Dear San Francisco
Shana Carroll & Gypsy Snider, Co-Creators
A Production of The 7 Fingers at Club Fugazi
San Francisco’s Club Fugazi is personally for me a sacred space where many memories were created during the more than twenty-five times I attended what became the world’s longest-running cabaret show during its forty-five-year history, Beach Blanket Babylon. Returning for the first time since the December 31, 2019, closing of Snow White’s tour of the world to find her Prince Charming, I am pleased to report that the successor, The 7 Fingers’ Dear San Francisco, is exactly the kind of eye-popping, heart-warming love letter to our Baghdad by the Bay that I am sure all the ghosts of past BBB shows would so whole-heartedly approve.
Co-created by choreographic superstars Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider, Dear San Francisco is ninety-minutes of breath-taking, heart-pumping acrobatics; aerial exhibitions; vaulting bodies; juggling of balls, hats, and umbrellas; hula hooping and hoop diving; and so much more. But what makes this intimate-spaced circus San-Francisco-special is also the music, poetry, shadow plays, vintage videos, and recreated City scenes that collectively become a loving postcard to the City by the Bay, its diverse peoples, and its history of time and again rising from disasters into new and even better horizons.
As the extravaganza of incredible circus artistry unfolds even amidst the on-stage and in-arena audience, a collage of San Francisco history comes to life all around us – from earthquakes to beat poetry to film noir to high tech. And scattered throughout are the actual words that current audience member have written on “Dear San Francisco” postcards to reveal why this City means so much to them, each read lovingly by various cast members.
The Cirque du Soleil roots of the show’s founding group, The 7 Fingers, are evident in the highly choreographed, beautifully flowing movement of the nine cast members. The first series of stirring, often stunning stunts by the entire cast is a kind of ongoing, acrobatic dance of bodies flipping and falling, twisting and turning, climbing and collapsing – all occurring around, on, over, under, and through each other’s arms and legs. What will not be the only time of the evening, a body flies suddenly through the air to be caught at the last possible second before disaster. Three bodies connect vertically to become a City high rise while the set ends with bodies forming the kind of steep hill natives must walk every day, with one member climbing to become what could be taken as a human Sutro Tower.
As ashes fall from the sky on passers-by reading newspapers – all reminiscent of the day the sky turned orange from fires to the north of the City – Chloe Somers Walier spins a hula-hoop around her body, adding first one than another and another of the white hoops that spin sometimes in the same, sometimes in altering directions from all parts of a body that poses in every sort of position. Hoops do not stop spinning as she climbs on a cast member’s shoulders to stroll down the aisle high above gaping audience members. In the end, eight or nine (I lost count) hoops furiously travel in their orbs.
Hoops play a big part in a later segment that begins by paying tribute to the nearby, historic City Lights Bookstore. As members recite lines from poets associated with San Francisco – many of whom like Alan Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac read their creations in City Lights during the beat-poetry days of the ‘50s and beyond – a single hoop slowly and continuously rotates and rises foot-by-foot in the next few minutes from ground level to a height much taller than a person stands. With moves full body prone as well as sideways, frontwards, and even backwards, numerous cast members jump through the moving hoop (including Devin Henderson, Maya Kesselman, Dominic Cruz, and others). As the height increases and the initial runway becomes longer for the flying acrobat to launch, the eventual landings come shockingly close to the edge of the stage, startling the first-row audience only inches away.
Projecting their bodies through the air is quite the theme for these highly skilled artisans of circus antics. When Sereno Aguilar Izzo and Devin Henderson begin a sensually portrayed trapeze act as other couples pair and separate below, their bodies intertwine and hang off each other far above us. They give way to other couplings, with at one point two women on the trapeze catching a third who is shot up from below by a cannon of cast arms. The couplings continue as strength and poise are combined with daring on the high swing. In the end, a San Francisco scene of loving couples of same and different sexes, races, and nationalities walk off together in the fading light of day.
This international, mixed race cast often masterfully showcases acts traditional to other parts of the world. Two Chinese poles become the vertical playgrounds for numerous members to climb in every way imaginable (and in some, unimaginable) and then often to fall within inches of a broken neck, all the while the pill-popping, psychedelic days of SF’s summer of love plays out around them. Shengnan Pan and Enmeng Song demonstrate thrilling, mind-boggling spinning and tossing – including the entire length of the Fugazi – of the Ming Dynasty originating diabolo, an ancient version of a yo-yo. Shengnan Pan also amazes the audience as she foot-juggles one, then two, and finally three Japanese fans while Enmeng Song later juggles flying hats on and off his head.
As a detective in a dark and mysterious scene that could be from any of a number of past, SF-based film noirs, Sereno Aguilar Izzo sends three, four, five, and then six balls streaming through the air in a fabulous flurry of juggling mastery. And following an eerie prediction of what the next Big One may feel and sound like as bodies fall, flipp, and fold into and out of piles, Kyran Walton demonstrates that symbol of San Francisco, the Phoenix, in a sublime yet astounding showing of sheer strength and ballet-like grace as he balances on a short, raised pole in poses that are photographic ready and muscle popping.
Original music composed by Colin Gagné captures the times and the moods of each San Francisco scene. Jake Rodriguez designed the sound that shakes our bones during the earthquake and ensures we hear clearly lyrics, poems, and words from postcards. The lighting of Christine Cochran and David Lynch create that associated with rainy streets, days in the parks, and nights of fog as well as highlight with amazing accuracy of the latest jump, fall, or other feat that we must not miss seeing. Keiko Shimosato Carreiro’s array of costumes serve their utilitarian function for these varied acts of circus as well as provide flavors of the life and times of San Francisco, now and in the past.
While Dear San Francisco is the perfect place for that special celebration or for bringing those guests from Back East, Dear San Francisco is also a must-see for all of us who treasure the City, its uniqueness, its diversity, and its love of the performing arts of every sort. Somehow, I missed the initial 420 performances; but I can guarantee you, I will return to this new San Francisco treasure long before the next 420 evenings of sheer, spectacular entertainment.
Rating: 5 E, MUST-SEE
The 7 Fingers’ Dear San Francisco currently is set to run Wednesdays through Sundays through July 30, 2023, at Club Fugazi, 678 Green Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at http://clubfugazisf.com.