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[whitespace] Dance Masked Movement: Dancer Sha Sha Higby's elaborate costumes blur the line between dreams and the waking life.

Dance, Town, Dance

The 418 Project's Festival of Performance puts the moves on

By Julia Chiapella

AS BAY AREA performance venues become as scarce here as snow flurries, Santa Cruz's own 418 Project continues to plunge forward with dedication. Never mind that funding has been reduced to record lows and contributions are lagging--even from those who make use of the venue on a regular basis.

In these uncertain times, the 418 Project retains its plucky sense of determination.

"The 418 Project has the potential to become for Santa Cruz alternative arts what the Kuumbwa is for jazz," says 418 Project board member Bonny Baldwin.

"We have an opportunity to become the place on the Central Coast where acts traveling between San Francisco and L.A. can stop for another performance."

That sentiment roughly outlines the expansion of the 418 Project as mirrored in its current Festival of Performance taking place each weekend in November. Already off to a start with last weekend's Dancing with the Gods, the festival will build on a promise to bring a diverse slate of performers in from outside the area.

It's a promise that 418 Project director Chip delivers with devilish delight and pure audacity when he declares, without a hint of modesty, that the season is one of the best on the West Coast.

"We're the only performance venue that's available in this area to provide performances that aren't from a set genre," he says. "We can take some risks."

In that vein, as Chip started making plans for the November festival last spring, he shot off emails and made phone calls to some of his favorite on-the-edge, boundary-crossing performance groups. Not surprisingly, considering the money he could pay and the size of the venue, many said no. But enough were intrigued--including Sha Sha Higby, Eth Noh Tec and Jo Kreiter--to sign up.

"The response I got was really surprising. It raises the bar for us in terms of the caliber of performers we're presenting," Chip says.

Local audiences will be able to catch this heightened caliber this weekend, Nov. 10-11, when the 418 Project presents Jo Kreiter and Flyaway Productions. A Bay Area company known for its aerial work, Kreiter's Flyaway Productions will perform a piece commissioned by the 418 Project titled Unmoored #2, a work-in-progress Kreiter says is slated to be performed on a San Francisco rooftop in the Mission District next year. But the nature of her work proved challenging for the 418 Project.

The ceilings at the 418 Project aren't particularly high so Kreiter came up with a solution. "I decided to do something that integrates the ground," she said. "For instance, the dancers will never be more than three feet off the ground, hovering just above the point where gravity ends."

Kreiter and dancers will also use a structural umbrella sturdy enough to hang from, and regular umbrellas stripped of their canvas in a piece created to reflect the diaspora of Bay Area artists, as more and more companies close their doors due to space issues.

Performing with Kreiter this weekend in a separate program will be Scott Wells and Dancers from San Francisco. A favorite with Santa Cruz audiences, the company is renowned for its daring physicality, appearing to hover on the periphery of danger.

The following weekend, Nov. 17-18, the 418 Project present Eth Noh Tec, an Japanese-American storytelling event featuring Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo in Takashi's Dream. Takashi Tanemori, a hibakusha (atom-bomb survivor) has selected Wang and Kikuchi-Yngojo to tell his story of transformation, an odyssey that took him from anger and vengeance to forgiveness and compassion and the life of a peace activist. A Sunday matinee performance, "Oral Traditions," will feature storytellers from different cultures presenting traditional stories of their worlds.

Wrapping up the festival on Nov. 24-25 will be internationally known fiber artist and dancer Sha Sha Higby who will perform two shows and conduct a Sunday afternoon workshop. Higby's fantastically elaborate costumes of wood, paper and silk are the centerpiece of dances that easily evoke a wealth of metaphors as she blurs the line between fantasy and reality, animals and people.

Chip says he's trying to give the 418 Project a reputation for putting on daring performances, ones that often don't get the kind of attention they deserve. With a lineup like this, it would seem he has succeeded.

Festival of Performance shows are at 8pm Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are on sale at Streetlight Records, Madame Sidecar and the 418 Project, 418 Front St. For more info, call 466.9770 or visit www.four-eighteen.org.

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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