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San Francisco International Arts Festival

Bridging Cultures and Genres

Despite the surfeit of festivals in San Francisco, rarely do we see events that culminate in cross-disciplinary celebrations of disparate art forms like music, dance, film, and theatre. The 2005 San Francisco International Arts Festival, which runs May 18-June 5, invites artists from around the world to cross-pollinate their genres in collaborative projects that push audiences' understanding of culture, humanity, and artistic excellence. With a dizzying array of exhibits, performances, workshops, panels, and lectures, the International Arts Festival covers impressive ground, distilling provocative themes in a panoply of art forms.

Given that one of its goals is to raise the city's profile as an international cultural destination, the festival offers dozens of performances and events that demonstrate the vibrant, cosmopolitan influences of the local arts scene. Among the eclectic mix of participants, artists from over ten different countries will perform and participate in peripheral festival events in over 30 visual and performing arts presentations. While the International Arts Festival generally revolves around one theme each year, Executive Director Andrew Wood decided to dispense with the original idea of an Asian-themed festival when grants from institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts garnered a broader mix of participants.

The opening night concert in the International Arts Festival begins with a traditional Korean symphony in concert with a Buddhist dance performed by Korean choreographer Aeju Lee. According to Executive Director Andrew Wood, the opening night is an almost ceremonial overture, "a blessing for the proceedings that will ensue in the following weeks."

This year's diverse coterie includes Russia's Do Theatre, in their Bay Area premiere. Do Theatre was founded in 1987 as an experimental physical theatre company, and its influences range from Eastern European magic realism to the fantastic epoch of Baroque music. One of the most influential dance troupes to have emerged from post-Communist Russia, Do Theatre's poetic and acrobatic physical language expresses the cultural tensions and contradictions of its motherland in bizarre and inventive ways.Other dance performances include the Sara Shelton Mann Project's premiere of Sky, a metaphorical exploration of seasonal transformation and the dimensions of seeing, and the half-century old Royal New Zealand Ballet in its United States debut, which includes both modern and traditional folk dance.

One of the International Arts Festival's main draws is Mansaku no Kai's Kyogen of Errors, a quirky minimalist interpretation of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors that utilizes Kyogen, a centuries-old art form of Japan. Mansaku Nomura and his son, Mansai, who directs the play, represent the seventh and eighth generations of the celebrated, kyogen-trained Nomura family.
The cross-cultural programming of the festival is further illustrated in a number of collaborations between dance, theatre, and music companies, including Berlin-based dancer Stephanie Maher's work with San Francisco's Motion Lab; and local choreographer Sara Shelton Mann's work with Canadian performance artist George Stamos. Krissy Keefer, the artistic director of San Francisco's Dance Brigade, is one of the primary presenting partners of the festival, hosting many of the performances at her company's venue, Dance Mission Theater. Keefer will be performing her world premiere, Dry/Ice in conjunction with musician Barbara Higbie.

The intersection between art and politics is subtle in most pieces but all-pervasive throughout the performances. The Nanos Operetta will be performing selections from a piece entitled 'Til the Sun Dries Our Eyes, an extended rumination on war and idealism. The Bay Area based collective uses both classical and ethnic instrumentation, blending sound collages, musical narratives, shifting backdrops, and non-linear frameworks in a meticulous mélange of orchestration. Sara Kraft and Ed Purver, the celebrated creators of Woods for the Trees, an innovative San Francisco-based performance project, will be presenting the world premiere of their new show, Remote, alongside the Nanos Operetta. Blending military experiments in psychic espionage, Internet video chat rooms, and personal experiences of seeking and avoiding connection, this new multimedia project attempts to scrutinize the ways in which communications technologies have affected our ways of relating to each other.

Not unlike the quintessential San Francisco arts environment, the International Arts Festival proffers a little of something for everybody. And aside from the manner in which it highlights some of the city's foremost creative fixtures, the festival takes spectators into the exciting cultural milieu of San Francisco, exploring vivid possibilities for connection and collaboration that are both politically relevant and aesthetically pleasing.

The San Francisco International Arts Festival runs May 18-June 5 at various venues. Activities include performances, exhibits, a film, classes, workshops, panels, and lectures.

For information, call: 415-399-9554. For tickets, call: 978-2787.