Take Five is an interview series asking people what’s up.
Today we talk with choreographer and San Francisco native Cera Byer. She is the founder and artistic director of Damage Control Dance Theater, and the owner of Shoebox Studio. DCDT’s first full-length production, “Looking Glass,” premieres July 9 and 10 at Victoria Theatre.
Mission Loc@l: What inspired you to create “Looking Glass”?
Cera Byer: 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, and that started me thinking about Wonderland. I started looking into all of the lore around the story– tons of math stuff, Lewis Carroll, sci-fi renditions, “The Matrix.” All the different ways Alice has been used in pop culture.
ML: Some of your own personal history is woven into “Looking Glass.” Can you tell us a bit about that?
CB: When making this, I started looking through the diaries I kept from the ages of 18 to 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.
A lot of these bits touch on issues of idealized femininity, conformity, essentially who to live your life for, and how. That’s something I think everyone struggles with — trying to reach that ideal can make you a little batshit. Throughout rehearsals, I talked with each key player about issues that affected them. Cast members were chosen for roles based upon their personal relationship to the subject matter.
When you have a group of performers who are really willing to get raw and transparent, 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?)
ML: “Looking Glass” features an eclectic cast and crew. What’s it been like to work together?
CB: Amazing and rewarding and challenging. I think one of my biggest talents — more then choreographing or dancing or anything else — is putting together a good team. There have been some bumps along the road, but overall I’m really impressed with what we’ve been able to put together.
ML: Your show is being presented in Victoria Theatre. I imagine it feels like a time warp.
CB: I chose the venue very carefully, because so much of the show highlights San Francisco throughout history. The sets are a mishmash of time periods and aesthetics layered on top of each other, in a venue with a lot of history and character. The show is set outside of time, in sort of a steampunk way.
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.
ML: Martha Graham said, “The body never lies.” What is “Looking Glass” reflecting back to you?
CB: 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 five 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.
ML: Tonight is opening night! What Wonderland character do you feel like?
CB: 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….
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.
Cera Byer and Damage Control Dance Theater present
Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10
8 p.m. show (no late admission); doors open at 7 p.m.
2961 16th Street (between Mission and 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.