Monday, May 20, 2024

The People's Palace

A multimedia dance spectacular responding to the racist architecture of San Francisco's City Hall was held in the building itself a couple of weekends ago.
The thirty-minute work entitled The People's Palace was free to attend with an online reservation, and was financed by a huge assortment of grant-making institutions (click here for the program).
The major force behind the project was choreographer Joanna Haigood, who has been creating site-specific works around the country for decades, and the performers were from her local troupe, Zaccho Dance Theatre.
There were even aerialists dancing under the dome.
Though both Haigood and scenic designer Sean Riley acknowledge how gorgeous the Beaux Arts building is, they rightly point out that the busts, sculptures, and architecture are all European-centric and ignore the rest of the non-white population. In an interview with Riley, he notes: "So one of the things we really focused on — the elephant in the room — are these four rather large medallions in the ceiling. They have a relief carved within them representing the virtues liberty, learning, strength and equality. They’ve compiled images of lots of different symbols like you’d have on the back of the dollar bill. All this different symbolism. But they’re clearly not representative of the full breadth of our society."
To that effect, there was a musical interlude by Gregg Castro, who is the Culture Director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone along with a colorful panoply of dancers making their way up the grand staircase.
They were accompanied by four musicians (on flute/recorder/sax, harp, double bass, and trumpet) with a score by Marcus Shelby.
San Francisco City Hall is one of my favorite places in the world, especially since it became a party venue for everything from graduations to ballet openings. The building is also host to dozens of weddings every day which adds to the theatricality of the place. Finally, you can drop in on local government at work which tends to be both boring and fascinating in equal measure.

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