Ask ME

by Erica Dixon ~ September 10th, 2015

Our new Community Engagement Fellow: Alexandra Maricich


Photo Credit: Chelsea Rodino

This story begins long ago in Seattle. Where I met my dear friend and collaborator at Cornish College of the Arts: Mariah Martens. We have confided, confronted, confirmed, collected, constructed, created, condensed, conversed every part ourselves to each other. In between graduating from Cornish and the explosive summer there after, we decided to apply to NextFest NW14 New West.

The seed of Ask Me About My Ass, came from an epic rollerblading extravaganza I was determined to execute during my stay in LA with my 1980 Silver olympian single ladies figure skater mother, Linda Fratianne. I decided I would start in Santa Monica and blade down to Redondo Beach. In total, 17 miles of beach with a hitch at the Marina Del Ray. What this sweet sexy adventure became was a performance.

I was riding the archetype of rollerblading babe. Wearing my high waisted white and blue bikini in 90’s rollerblades I have had since I was 8 years old, iPhone blasting Beyonce’s latest album, sun, breeze and long tangled hair, I started to embody a very certain character. Halfway through my journey, during the inevitable maneuver around the Marina, I found myself on the street. On a LA everyday street full of traffic and fancy cars, I started to feel uncomfortable and extremely exposed as a person and as a woman. Somehow I stayed with my determinate and commitment to make it to Redondo. Pushing fear away and questioning my sense of safety, I found myself, once again, blissfully alongside the salty ocean.

The other most important scene of this rollerblading performance art piece was a bike accident. Not just any bike accident but a situation my ass was blamed for. I was directly accused of causing a cyclist to crash off the path into the sand by his idiot of a friend because I was “Too Sexy” and should give him “A Kiss” to make it better.  As my accuser was in full force describing my faults a family of bikers went by. They became my allies telling him to back off and huffing about how incredible it was that “A lady can’t go anywhere in her bath suit!” Shaking, empowered, confused, and proud I made it to Redono Beach with a plunge into the ocean.

Upon telling Mariah of my performance in LA and sending her my sexy beach babe pictures, she smiled with a smirk. The idea was born, “Let’s do a piece on rollerblades.”  

Photo Credit: Tim Summers

Photo Credit: Tim Summers

“What Is The West?” Mariah and I processed this questions prompted by Next Fest North West 2014 through a poem which revealed the title for our piece Ask Me About My Ass. We slipped into the studio confident of our western heritage.

The immense juxtaposition of performing this piece in New York, in the East, was an experience in reconfirming our identities as West Coast Rollerblading Babes. This reconfirming feels similar to my relocating to the Bay Area. I feel as though I have to prove myself to myself. My notions of success and community become jeopardized in my anxiety to defend my identity as a dancer and performer. I distract myself with the wallows of change although I am learning in exceptional time and depth how to align my thought with my actions, my head with my heart. I am constantly discovering the ingredients of showing up, honesty and mass amounts of love. Another aspect of transition, what Mariah and I sought in the face of reclaiming our identities as dancers relocated on rollerblader, as sexual women, as artist from the West in the East, is support. We were lucky enough to find encouragement among our friends, co-artists, dancers, families, The CURRENT SESSIONS, and most importantly each other.

Mariah and I’s work is a process of skin, cloying mess and flirtation. What I find most magical about Mariah and I’s collaboration is the trust we invest in each other. Our practice is based in Solo Replay, as was our class for the CURRENT SESSIONS, but this practice exceeds the studio. I find my relationship with Mariah to be a display of honest feedback whether it be verbal, physical, or across the country via electonics and social media. Many people who saw Ask Me About My Ass questioned if Mariah and I were romantically involved. Perhaps it is our deep love for each other, our fierce understanding of each other’s behavior, or the unconditional way in which we hold space for each other, but, regardless, this projecting of gender and sexual identity, for me, is a key part of our work. And our construct as humans.

Ask Me About My Ass displays our sexuality as women, as movers. Rollerblades become an awkward, hot, powerful medium mimicking many aspects of the lady body.  We inhabit a terrible enjoyable playful devilish joke because sexuality is fluid. I don’t believe any one aspect of my sexuality to be concrete or simply a performance. My work is about questioning obsession with the Absolute. What is Honesty? What is Truth? How can I and communities learn about change with care and love through dance? Through art? How can we relearn, replay, redo and expose our desires?

Photo Credit: Tim Summers

Photo Credit: Tim Summers


Alexandra Maricich is our new Community Engagement Fellow. She recently moved from Seattle, WA where she attended Cornish College of the Arts. Maricich was also heavily involved in the Seattle arts community as a performer, choreographer and community arts facilitator. She now lives in Oakland with her lover. Since moving to The Bay Area Alexandra has continued to curate and dance, exploring public art, arts administration and social choreography. Before completely landing into The Bay’s lush art’s community Alexandra had the opportunity to show  work as a part of the CURRENT SESSIONS at the Wild Project in New York City. Ask Me About My Ask, choreographed in collaboration with Mariah Martens,  first premiered in Seattle at Velocity Dance Center as a part of Next Fest North West 2014, commissioned as response to what it means to be a West Coast artist

LINKS (Velocity Dance Center. Seattle, WA)  (What is the New West?) (Ask Me About My Ass performed at Velocty. Seattle, WA) (The Current Sessions. Manhattan, NY) (Interview) (The Current Sessions Lab/Class with Alexandra Maricich + Mariah Martens) (Dance intensive Maricich attended while in NYC) (Training Maricich received in NYC at the Mark Morris Dance Center with David Leventhal) 

*The CURRENT SESSIONS, as a performing arts platform, as curators, as people, was more than a pleasure to work with. Please check them out!


80 Turk Inaugural Season Curator’s Note

by Erica Dixon ~ September 8th, 2015
80 Turk
80 Turk in Fall 2014, Photo by Kegan Marling

Our Inaugural Season crowns a remarkable, highly anticipated move to a state-of-the-art facility at 80 Turk Street.

Appropriately enough, the season, creations from artists variously working in New York, Austin, Ireland, Berlin, and the Bay Area, offers a kaleidoscopic set of reflections on metamorphosis whether in the context of the immigrating body, the racialized body, or the consumerist body. This process of renovating brick-and-mortar is consonant with a set of artistic inquiries into what changes and what remains; the process of becoming and unbecoming; and the tension between legacy, tradition, and practice, and the inexorable advancement of the times we live in.

This season promises the unpredictable.

It’ll be hot, heady, visceral, serious, absurd, relevant and out there. We’re eager to experience it all with you, and make of it what we will. A fable? A freedom dream? An alternative zeitgeist in a changing city? Certainly we will find a wide departure from the narrow path.

May it lead us all onward.

— Julie Phelps, Artistic Director


Tomás and James Talk 80 Turk Street: an interview with our Executive Director

by James Fleming ~ August 20th, 2015


James: So the first question I have – what’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of our new home at 80 Turk Street?

Tomás: Potential – I mean, CounterPulse has the potential to transform the community; it’s something that’s so needed and necessary in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin certainly has the reputation that it has, but it also has the highest concentration of children and families in the city. Our building is a tremendous resource and we want to be an asset to that community and honor the history that the Tenderloin represents to the city of San Francisco.

We also have the opportunity to bridge the income disparity that is represented by the fact that the Tenderloin is also just across the street from the central market tech corridor, and I think that’s a function CounterPulse has traditionally served – the opportunity to bridge disparate communities and bring them together over specific cultural contexts.

J: There’s a strong focus on addressing social impacts in the new move – how do you see these issues correlating with the type of art that’s going to be happening in the new space?

T: Well, I think CounterPulse talks the talk and walks the walk. What we’re trying to say here is CounterPulse believes in taking risks on the stage, and we manifest that as an organization. Leaving a home that we’ve been comfortable in for 10 years and making this tremendous leap into the renovation of a multi-million dollar facility is something that really can challenge the ideas of what it means to serve as a cultural institution on a scale like CounterPulse.

J: Challenges the idea of remaining true to the original vision of the organization?

T: Yea absolutely – I feel there’s a niche that CounterPulse fills; there’s a need in the arts community generally, and it’s a launching pad for artists that may not find a stage any place else, we really do represent a conduit in that way.

J: And for you personally, what excites you most about the new theater?

T: Well I definitely recognize the potential of the sheer square footage, I mean to have that much real-estate in that part of town means that you can leverage that square footage for an infinite number of opportunities to both serve the community in all of its manifestations and also deliver on a promise that we made to the community of artists we work with to provide a space that is really able to showcase what they bring to the stage.

J: In addition to the stage, there are so many new spaces to support different forms of arts presentation. CounterPulse will be able to debut artists interested in exhibiting work, for instance, in a gallery format?

T: There’s definitely opportunity for us to serve a larger and broader community of artists, and in different ways. There’s developmental spaces: the basement itself is a multipurpose workshopping space that can also serve as a venue for smaller sized crowds and audiences. The stage itself doesn’t really represent a big leap from what we currently have, so we get to continue that intimacy that CounterPulse provides for its audiences. But at the same time, the facility itself is just higher grade in terms of its technical capacity, and artists that don’t get to work in larger cultural institutions will have access to the same type of technology and production value that you would get in a larger venue.

J: Will we be seeing you on stage in the new building – maybe presenting some of your poetry?

T: I would love to perform on CounterPulse’s stage, but in a context that this is an opportunity for others to share the stage as well, and if a literary movement blossoms out of CounterPulse that would be a dream come true for me!

J: Lets make it happen!


for more about the 80 Turk Project, click here.


Exploring Engagement: CounterPulse & Violeta Luna in Salinas

by Erica Dixon ~ August 17th, 2015

An update from the field, with CounterPulse executive director, Tomás Riley.

With support from the James Irvine Foundation’s Exploring Engagement Fund CounterPulse recently celebrated the stage premier of Como la Tierra/Like the Earth in Salinas, CA. Presented in collaboration with the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts (ACFA), local artist collective Artists Ink and renowned performance artist Violeta Luna, the piece represented 8-weeks of intensive co-creation inspired by the provocative challenge inherent in bridging the perceived geographic and cultural distance between urban San Francisco and rural Salinas. More importantly we wanted to test the assumption that “distance” as a construct is a barrier to community building. Through carefully curated partnerships we are confident we buried that myth.

Artists on-site

Over the past few months we have worked with Luna as she envisions her next project El Piso 35/The 35th Floor, based on the life of Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendieta. Artists Ink founder Emily Morales initiated theater workshops to explore the themes of women communing with nature and their connection to the earth. Originally this communion was imagined as an opportunity to work with women in the agricultural industry, but response from women actually working in the fields was limited at best given their intense work schedules and often irregular availability. We redirected our focus toward the next generation of Salinas artists and developed a cadre of 8-12 participants in a series of workshops investigating the themes above especially as they related to Luna’s work in progress. Actual participation represents an inter-generational age range primarily comprised of Latina women inclusive of participants ages 22-60. Participants successfully completed the series and worked in consort with Luna as the master artist who visited their workshop space at the ACFA to conduct performance training exercises and advised them on the final performance as a way of showcasing their learning throughout the workshop. To execute the final performance Luna recruited the production support from dramaturg Roberto Varea, musician and sound designer David Molina and visual artist Lauren Elder advised on set design. Como la Tierra/Like the Earth now exists in dialogue with Luna’s El Piso 35/The 35th Floor effectively blurring the line between participant and audience member.

Violeta Luna Working with Theater Workshop at Alisal Center

A project long in the works

The Salinas project the culminates our more than two year exploration of innovative community engagement efforts. During that time, CounterPulse presented three performances by artists at the Catholic Charities, CYO (CCCYO) residences on our block. Each performance took place in a different public space in their facility. Joti Singh performed Bhangra at the Independence Day BBQ in the outdoor courtyard that bridges the two residential units, Dohee Lee performed contemporary Korean dance theater during the Thanksgiving Luncheon in the community room of the Edith Witt Senior Community, and Muisi-kongo Malonga performed Kongolese song and dance during Thanksgiving Dinner in the community room of 10th and Mission Family Housing.

Tableaux from Artist Ink workshop
Tableaux from Artist Ink workshop

Support from the Exploring Engagement Fund guided CounterPulse’s work in a variety of public settings that provided ample space to give shape to our experiment in program design. Initially we viewed the project we would undertake as an effort to generate a replicable model with a high probability for success in the broadest spectrum of community environments. In refining our process measuring community feedback against the observable program outcomes it has also demanded we challenge our own assumptions and hold generative conversations around deepening our impact. Through this work CounterPulse has developed the organizational experience to re-imagine community engagement and the manner in which we define participation in the arts.

From passive appreciation to engaged action

In its most traditional sense, arts participation has taken the form of a very passive experience. Audience members watch a performance. Gallery goers look at piece of visual art. This paradigm when applied in the community setting has similarly degenerative results. Community participants very often become receivers, and the art-making becomes service oriented. The conversation then turns away from art making toward program delivery. While CounterPulse has always inherently known this to be true, our experience over the course of the grant period has allowed this notion to surface in a different way and provided us the opportunity to call out one of our own best practices. Going forward we will hold ourselves accountable to program design that challenges deeply ingrained assumptions about the communities we engage as passive and/or recipients of “art,” and will strive toward co-creation.

All part of our future

This understanding is particularly timely as we prepare to relocate to one of San Francisco’s most challenged neighborhoods. When we open our doors at 80 Turk Street in the Tenderloin this fall we plan to do so as a community asset. The neighborhood is home to the highest concentration of children and families in the city and is also disproportionately impacted by San Francisco’s inequitable distribution of wealth. Conversely, our new space also sits on theedge of the rapidly changing Central Market Street technology corridor. Our best takeaways from our Exploring Engagement work leave us with the conviction that CounterPulse can serve as the connecting force that overcomes the resource disparity and cultural disconnect between those two communities to create art experiences that are engaging, accessible and relevant as we work toward social change.


Summer Rehearsals: A Visual Post

by Liz Tenuto ~ August 17th, 2015

Photo of Ben Juodvalkis and Rebecca Siegel at a music rehearsal in Rebecca’s garden.

Video of creating choreography in the studio: