A baile folklórico troupe in colorful costumes and traditional Mexican dress, dancers hanging from trees, a drum ensemble and a throng of spectators disrupted the usual brunch scene on 24th Street this Sunday. Along with dancing in the street, the free event, called Baile en la Calle, featured a mural tour that turned sidewalk into stage.
A collaboration between the Mission arts organizations Brava! For Women in the Arts, Epiphany Productions and Precita Eyes Muralist Association, Baile en la Calle was designed to showcase some of Brava’s resident artists while highlighting a few of the neighborhood’s murals.
“The neighborhood is changing quite a bit,” said Stacie Powers Cueller, Brava Theater’s executive director. Cueller conceived of the event with Kim Epifano, the artistic director of Epiphany Productions and one of Baile en la Calle’s chief organizers. “We hope this event will help educate new neighbors about what the murals and the arts mean here.”
That mission is vitally important to Powers Cueller, who came to the Brava in 2012 when the theater was facing foreclosure and operating at a nearly $2 million deficit. “This event brings attention to the theater and the other organizations in this neighborhood,” she said.
Epifano, whose company has experience with site-specific performance from producing the annual San Francisco Trolley Dances, wanted to do something to help promote the Brava during its difficulties. With the support of Precita Eyes, the two began planning Baile en la Calle as a way to engage the community.
“We’re a tribe. Make sure we stick together,” Epifano said to the nearly hundred people who had gathered at the tour’s first stop in front of the Brava Theater Center. “And short people in front.”
Crowd wrangling was a chief concern throughout the day, which started with the Cuicacalli Dance Company performing an energetic piece inspired by Mexican indigenous dance that featured dancers climbing trees and performing against the Brava’s boarded-up storefront, currently a spray-can mural.
Around the corner, Cuicacalli Escuela de Danza performed baile folklórico, a traditional Mexican dance, in front of York Street’s history mural. Traffic stopped as spectators and dancers moved across the street to Juana Alicia’s massive blue-toned “La Llorona Sacred Waters,” where dancers from Epiphany Productions performed an emotive modern piece in response to the politics and mood of the mural.
The growing tour crowd moved down 24th into the Mission Mini Park, where more Cuicacalli students danced on top of swing sets, benches and the park’s large Quetzalcoatl serpent sculpture. The Loco Bloco Drum Ensemble led spectators across Bryant for the day’s final performance, in front of Galleria de La Raza’s digital mural by Aaron De La Cruz.
“Un gran exito, a big success,” concluded Powers Cueller. She and her colleague Epifano had expected about 20 people per tour, and more than 100 appeared for each.
With hundreds of people in attendance, lots of music and color, and traffic stopped by dancers, the event succeeded in raising the visibility of the arts. Organizers said they hope this will be the first of an annual event, with performances staged in front of different murals all along 24th Street.
As Andrew Tyree waited to be seated for brunch at Saint Francis Fountain, the Mission resident peered across the street at the crowd watching Epiphany’s dancers. “I’ve always wanted to take a mural tour, but never have,” he said. “I don’t know much about them, but they’re lovely. An event like this would absolutely make me want to see more arts stuff.”
That’s exactly the response organizers are looking for. “Being here on the street, dancing, shows people that there are things going on,” said Jesus Cortes, Cuicacalli’s artistic director and tree climber between performances. “Twenty-fourth Street: it’s not just about taquerias and coffee shops. There’s art happening here.”