CounterPulse Combustible collaborating artists and technologists show work-in-progress

by Shamsher ~ March 23rd, 2015

As part of the pilot CounterPulse Performance and Technology Combustible — a residency model for artists collaborating with creative technologists— we hosted two work-in-progress labs last week for participating artists: Capacitor with collaborator Zach Howard, and Dohee Lee with collaborator Donald Swearingen.

Dohee Lee and Donald Swearingen were first to show their work. Dohee is a dancer, vocalist, and musician who draws on the artistic forms and shamanistic rituals of her native Korea to inform her contemporary performance practice. Donald is a composer and musician who has long worked with technology in both his musical experimentation as well as his programming day job. The two have been collaborating for years but their current project is by far their most technologically sophisticated. With ARA: Waterways Time Weaves, they’ve affixed motion sensors to Dohee’s body that have been programmed to interact dynamically with a synthesizer and score developed by Donald.

Dohee Lee

Photo: Shamsher Virk; Pictured: Dohee Lee, Donald Swearingen

Donald prepared the electronics on a table set downstage for the audience to see. A nest of cables connected a laptop to a radio transceiver. Dohee positioned herself center stage, ten feet away, next to a large wooden drum. We could see two motion sensors attached to the backs of her fingerless gloves. A wireless mic was barely visible, reaching from above her ear down near her mouth.

Dohee began to vocalize. She raised her hands and modulated the sound coming from her mouth using the nuanced movements of a conductor or a magician. Waves of hypnotic sound filled the room, seeming to emanate from Dohee and echo throughout the space. An imagined ocean was clearly audible in this liquid sea of sound.

Dohee Lee

Photo: Shamsher Virk; Pictured: Dohee Lee

Having performed a few examples of the material their generating together, Dohee and Donald took us behind the wizard’s green curtain to explain how they created the sound modulations using the motion sensors. The two wireless sensors pick up movement on three axes. Each axis can be assigned to and control a different variable in the sound: pitch, delay, and percussion, for example. Other variables are programmed by Donald to produce different timbre and effects throughout the duration of a piece. Dohee has developed a movement vocabulary that transforms her body into an instrument that can be played. They will continue to refine the movement control and programming as their collaboration continues in the coming months.

A few days later, we gathered again to view work-in-progress by Capacitor, the other group participating in the pilot residency. Artistic Director, Jodi Lomask, explained a few basic parameters of the piece we were about to see excerpted. Two dancers took the stage and demonstrated a choreographic sequence that will eventually be set on five dancers. A simple metronome carried the dancers forward in place of the music that will guide the final production. The dancers were costumed in black skirts fabricated from strips of black material that looked like rubber or leather. They moved downstage with athleticism and energy, extending their limbs in balletic strokes, coming into contact with one another and then splitting off to pursue their own path. Their black skirts lifted and swirled around them as they spun, making slapping sounds that added to the percussion of the metronome.


Photo: Eric Raeber; Pictured: Ismael Acosta, Michelle Ellis, Micah Walters

Jodi asked us questions about what we learned watching the dance. She was curious to know what “problem” we thought the dancers were trying to solve with their movement. The strong centrifugal and centripetal movement gave the observing staff the impression that they were seeing two planets orbiting each other, rotating and revolving. The costuming elicited some apocalyptic interpretations, conjuring images of Mad Max and a dungeon keeper. A contrast emerged between the elegance of the dancers’ movement and the rigid nature of the costuming. Our focus was drawn to the dancers’ pelvis and hips by the central role of the skirt in the dance.

We were then joined by one of Capacitor’s collaborating technologists, Zach Howard. Zach has been working in Autodesk’s AutoCad to design a costume/prop for Capacitor that will function as both a cape to be worn by dancers, and a throne that they can sit upon. He’d brought a prototype of the cape/throne with him to demonstrate the mechanics and solicit feedback. We passed the prototype around, manipulating it and discussing its properties. Its shape suggested to us that of a ladder or bullet belt. Our conversation gave Zach and Jodi feedback about the dimensions of the object and weight of the materials. They’re also working on a collection of other costumes and props for dancers to wear and dance with (one such object is pictured below). We’re eager to see the next prototype and watch the dancers begin to interact with it.


Development of “The Giggler”; Courtesy of Capacitor

If you’d like to see Capacitor’s work for yourself, they will be showing an excerpt of their most recent piece, Synaptic Motion, during the Market Street Prototyping Festival, April 9-11, at the CounterPulse Show Box stage on the north side of Market Street between 6th and 7th street. Dohee Lee will continue the development of ARA: Waterways Time Weaves over the next year with presentation of the final performance in fall 2016. Stay tuned for future opportunities to see the work in development.


CounterPulse receives $800,000+ in federal support and breaks ground on new facility

by Julie ~ February 24th, 2015

Groundbreaking has always been a term we used to describe the artistic work of CounterPulse artists. This is still true of our artists today, however the term has taken on new meaning as we’ve prepared to renovate the dilapidated former porn theater at 80 Turk Street that will be our new home. And now, the much-anticipated moment has arrived… Our New Markets Tax Credit financing has been approved and groundbreaking has commenced!

Plans have been approved by the SF Department of Building Inspection. Photo: Shamsher Virk

What is a “New Markets Tax Credit” you ask? Well, it’s much more exciting than it sounds. Congress established the New Markets Tax Credit Program in 2000 to spur new or increased investments into operating businesses and real estate projects located in low-income communities. Through the program, the US Treasury matches 39% of these new investments. The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), in partnership with CounterPulse and the Luggage Store Gallery, applied for the program. We were notified just this week that our application was successful and as a result, CounterPulse has received over $800,000 towards the renovation of 80 Turk Street! Add that to the $1.27 million we’ve raised thanks to our visionary seed donors and we have over $2 million to propel us through renovations.

This moment has been a long time coming. CounterPulse began working with CAST in March of 2013 to acquire 80 Turk Street. We’ve spent the past two years designing, planning, and fundraising for our new facility. Today, our dream of creating a permanent home for experimental performing arts in San Francisco is literally taking shape. Demolition crews have entered the building and begun tearing down aged interior walls. They’ve removed the damaged, cinema style seating once used by Dollhouse patrons to prepare for the construction of a brand new, downtown, performance venue with sprung hardwood dance flooring, accessible seating, and a state-of-the-art tech booth.

Artist Director, Julie Phelps, surveys the carnage after day one of demolition in the basement. Photo: Shamsher Virk

Dollhouse seating is removed to prepare for dance floor construction. Photo: Shamsher Virk

The rallying of our partners, stakeholders, and larger community has been unprecedented, with leadership gifts from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, EPISPACE Foundation, Sakana Foundation, The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the Mayor’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development, and continued investment of the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grant for the Arts, alongside the in depth support from Northern California Community Loan Fund, Ventura Partners and Jensen Architects. Together, we are building the future of CounterPulse. As we raise beams for our new home, we give thanks to the resounding support we’ve received from our community.

Our innovative partnership with CAST is a response and challenge to the rapid change and upheaval going on throughout the Bay Area. Together we are creating a new model to stabilize the arts and bolster the resources needed for artists to continue creating in San Francisco. We want to prove that our new model for arts stabilization works. Today is a big step in putting our theory into practice.

CounterPulse Board President, Laura Elaine Ellis, expresses her excitement for the future of our organization:

“This is an extraordinary time for CounterPulse.  The Board is heartened by the amazing community support CounterPulse has received, making it possible to begin this journey.  I must also acknowledge the dedicated work of the entire CounterPulse family- staff, board and supporters.  As we celebrate our groundbreaking at 80 Turk, we also celebrate our new Executive Director, Tomás Riley! Working along-side Artistic Director Julie Phelps, their co-leadership is groundbreaking in its own right, together they will build an even stronger foundation for our organization and our future at 80 Turk.”


Our footing is sure, but the work is far from over. Join us as we start to build.
Is your curiosity piqued?


New ARC Artists Announced!

by Engagement Fellow ~ February 23rd, 2015


Pictured: Liz Tenuto Photo Source:

Pictured: Liz Tenuto. Photo Source:

CounterPulse is excited to welcome Liz Tenuto and Affinity Project as our latest participants in our Artist Residence Commissioning (ARC) Program. Liz Tenuto is a San Francisco-based dance artist who brings full-bodied, genuine expression to her absurd commentaries on everyday life. Director Emily Hoffman and performers Atosa Babaoff, Beatrice Basso, and Nora El Samahy join us as Affinity Project, an experimental theater ensemble dedicated to the exploration of raw, live work. Both Liz and Affinity Project are attracted to simplicity and authenticity, driven to engage audiences through accessible, yet provocative, performance. The CounterPulse ARC Program offers emerging local performing artists space, administrative and technical support to create new work, while supporting experimentation and risk-taking by lifting many of the responsibilities associated with self-production. This spring’s residency runs from April to October, and culminates with performances running from October 15-25. We are overjoyed to have them in residence during our last months at 1310 and first months at 80 Turk!

 Affinity Project - Atosa Babaoff, Beatrice Basso, Nora El Samahy.

Pictured: Atosa Babaoff, Beatrice Basso, Nora El Samahy. Source:



New project from past ARC resident, Krista DeNio: EchoTheaterSuitcase

by Erica Dixon ~ February 19th, 2015

[EchoTheaterSuitcase performance. Photo courtesy of Krista DeNio/MovingGround]

Looking back to this time last year, CounterPulse is reminded of the impactful performances put on by previous ARC participant, Krista DeNio. The result of her residency here was the CONTACT project, which brought together veterans and non-veteran civilians to discuss that which “appears” to divide these groups — war. Now in its next stage of development, KD/MovingGround in collaboration with The Arts @ CIIS and Veterans Book Project brings us EchoTheaterSuitcase.

ETS focuses on performance training, bringing together populations and utilizing that which makes us different as material to build community-centric performance. ETS works with individuals, across groups and global populations, to bridge histories and contexts. This model asks all of us, veterans and the rest of the population, “to consider our relationships with territory, survival, violence, trauma and our real and perceived needs as individuals and communities.” (

We are thrilled to witness DeNio’s development of such a relevant and encompassing project. We’re looking forward to the EchoTheaterSuitcase performance installation, artist talks, and panel discussions on the calendar for February 27, 28, and March 1 at California Institute of Integral Studies.


Interview with an Artist: Miguel Gutierrez responds to Julie Phelps

by Julie ~ February 10th, 2015

 Pictured:Mickey Mahar and Miguel Gutierrez
Photo: Ian Douglas

In January 2015 I found myself once again at American Realness, a festival that is an oasis for the experimental, the queer, and the fringe during the meat market mayhem of presenter festivals that happen this time of year in New York. It was at American Realness that I finally encountered Miguel Gutierrez’s new work Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/. I entered the theater knowing, from video, reviews, and personal impressions, that this work belonged within the discourse churning around CounterPulse:

How is art a tool of social change?
How do body-based explorations impact cultural discourse?
How do artistic experiences transform our imagination of what’s possible in our world?
How do race, gender, economics give or withhold voice in our society?

The best answer to such broad questions is often other well articulated questions. For me that is what Age & Beauty Part 1 is — a poetic question, a playful proposition, an existential inquiry. In that spirit, I asked Miguel a series of my own questions to ponder the subtext, to open up new reads, and to frame the presentation of this work in San Francisco this month at CounterPulse.  -Julie Phelps

PHELPS: Age & Beauty Part 1 has elements of improvisation as well as highly formal technique, both of which seem to be presently investigated by makers in New York City, but often not in the same work. How do you see this work in relation to other work happening in New York right now?

GUTIERREZ: Part of the reason I was interested in making the Age & Beauty series was that I started to encounter young artists in New York and elsewhere (including San Francisco) who were self-identifying as queer performance makers. I found this interesting but I also became curious about why this identification now, cuz my relationship to the idea of queer performance dates back over 20 years and the use of the term now seems to suggest a “newness” that I’m not sure I can see as being new at all. Where the idea of “queer” performance lives is an ongoing question I have about this piece and also about other work that identifies as such and other work that doesn’t call itself queer but seems queerer than work that does.

New York is both blessed and burdened by its relationship to a certain idea of white abstract formalism. It is a hard legacy to ignore or detach from if you live here, because it defines everything about the way people see. I’ve always seen myself as being part of not only this history but also the histories of “experimental” improvisation that came out of 80’s and 90’s east village era improv (Ishmael Houston-Jones, Yvonne Meier, Jennifer Monson, Jennifer Lacey), the San Francisco I encountered in the 90’s (Sara Shelton Mann, Keith Hennessy, Jess Curtis, Stephanie Maher, Carrie Field, Abby Crain, Marintha Tewksbury, Samuael Topiary), queer club performance from SF and NYC (Klubstitute, Club Uranus, Justin Vivian Bond, the Sick and Twisted Players, Mona Foot’s Star Search, Mark Dendy’s character Sandy Sheets and so many more). And I’ve been traveling to Europe since 1996 and seeing work there that has had a huge influence on me in terms of its confounding mix of slickness and frustrating mono-conceptuality.

In terms of what is happening “now” in New York, it’s too hard for me to parse out what is going on – it’s too big. I fit in and I don’t. I think I add irreverence and messiness to the aspects of the history here that are dry, white and formal and I bring “order”, and maybe even traditional ideas of theatrical structure, to practices that are sometimes more sprawling. In this sense I feel pretty much the way I’ve always felt in my life – bifurcated and bicultural.

PHELPS: Do you anticipate that the translation of this work to San Francisco from New York will impact the formal/metaphorical/socio-historical read of the work?


PHELPS: I experience this work as being as much about maleness as it is about age. How are you considering gender representations in this work?

GUTIERREZ: This is such a huge topic and a challenge to unpack because these representations are tied to issues of age, education, urbanity, race/ethnicity, fashion, dance and the way it is read as objectifiable and how that exists either in the realm of the “feminine” or the heroic depending on what you’re seeing and who you want to fuck on stage. And then the intersection and irreconcileabilities (if that is a word) of how gender is discussed and deployed in queer, trans and traditionally “gay” discourses. I can’t pretend to hit all of these ideas in any kind of neat way. I am a 43 year old Latin-American queer artist who struggles to reconcile his seemingly “radical” desires with homonormative desires, having come up in a very culturally assimilationist family while knowing that the intersections of my queerness and Colombian-ness created a whirlpool of weirdness regarding my relationship to maleness. And then I’m dancing with this young, brilliant, beautiful, cool but passionate white skinny creature who embodies a whole other idea of queerness and gender fluidity, a kid who wears frumpy long skirts to the bodega and is polyvalent in his sexual desires. I wear a bathing suit, he wears “jock” clothes. The whole idea of gender is both complicated right away in the piece and it’s also like who fucking cares about gender but it’s also like we’re these cis-guys so of course it has these meanings. It’s a lot.

PHELPS: As a follow-up, later in the season at CounterPulse we have a piece with Sara Shelton Mann and Keith Hennessy — Keith is making a solo on Sara about her legacy as performance maker. How do you think the conversation about age and beauty is different for women working in dance?

GUTIERREZ: Seeing Sara’s Mira Cycle 1 in 1991 was one of the most powerful and formative experiences in my life.

I don’t presume to speak for women working in dance but it’s obvious that it is a very sexist field, which is reflected in programming and funding choices. I’ve never understood why Sara doesn’t have an international touring career. She is a fucking freaky genius and legend and the influence she’s had on multiple generations of artists in SF is incalculable. This field, like so many others, is especially cruel and dismissive to women once they pass the mid-40’s mark it seems. I know many would argue it is cruel and dismissive way before that point. This has always been something that I’ve been mindful of since at least my early 30’s, and it is wrong.

PHELPS: The full title of this work positions you as the subject and Mickey as the comment on your subjectivity. What was the intention of this choice?

GUTIERREZ: It’s no secret that the Age & Beauty series is about my mishegas and my own crisis. I am very inspired by the narcissism and meta-commentary of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz. One of the most pleasurable aspects of knowing Mickey has been knowing that the dissonance of our outward appearances is tempered by the consonance of our personalities and wit. As a performer Mickey is gifted with the ability to “accept” or even invite the role of object while at the same time defining his agency on his own terms. Or at least that is the projection that I have placed/formed onto him for this work.

PHELPS: The comments on power and privilege in this work are plural — the fetish of youth, the influence of age, and so on. Is this work an aspirational gesture that suggests alternative notions of age and beauty? Is it an illustration of difference? Is it a metaphor for some other existential inquiry? Does this work have a purpose?

GUTIERREZ: I think there are many metaphors going on in this piece. Mickey is an angel of death, a shadow, a driving force, a death star, an ideal, an impossibility, a partner, a twink, a supermodel, etc. I am a guy huffing and puffing and digging in deep to a history and being fierce and frail and monstrous. I am warm and heavy and earthy and seductive and too much and too loud and dry and aloof and wanting and desperate and totally ok with all of it. Together we are all of those things and more and maybe just a big older swarthy-ish guy and a skinny white guy. I can’t ever really know what the experience of seeing the piece is like for others, but my hope is that we are passing through multiple representations and relationships throughout the piece. I’ve never been interested in creating a single read – I don’t think most makers of performance are at this point.

Does the work have a purpose? Hahaha.


It means I have to stay alive and decently in shape till the next show.
It means I get to spend and share time on and off stage with an artist who I love and admire.
It means I get to share something with people and let the thing swim in their minds/bodies/lives as something to give them inspiration/something to reject/something to identify with.
It is my service to the gods and yes I mean that.

Presented by CounterPulse and Gravity
Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/
Miguel Gutierrez

MAR 6-7, FRI-SAT at 8PM
CounterPulse, 1310 Mission Street @ 9th

Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/ is the first in a series of pieces that place a queer lens on the representation of the dancer, the physical and emotional labor of performance, and mid-life anxieties around relevance, sustainability, and artistic burnout.