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A theme is emerging in the performances I’ve seen in the opening days of the 2017 San Diego International Fringe Festival: A lot of these pieces have a social and/or political message. And, while I’m thrilled to see artists who give a damn about what’s happening in the world, the work has also demonstrated a danger of politically engaged art: the artists want so passionately to get ideas across, they broadcast them with no nuance or complexity. That happened in both of the shows I caught Sunday; however, it was less of a problem in “Herstory,” a Fringe Find for its flat-out awesome dance.

Fringe Find: “Herstory” by Divas Dance Company. Lyceum Theatre. Given this show’s title, which took me back to 1970s feminism, I feared I was going to see a lot of amateurish emoting posing as dance. Boy, was I happy to be proved wrong! Divas director Diana Follegati had a commercial dance career in her native Peru, and her San Diego troupe’s hybrid style includes jazz, African, and hip hop—there’s even a touch of tap—done with the power and attack of a number on “So You Think You Can Dance.” These eleven women have serious chops. When they stomp on the floor, you’re surprised they don’t break through it. At one point, two groups approach each other from opposite corners of the stage à la “West Side Story,” and they’re fierce.

And the original music, by “Herstory” co-creator Daniel Giaconi rocks. Note: Although the Fringe program lists this show under Divas Dance Company, it’s actually a production of Fusión D, a collaborative effort between Follegati and Giaconi.

Re “Herstory’s” politics, Follegati and Daniel Giaconi were inspired by three contemporary heroines—for instance, Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee who jumped from a disabled dinghy into the Aegean Sea, pushed the dinghy for three hours, and brought it safely into port. The stories are moving, but incorporating them is problematic. Each of three sections opens with a video about that woman, and there’s the logistical issue that the video is often partly obscured by dancers’ bodies. And the connections between story and dance are over-obvious: in the Sarah Mardini story, the dancers wear rope-like vests and at one point dip their hands into pails of water.

Nevertheless, the videos are brief, and the pure dance—as well as the emergence of this new San Diego company—is terrific.

Showtimes for “Herstory” are July 1 at 2:30 and 9 p.m., and July 2 at 1 p.m.

“Specific Gravity” by The Circus Collective of San Diego. Lyceum Theatre. I’m with the artists of The Circus Collective in their desire to raise awareness of the 65.3 million people in the world who are displaced—forced through political upheaval to leave their homes. And I admire the imaginative leap from that to a circus show exploring Archimedes’ principles of displacement, buoyancy, and specific gravity.

And what a show it is! “Specific Gravity” features an exquisite dancer with killer extensions, breathtaking acrobatics, and splendid artistry on rings, ropes, and silks. In a moment that felt like a perfect distillation of the theme, two women try to climb silks that are held open, so that the fabric enfolds them, so we see just hints of their bodies as they climb … and slide back. And a solo woman going into poses on a rope suggests a lonely traveler, hanging in space.

If only The Circus Collective had relied on their considerable circus skills to tell the story. But the message—delivered via spoken word, video, and signage—is downright preachy.

Showtimes for “Specific Gravity” are 6 p.m. June 27, 9 p.m. June 28, and 7:30 p.m. June 29.

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Travis on June 29, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Preachy? Are you not a fan bringing awareness to refugees?

    • Avatar Shannon on June 30, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      I agree with you Travis. You guys rock and should be very proud of what you were able to accomplish. There are so many stories in the world (including refugees) that need to be told and what better way than through art/performance.
      Sending lots of love from the “Escape” cast.
      Shannon

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