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Dissent and the dance brigade.

Krissy Keefer has been taking the temperature of social injustice for so long, her sun is permanently stuck in Mercury. She had been a politically committed choreographer from the moment she began making work twenty-nine years ago, and she had always let her outrage, justifiable or not, show in her dances. As a founder of the all-female Wallflower Order in Eugene, Oregon, in 1975, she embraced feminism. After relocating to San Francisco and co-founding the Dance Brigade in 1984, Keefer felt herself engaged and enraged by other issues--racial discrimination, official indifference to the AIDS pandemic, and the dire consequences of urban gentrification on the poor. Her audiences had been mostly young, mostly female, mostly from the community where Dance Brigade performs at the Dance Mission Theater, and considerably to the left of center.

The United States' involvement with the war in Iraq has changed much of that. "We checked the reservations list every night," said Keefer during last spring's successful seventeen-performance run of CaveWomen ... THE NEXT INCARNATION! "We used to have a feminist core, but over half these reservations came from men. The East Bay crowd never showed up before this, but here they were. We didn't know any of these people; nobody knew anybody and yet, at the end of the evening, they all knew each other. This wasn't just Krissy and her friends. There's an enormous correlation between what we do and what happens in the world."

What Keefer and her six CaveWomen colleagues were doing--in an alley and in three different rooms upstairs--was a mixture of street theater, gallery installation, spoken text, sign language, and, neither least nor most of all, dance. It drew contributions from several different choreographers and cultures. The performers started as gun-toting emissaries from the "Art Army" and ended as white-robed acolytes in a purification ceremony.

"We were doing performance art before it became performance art," said Keefer. "We have kept up with what's happening in dance. We added martial arts in earlier projects, then dropped it, then restored it because of its popularity. But I hope we have woven themes, our social concerns, into the work in an artistic way. I admire craft, whether it's Beethoven or The Beatles."

In April 2003, Keefer resumed her other project of the year, Women Against War: A Vision for Peace (shown above), touring to the northern California cities of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa. She says she has never before felt such urgency in her work.

It is not immune from charges of polemicizing, or even ranting. Keefer does not disagree. "What we thought was going to happen in the world is happening now. Yes, I am a political artist and what we do in Dance Brigade is often over the top. But, then, so, in its own way, is Don Quixote. Oh, sure, I could have highfalutin ideas about dance. Yet I believe that artists are seers. We are ahead of the game, we can show audiences the big picture, and reframe the issues that confront all of us."

Allan Ulrich is an associate editor at DANCE MAGAZINE and writes for VoiceofDance.com
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Title Annotation:Krissy Keefer makes political statements through dance
Author:Ulrich, Allan
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:519
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