San Francisco Movement Arts Festival: A Live Art Gallery

by Heather Desaulniers

The three-year-old San Francisco Movement Arts Festival [SFMAF] has become a mainstay in the local winter dance calendar with its annual “Stations of the Movement” program at Grace Cathedral

Viewers and artists alike have been charmed and inspired by San Francisco Movement Arts Festival [SFMAF], a mobile installation that marries performance and sacred spaces, showcasing local dance talent, constructing an immersive artistic experience and celebrating one of San Francisco’s most magnificent architectural structures.

Festival founder and director James Tobin explains that “Stations of the Movements’ unique program “…invites audiences to stroll around and witness a wide range of performances scattered throughout the cathedral—a variety of dancers, styles and subject matter. At each station, a series of original pieces rotates over the course of the evening.” In the festival’s first year, these original works were performed by more than 100 interdisciplinary artists; the second year, that number jumped to 150. This year, SFMAF returns to Grace Cathedral for its third consecutive year with over 200 participants.

We reached out to artists who have participated in the festival since its inception and asked them to share their experiences and observations about this unique San Francisco dance event.

How has SFMAF been significant in your artistic journey?

Mariana Sobral, eMotion Arts founder and director: “As a choreographer, it has given me an opportunity to showcase my work among other talented choreographers. As a director and dance educator, it has given me a chance to offer a really neat and professional environment to my dancers, who ages range from 11 to 17.”

Kao Vey Saephanh, co-artistic director LV Dance Collective: “Being a part of SFMAF expands opportunities for our company—to share work with a wider audience and to venture outside the usual theater venue into a site-specific space.”

Erin Parsley, dance artist, educator & choreographer: “What has been most significant for me is the inspiration I receive from the other performers in the festival. I take advantage of the times in between my own performances to roam around the cathedral and watch the other dancers.”

Lissa Resnick, artistic director No Strings Attached Dance Company: “Site-specific work always forces the question…how does this piece work outside the confines of a traditional dance venue? Since Grace Cathedral is so visually compelling, the selection of movement you provide needs to stand on its own, yet blend with the Episcopalian magnificence.”

What are your favorite moments from the past two festivals?

Kelsey Morgaine, dancer: “Dancing with my colleagues, the moments of movement, stillness, togetherness, watching those moments in other artists’ pieces—it is all beautiful and gives me pure joy.”

Lissa Resnick: “One favorite moment was creating the opening segments of our piece in 2016, which included large-scale white fabric that we cut, hung and stretched on the day of the performance in the Nativity Chapel. Creating a structured improvisation where dancers were bound and then unbound with these white fabrics inside a chapel had so many layered meanings!”

Kiplinn Sagmiller, choreographer/dancer: “Last year, a woman approached me after my performance and said that she recognized me from the duet I performed the year before. She said she felt emotionally connected to it and still remembered my long, red dress [as I ran] down the hallway. It was an honor to have left an impression.”

Why do you keep coming back to perform/participate in this event?

Marika Brussel, choreographer: “It’s amazing! Casual and provocative, communally satisfying.”

Kao Vey Saephanh: “Grace Cathedral provides a warm feeling the moment you step inside; its historical architecture brings a vibe that uplifts your spirits.”

Kiplinn Sagmiller: “I’ve met so many interesting and inspiring artists, choreographers and art lovers. The joy of connection and growing the arts community keeps me returning every year.”

Mariana Sobral: “Alongside the gorgeous venue, it has to be the camaraderie among the dancers, choreographers and directors. It’s like a big family reunion! We get to see one another, support one another’s work and even plan future collaborations.”

What about SFMAF makes it unique in the San Francisco dance landscape?

Frederick Gaudette, Blue Scorpion Dance Theater: “It’s the best way to see so many different artists in one space and time. One would need to go out to a lot of shows in order to get exposed to this many different artistic ideas.”

Kiplinn Sagmiller: “One thing that makes SFMAF unique is the range of performers: age, background, discipline, some of whom are brand-new to performing and some who have been around for years.”

Marika Brussel: “There is no other dance festival here that hosts so many choreographers in such a unique space.”

Kelsey Morgaine: “SFMAF is a live art gallery—everywhere you turn, a new dance performance is taking place.”

Jan. 19

Grace Cathedral