SF Thirteenth Hip-Hop Festival At The Palace of Fine Arts

27 Nov

November 18-20 marked the four performances of Micaya’s wonderchild, the San Francisco Thirteenth Hip-Hop Festival, featuring her own group, Soul Force, alongside features from France, England and Denmark and  ensembles from Chicago, Brooklyn, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles with a small army of enthusiastic newcomers from Suisin City.

Initially starting in Theatre Artaud in the Mission, each year I have attended, the venue has been the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition relic, The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina, cheek by jowl to San Francisco’s approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. The lobby is awash with fans, all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities; volunteers are everywhere, and a table selling the annual tee-shirt rarely fails
to have a cluster of customers. A cluster of seniors attend – perhaps proud grandparents of participants, but also theater goers enjoying the mix.

Micaya’s format has deviated little in the  years I’ve watched the festival; local as well as regional, national and international artists submit videos, now DVDs, as auditions. E-mail announcements pepper one’s screen as groups are confirmed, which can mean visas procured – a sizable feat these days. Program A and  Program B are formed, to dance twice; one day both groups appear.

Before each performance the curtain is open; a semi-circle of performers shares momentary central stage with their special movement, tour de forces aplenty.  Spinning on the head is frequent, the exaggerated leg cross and floor plunks reflect youthful limbs.  The dancer with me mutters “It will be over at twenty-five.”  A woman down two or three seats shouts support to local groups, the timbre of her voice like multiple trumpets.  It takes some doing to cap such prep.

The Robot Boys from Denmark, appearing on both programs, made their San Francisco debut with two entirely different acts.  Program A emphasized whimsy and B with maroon uniforms liberally decorated with gold making for militarily tinged smartness.  Theirs was a minuscule movement of the legs, aided by swift turns and changes of direction; the arms moved like  railroad semaphores
awry with spring madness.  Add solemn expressions and occasional wide-eyed wonder and you got it, a world class act by any rigorous standard.

The two groups from France, Meech Onomo Company from Paris, and Compagnie Arts de Scene from Valenciennes, reflected the ethnic mix in today’s urban environment.  Not so inclined to technical tour de forces seen in US groups, both shone as “bands of brothers,” multi-ethnic style.

The Plague from London returned for the second time as did Chicago’s Footwork KINGz, the latter with their energy, splits and jazz-infused rhythm dynamics, belonging to the great tradition of black entertainers.

San Francisco’s Loose Change ensemble has shown up at each festival I’ve attended, its members rarely changing, but growing more mature and savvy in their numbers.  Clothed in grey, this year’s program emphasized long, smooth slides.

At the end of each program Micaya appears in impossibly high heels in a skirt rivaling shorts without the intervening material, frequently black; She moves across the stage with a hand held mike on her slender, shapely legs; with honey tones she brings the groups back for a round of applause telling the audience “give them some love.”  This year Micaya appeared on the cover of San Francisco’s weekly free paper, The Bay Guardian with a brief, apt feature written by Rita Felciano. The recognition, like a prior Izzies Award, has been earned ten times over.

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