“Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story”, the new circus show from the makers of the 7 Fingers in Montreal, premieres on Tuesday, October 12th, at Club Fugazi in San Francisco. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
Club Fugazi has grown into a jazz and poetry cabaret, with performers reading rousing lines from the beats before diving through a dangling hoop, each acrobat doing the twists and turns of the jump with his or her unique showmanship and aura zhushing leaves.
In another moment, the newly renovated North Beach venue has turned into a playground for someone with insect skills when a performer hops around the inner perimeter of the gleaming white proscenium – up the wall, then upside down, supported by fellow cast members.
“Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” has taken the place of the longstanding “Beach Blanket Babylon”. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
In yet another scene, the former home of “Beach Blanket Babylon” became a place of performance art. Audio from a “Maltese Falcon” scene is played while the actors Devin Henderson and Natasha Patterson dance out the sexual tension with full-body affairs and convulsions that Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart limit in the film to glances and trembling voices – all while juggling up to five sparkling pearls the size of a crystal ball.
This is the next chapter in the Bay Area circus heralded by Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story, the new show from Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider, co-founders of Montreal’s famous The 7 Fingers.
San Francisco Mayoress, London Breed, greeted the audience on Tuesday October 12th, which was only exposed to hold the introduction of what she quipped that she had received permission from the Department of Health – and hailed the opening night as a turning point in the city’s fight against COVID-19.
“That will be a long time coming,” she said. “We have been in the house for almost two years.”
The Mayor of San Francisco London Breed speaks to the audience ahead of the premiere of Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story at Club Fugazi in San Francisco. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
Dear San Francisco is a suitable flagship for the reopening of the arts. Presented as Valentine’s to the city, the show includes readings of actual love letters to the city, some anonymous, some from celebrities, others from the viewers each evening. Often these charming missives skilfully turn into action. A letter that says, “Thank you for being the place I felt safe to come out of,” doesn’t inspire a hand-to-trap (short for hand-to-trapezoids, a shape Carroll invented) with not -heterosexual pairings and groups.
But sometimes the potted homages to the city feel better for the tourist crowd, who may be trying to validate their pre-existing stereotypes of San Francisco, than for the fine art that the rest of the show aspires to. There are filler lines about how expensive the city is, how hard it is to find a parking space; it’s about psychedelic drugs, how many types of milk there are, and the fearful people trying to choose between them.
“Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” premiered. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
In any case, the athleticism, precision and inventiveness of the actors quickly overshadow any brick.
Enmeng Song on the diabolo, which is derived from the Chinese yo-yo, can create the illusions of floating and locomotion; he can tear the axis of his device off the cord and then lasso it again in midair.
Junru Wang, who balances upside down on very tall stools, each as wide as the palm of a hand, appears to have radial symmetry, like a starfish; You’re looking directly at them, of course, but it’s like seeing them swimming in the ocean from a bird’s eye view.
The lavishly structured sound design by Jake Rodriguez only amplifies this effect; You can practically imagine how individual waves comb.
Melvin Diggs (below), Devin Henderson, and Natasha Patterson in Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
When you see circus in an intimate setting, you can see again how much power, discipline and grace there is in every effect – the way acrobats do with seemingly little more than a breathless breath, a look up and a wish then climb a trapeze; the way pectoral and even facial muscles twitch when one performer lifts two others onto their shoulders; how diaphragms pump in search of more oxygen.
You can feel the effects too. When artists land, with a boom or a pop, the reverberation sometimes ripples all the way to your seat.
Performers show their strength and agility in “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story”. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
Ultimately, “Dear San Francisco” is a love letter not only to the city, but also to the human body, reminding even the less supple among us that our arms and legs are tools and shapes that we may forget to use creatively .
As sleek and smart as Alexander V. Nichols’ production design is with its frequent use of projections, “Dear San Francisco” is refreshingly low-tech, with performers often contributing their own singing voices and instruments – accordion, banjo, drum. They express art and life in everything they touch: a pole, a teeterboard, a straw hat set, a unicycle, a telephone booth become small miracles.
n“Dear San Francisco: A Soaring Love Story”: Created and directed by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider. Constantly. One hour 45 minutes. $ 35- $ 89. Club Fugazi, 678 Green St., SF 415-273-0600. www.clubfugazisf.com
Lily Janiak is the theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @LilyJaniak