Raissa Simpson’s PUSH Dance Company Builds Vibrant Contemporary Dances To Gain A Deeper Understanding Of The Challenges Attributed To Mixed Heritage.

YBG ChoreoFest 2023 Co-Curator Interview

by Shari Baldie

Since 2017 Yerba Buena Gardens has served as the site for spectacular YBG ChoreoFest performances. From its inception, RAWdance has spearheaded the festival’s programming. This year PUSH Dance Company’s Artistic Director Raissa Simpson and Associate Artistic Director Ashley Gayle are teaming up with David Herrera of David Herrera Performance Company to co-curate all of the performances. 

In this joint interview they share why they are excited to showcase an array of talented performers that represent the diverse, cultural richness found within the Bay Area community. 

What is the vision for this year’s YBG ChoreoFest event?

Simpson: After 5 years of the YBG ChoreoFest’s structure of a sole curator, the producers at Yerba Buena Gardens invited PUSH and David Herrera Performance Company to collaborate on a joint vision for the festival.

Herrera: The vision for this year’s festival is to broaden the scope of artists involved and showcased. The last five years, spearheaded by RAWdance, did a beautiful job of highlighting many Bay Area dance artists, particularly those of the modern and contemporary genres. This year, we take that lead and push it further to bring in more artists from genres not usually seen in commissioned and curated environments such as ChoreoFest. We reached into our cultural networks to make sure that we have palpable and visible diversity in the line-up both in the artists and dance representation. 

Gayle: We’re excited to collaborate on curating the festival to highlight BIPOC artists and the vast range of dance styles that keep our Bay Area arts community rich in diversity. We’re lucky to have various dance styles represented throughout the Bay and this year’s ChoreoFest line-up will reflect that.

How will this year’s YBG ChoreoFest differ from previous years?

Herrera: There are few changes to this year’s festival. To begin with, PUSH Dance Company and David Herrera Performance Company, companies that are led by directors of color, are teaming up to co-curate the event. With that we bring a combined 30+ years of experience and community engagement which will be seen, literally, in the artists (and their respective dance genres) invited for this year’s festival.

This ChoreoFest marks the first time that all participating lead artists (and most company members) are People of Color! The line-up also purposely has over 50% representation outside of modern or contemporary dance genres which is really exciting.

Gayle: By showcasing specific dance styles within our line-up, I’m hopeful we will be able to witness a more diverse audience. Ideally, there will be a merge of sub–communities that will help foster and build new relationships across different genres of dance.

Simpson: Motivations for how the festival is designed this year includes looking back in order to look forward. Past festivals were dominated by mainstream modern dance, however this year we’re bringing in groups outside of Western modern dance forms while also showcasing cultural practitioners working within the contemporary genre. I believe the move to acknowledge and highlight a variety of dance forms inspires a true vision of dance and movement practitioners here in the Bay Area.

Why do you think Yerba Buena Gardens is the perfect space for this event?

Gayle: YBG is accessible to the general public, which is a great way to deepen our connection with the community. It’s hard to access performance art, and we often hear how people wish they could afford to see more performances. To be able to eliminate cost as a barrier as well as provide physical accessibility makes YBG a great location for showcasing the performing arts to the greater community.

Herrera: The cultural heartbeat of San Francisco is its diverse communities. Yerba Buena Gardens is located downtown in the literal “heart” of the city itself. ChoreoFest 2023, reflecting the rich cultural diversity of the Bay Area’s community and dance forms, is the perfect match for this location; an open, free, community space that belongs to all of the SF/Bay Area.  

Simpson: Because 100% of the dance artists performing this year’s YBG ChoreoFest identify as global majority peoples and come from BIPOC communities, and the importance of the space demonstrates the friction between having a lack of access to perform in venues such as this one. It will also be fascinating to see what harmony or discord comes up for each artist as it relates to the different stations throughout YBG. Given the history of the festival and the garden spaces, we plan to show the impact that dominant culture spaces have on global majority artists. I think it’s also important to note the type of access this year’s artists will have to transform the old spaces into something new.

What are you most excited for audiences to see?

Simpson: A fresh new perspective.

Gayle: The audience will enjoy being outdoors and experiencing the magic of witnessing live dance performances. I’m excited for audiences to widen their perspective on what professional dance looks like in the Bay Area.

Herrera: I think the audience will be treated to a rich display of the many dance styles and cultural artists the Bay Area has! These artists create work year-round, but may not have had the opportunity to showcase in such a grand public space and festival. We look forward to having audiences be introduced to artists and movement styles they may have known before; enriching their own understanding of the dance arts found in our “backyard”. And of course, we are excited to present our site-specific new work, by the “Urge” statue, tackling themes of humanity and Artificial Intelligence.

YBG ChoreoFest will take place on Saturday, September 23rd and Saturday, September 30th from 1-3 pm. The two-weekend event is free and open to the public. For more information about YBG ChoreoFest, visit ybgfestival.org/events. 

You will also have another opportunity to see some of the performers again at PUSH’s Sanctuary studio grand opening on Sunday, October 15th at the historic 447 Minna building in the vibrant SoMa neighborhood.

Connect with the YBG ChoreoFest Co-Curators:

Raissa Simpson: pushdance.org and @pushdance

Ashley Gayle: @miss.ashley.gayle

David Herrera: dhperformance.org and @davidherreraperformancecompany

Yerba Buena Gardens ChoreoFest 2023

Two days of site-specific work highlighting the spectacular strength, diversity and vibrancy of the Bay Area dance scene.

September 23 & 30, 1pm | Free

Curated by David Herrera Performance Company and PUSH Dance Company. Presented by Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

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