An Insider’s Perspective: San Francisco Trolley Dances


Today I was a tour guide for  San Francisco Trolley Dances presented by Kim Epifano’s Epiphany Productions.  I was an audience member two years ago and so when the call went out for volunteers to help with this year I decided to sign up for two reasons: I’m really interested in site-specific dance and I’d love to produce something similar to this event. A tour of sorts, but in the woods.

This is the 8th year that Kim Epifano and Epiphany Productions has been producing the Trolley Dances. At the training session for volunteers, Kim Epifano gave a brief speech about what makes her passionate about the Trolley Dances project.  She spoke about how it exposes new audience members to dance and how it invites dance lovers to fall in love with their city again.  How it brings inbound people outbound and outbound people inbound. I was really touched by her enthusiasm and committment to this project, because Trolley Dances is a no-joke production.  Can you imagine anything more difficult to produce than a travelling show? That uses public transit?* 

As a volunteer tour guide, I was given a bright green Tshirt to wear and was in charge of many tasks.  I had to call ahead to each site to let them know when we would be arriving for their performance, I had a hand counter to click for number of audience memebers, small cards to record not only the size of the audience at each site but also the racial statistics as well, and a “Trolley Dances” sign on a stick to hold up. Luckily I was teamed with Mora a more experienced guide who served as the head guide and did most of the talking to audience members.

I would have liked to give a more nuanced review of the show, but I was more or less too overwhelmed with all that I had to keep track of to be able to fully commit my attention to the actual performances.  I will say that all the acts involved were solid.  And also that my favorite moment was during ODC’s piece when a random Chinese lady crossed the “stage” being used and called out to her husband, “Frank! Frank!” to exit the performance area.  The line between audience and performer was blurred superbly in this moment and it was one of those random “happy accidents” that can happen during site-specific work.

The beauty in site-specific work is that the architecture of the city serves as the backdrop, the sounds of passing traffic and random people create an additional layer of music – the weather, the people, the pigeons, it all becomes part of the work.  Site-specific work utilizes the spontaneous, which is decidely more interesting than a dancer who is executing a movement by rote. Not only are the spontaneous events an interesting layer, but it causes the performers to become spontaneous as well because they are in the middle of the environment and must react, or simply be, in it at the same time.

The San Francisco Trolley Dances is a fantastic event that everyone should go and see. This year’s tour includes artists: ODC Dance, Capacitor, Sweet Can Circus, Tat Wong Kung Fu Lion Dancers, Kim Epiphano’s Epiphany Productions with SF State University, Antoine Hunter & Christine Bonansea, and Salsamania.  SF Trolley Dances is happening this Saturday and Sunday, October 15 & 16th, 2011. 11am-2:45pm. Tours leave every 45 minutes from the SF Main Library at 100 Larkin Street, Fulton St. Entrance, and end in West Portal.  The tours are free with regular muni fare on a first come first serve basis.

*Side note: (Apparently, MUNI has been very helpful and “on board” – pardon the pun – with Trolley Dances and we volunteers were told to speak highly of them because they’ve been so cooperative. Yay SF Muni!)


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