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Dancing Queen

[whitespace] Krissy Keefer Wild Woman: Dancer, producer, activist and organizer Krissy Keefer is launching a new theatrical venue on 24th Street in response to the recent artistic surge she's witnessed in the Mission.

Krissy Keefer launches theater at Dance Mission

By Kathryn Roszak

Krissy keefer is san francisco's offbeat modern-dance impresario. She won a Goldie and a Stoli Arts Achievement Award last year, and an Izzie award this year, for her outstanding work producing dance at the Brady Street Dance Center. Keefer's achievements also include touring the U.S., Europe, Japan and Nicaragua with her group Dance Brigade, a political and visionary dance troupe known for radical productions such as The Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie, a political extravaganza, as well as for Cinderella, a fractured fairy tale of domestic violence.

Keefer is most widely known in the dance community, though, for making waves with her visionary programming of dance in the late '90s: The Gay and Lesbian Dance Festival (co-directed by Anne Bluethenthal), Women's Voices, New Ballet Works and Sky Dancers, works by women aerialists and trapeze artists.

When I met Keefer at the Zuni Cafe for this interview, she was wearing a flowery dress that was in direct contrast to her tough muscularity. Her hair was flowing wildly, accentuating her strong features. She was edgy, energetic and animated all at once while talking about her one-woman show, The Queen of Sheba, and the new theatrical venue she is on the brink of opening at Dance Mission.

You started off in the East Bay, but you've received a great deal of recognition lately in San Francisco and beyond. What accounts for this?

It's imperative to live in the city you work in when you are an activist and organizer. I see myself as a cultural worker, and I see my work in the context of society and social movements. I'm very involved in the women's movement and with people like singer Ani DiFranco and the Indigo Girls. I recently danced at the Michigan Women's Music Festival, which was attended by 6,000 women. The cultural backbone of the women's movement is redefining itself.

How are you seeing the women's movement defined in dance now?

Strong women who are in their bodies, have ambiguous sexuality, look androgynous and do extreme athletic movement. Street movement is part of this. There is a whole wave of political work about gender, finding where male/female identity is in a continuum. Male and female roles are being broken down. There is permission for people to really be who they are.

You've been interested in Buddhism. Does that play a part in your work?

I'm very involved in the Tibetan chod meditation. I'm looking for ways to integrate Tantric practices into life and art. I see myself as a kind of dakini, a Tibetan goddess of transformation. I want to be challenging, provocative and have people examine their souls.

How is your current work taking shape?

I'm working on a one-woman show, The Queen of Sheba. It's about prepatriarchal history. It's the story of a banished woman and the female prophetic voice. When a woman takes the initiative to leave a really bad situation, she is made to feel she is doing something wrong. The woman who tells the truth is demonized. In my show, the character of Lilith, who I play, is made into a demon, even though she was the one forced out. This goes for all kinds of women from Lilith to the Queen of Sheba, to bag women to visionaries and artists who tell things as they are. Any woman who speaks with intelligence above a whisper is demonized for breaking the status quo. In The Queen of Sheba, I'm also dealing with human beings beyond a gender exploration. I'm asking, What is our animal nature? How is that affecting us? It's about our disassociation from the environment and environmental breakdown.

You have referred frequently to healing an epidemic with your work.

A lot of my work, especially at Brady Street, has been with struggling women artists, artists who lack funding and artists with AIDS. This is an economic and physical epidemic. Cultural institutions have been decimated by AIDS. I want to make a difference about these things. This is my passion.

You produce the only Gay and Lesbian Dance Festival in the country.

Right. It gives artists permission to explore what it is to be gay in the arts. It lets the subject matter of being gay be dominant. At Dance Mission, we will use all the studios. Each studio will represent an element: earth, air, water, fire. We'll also have a roundtable discussion on body art from piercing to old age.

The festival will take place at Dance Mission. Why there?

I live in the Mission. I drive up and down Valencia Street. It's an area that's emerging and surging. It's on fire with potential. The Valencia/Mission district is the hub of the women's' community. There are galleries, crafts and curio shops. There are venues producing alternative work, from ODC's space to the Mission Cultural Center, Dancers Group, ATA, the Women's Building and many others. And in collaboration with studio director Lori Lewis and lighting designer Joe Williams, I am creating a new theater space at Dance Mission. There's this integration of the restaurant, theater and art scene in the neighborhood. The city should be proud of the artistic activity on Valencia and should be helping shore it up. This is the cutting-edge arts scene. It's like Joseph Papp and La MaMa, the Lower East Side in New York. It's the most exciting dance theater district in the U.S., and we are putting the theater in to be a part of the power surge that is taking place there.

Dance Mission, 3316 24th St.; 415/826-4441.

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From the October 5-18, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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