FACT/SF, a contemporary dance company based in San Francisco, has a special place in my heart. They were the first to find a way to allow me to see a live dance performance during the pandemic. Diffusion, was a live outdoor dance, in which brightly clothed dancers performed on grassy hillsides and along tree-lined paths in Glen Park Canyon in May of 2021. I am excited to see them performing outside once more in fluid forms, a site-specific roving performance taking place at the Presidio’s Tunnel Tops Park on June 4 and June 11. It is part of FACT/SF’s multi-faceted project Queer Athletic Futurity (QAF) about LQBTQ+ people in sport.
People chat, others eat at tables or watch children playing as we gather along the edge of the semi-circular courtyard adjacent the Field Station, the designated starting point. A figure wrapped in hot-pink ruffled chiffon, struts sassily down a stair to our right. Twirling rainbow-stripped ribbons they are prideful happiness embodied. Without an introduction, a light or sound cue, it is not clear whether they are part of the show, but either way they make me smile.
The caped fairy enters the building as a pair of dancers move into the plaza. They strike matching long lunges, moving their limbs through a series of angular positions. Their movement sequence complete, they break form and walk purposefully off. Singles, duets and trios of performers, in black sweat suits and colorful visors, take turns performing brief drills. A trio’s limbs are long and straight as arms reach up to meet palm-to-palm above their heads, a child about to dive. A duo hinges sharply at the waist, arms extending the flat line of their backs, parallel to the ground. Despite the linearity of form, the movement flows between the poses.
The individuals enter en masse, a rainbow of visors creating a team of nine. They stride back and forth, pivoting sharply at the edges of the space. As with a school of fish, individuals veer off and then weave back into the group seamlessly. They exit the plaza, ascending the stairs quickly. Vertically spaced along the stair rails, they pause to remove their jackets, revealing pink shirts (a color once used to shame homosexual people which has been reclaimed as a symbol of queer love and self-identity).
Dancers performing in Fact/SF fluid forms at Tunnel Tops Presidio; Photo: J. Norris
Using the environment for inspiration and innovation is the key to the best site-specific dance. Director Charles Slender-White makes masterful use of the steeply terraced hillside that abuts the stairs. The narrow concrete wall that edges each terrace becomes a balance beam podium for the dancers. Arrayed vertically and horizontally, their figures create a satisfying diagonal of dancer/athletes. As if performing a required beam routine, the dancers move from arabesque to one-legged spins in unison, a momentary quiver here or there adding to the elite gymnastic vibe. The dismount, over the stair-railing accompanied by the signature victorious arms up and chest out of a stuck landing, brings applause.
FACT/SF Dancers from left to right, Chloe Rosen, Devon Chen, and Katherine Neumann ; Photo: J. Norris
Later, dancers balance in side-plank, their elbows and feet supporting them, as their torsos hover over a wood-topped railing that edges the upper field. It made me think of the strength and balance required in pommel-horse routines. They stand leaning, wedged between the base and the top of the railing, their bodies becoming stiff diagonal supports. The uniqueness of the poses signals their difficulty. Viewers gasp or cheer as a high-kicked leg somehow transports a body to the far side of the rail and back.
On a wide grassy field, dancers throwing tennis balls as high as possible and catching them felt less innovative. Though the conclusion of these conventional tosses leads to a ball return and a charming audience-participation high-five section, reminiscent of youth sports teams appreciating each other at the end of a game.
The piece concludes with an accomplished ribbon dance. With spiraling strands unfurling from handheld-wands, the dancers perform a program worthy of a rhythmic gymnastics Olympic team. Perhaps the future is bright for LGBTQ athletes proudly displaying their many colors and talents.
Cheers to FACT/SF for bringing site-specific dance to Tunnel Tops, this treasure of a park, the newest in San Francisco’s portfolio of glorious green spaces. There is magic in the way that dance, encountered unexpectedly in the outdoors, draws in new viewers. I relish the children who weave through the dancers in the plaza, one pausing to mimic a movement. The momentary fear, which yields to acceptance, and then amazement as picnickers whose blanket, sit within the performance area watch as dancers whiz past, is delightful.
The casting and performance of fluid forms conveys a disregard for gender and thus sexuality of those in the pursuit of athleticism and excellence. I appreciate how little the actions of specific sports is used in the choreography, which fully succeeds in portraying the rigor, repetition and grace of sport.
Addressing the innumerable and unnecessary complications of being an LGBTQ athlete of any age in America today is a huge charge. Fluid forms, the dance, is just one of the pieces of the artistic puzzle that FACT/SF brings to QAF. I look forward to how the new concert dances, which will be performed at ODC Theater later this summer, and the podcasts of interviews, with gay athletes whose thoughts and experiences help inform this work, expand the conversation. Review by Jen Norris, published June 12, 2023; revised with program credits 6/12/23 5pm
June 4 & 11, 2023
Presidio Tunnel Tops - San Francisco
Concept and Direction: Charles Slender-White
FACT/SF Company Members: Keanu Brady, Katherine Neumann, LizAnne Roman Roberts
Guest Artists: Devon Chen, Liam Fleming, Alexandra Mannings, Amelia Nommensen, Wade Reynolds, Chloe Rosen