, choreographers and visual artists. For this project, we’ve been working with a dance company called Mix’d Ingrdnts, and we want to let them lead us outdoors in our neighborhood.
AF: What will your role with SFTD 2012 be?
SSJ: Telling a story in a place that isn’t a theater is really exciting – to reach and connect with people outside the borders of a stage and to let something play out before people’s eyes.
This event puts us in the neighborhood. How will people react? Will they cheer? Will they walk away? And nothing will be purely through text; it will be 80 percent movement. How do you tell a story in 10 to 12 minutes with only some text? It will be a new form without actually being new.
AF: What will you bring to the Trolley Dances?
SSJ: We want to figure out how to target the way people are experiencing SF Trolley Dances, and make it fun – a mixture of what our city looks like. Learning about the thing, the group, the space – that’s what makes Trolley Dances really fun.
AF: What are you looking forward to most about Trolley Dances?
SSJ: We are excited to see what the performances look like in all different neighborhoods. We want to see how a piece can live in a new neighborhood and how to respond to people who live there or are passing through. One of the coolest things about this event is the free, wide-open invitation. The big dream is that everything could be like that.
We hope to reach a lot of new people and that they learn or respond. We hope they respond to things being played out in their neighborhood or things in a mobile format, not in a theater space. In the end, we can learn a lot about how we want to reach out and connect.
Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater is a performing arts company that erases traditional boundaries between dance, theater and music and fuses different themes in surprising ways to tell stories onstage and in the street. Kim Epifano is the artistic director of Epiphany Productions and the director of SF Trolley Dances.
Campo Santo Theatre Company is a multi-cultural ensemble committed to developing and premiering new American theatre and to nurturing diverse new audiences for the performing arts. Campo Santo is in residence at Intersection for the Arts.
Kids on Track is a wonderful opportunity for students of all ages to partake in their city’s art. If you are interested in getting your Bayview school involved, contact Tanya at email@example.com.
Allison Frost is a dancer and Indiana University arts administration graduate.