A passenger in a car stuck in traffic on Bush Street Sunday morning rolled down her window to ask Maura Devereux about the throng of people gathering outside One Bush Plaza.
Deveraux explained that she and the rest of the crowd swaddled in stylishly comfortable jackets and carrying umbrellas were there for the weekend's 20th annual San Francisco Trolley Dances as put on by the Epiphany Dance Theater. Then she turned back to the sign-in line and smiled at her memories.
"This is not my first time," she said. "Oh, they've been wonderful. There's such a great variety of acts. There's such a great variety of dance styles, different music and different cultures. They've been wonderful every time."
Indeed, not even the rainy weather could dampen the festive vibe of the performances in venues Downtown and along the Embarcadero.
San Francisco resident Lisa Lozo warmly recalled attending her first Trolley Dances event in 2014 with her son's third-grade class. "It was just really so great," she said. "The dancers were great. The setup was fantastic."
The event uses trolleys and the city itself as a movable stage.
"It's very unique. It's very, very San Francisco," said Lozo. "I've never seen anything quite like this."
The event ferries audience members along a transit route, taking them to outdoor venues where dancers and musicians perform choreographed works, adding in elements of street theater and found art.
At One Bush Plaza, host Dustin Benke told the audience he would walk them from the plaza to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco before bringing them to an open-canopy big bus. "So if you've never been on one, today's your opportunity to be a tourist in your own city!" he said.
Dancers from the Nava Dance Theatre launched into "Allowing Joy," a delicate, deftly executed excerpt from "Rogue Gestures/Foreign Bodies," described in the program as "inspired by the labor and migration experiences of South Asian women who arrived to work as nurses after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act."
A few steps away, the audience gathered by the Battery Bridge to take in the Blind Tiger Society's vibrant take on "Let's Go," which was inspired "by the bustling commute and curious ways each walk of life moves through our city."
Benke led audience members along Market Street, pointing out puddles to avoid and landmarks like the Mechanics Monument Plaza before entering a first-floor room at the Hyatt Regency hotel. There, before introducing her work "Sleep Dances," featuring live lap steel guitar alongside a quartet of dancers from the San Diego Dance Theater, Jean Isaacs recalled the theater's work with San Diego's public transit system on that city's annual San Diego Trolley Dances program.
From there, the audience boarded a bus that threaded through the Financial District and over to Pier 15, letting people out into the lobby of the Exploratorium, where a troupe of Kinetech Arts dancers was already performing alongside several inflated gray, human-shaped balloons.
Soon after, the audience filed into the Kanbar Forum, where people watched "Aurum (Act III)," a work described as inspired by past and present "gold rushes," drawing on themes of "labor, migration, immigration and artificial intelligence." Against a darkened backdrop, the dancers displayed trembling footwork to fractured teletype rhythms under eerie green lighting that recalled primitive animations on early computer terminals.
Outside the theater, dancers with Jennifer Perfilio Movement Works put on "Accumulated Tuning: 14 Phases in the Regeneration of the Human Body," leading the audience through the Exploratorium's "human phenomenon" gallery among the hubbub of a Sunday audience of families and tourists trying out the interactive exhibits at the city's famous museum of science art and human perception.
Perfilio described her piece as "really the intersection of performative and non-performative occurrences in an active and open museum space."
"It's a big open museum, and if we need you to open up the space at any point, we'll just ask," she added.
At that performance's end, the audience boarded a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency bus for the short ride to Fisherman's Wharf.
Aboard the bus, Oakland resident Phoebe Weiss sat underneath a poster advertising the Trolley Dances.
"The last one, there was like a little toddler that wandered into the dance," she said.
At Fisherman’s Wharf, audience members joined tourists in taking in the Mission District's mighty Loco Bloco troupe of drummers, singers and dancers, whose "O Amor Verdadeiro E Eterno" turned a stretch of open concrete at Crab Wheel Plaza into a racuous vortex of strutting rhythmic joy and power. After several group and individual promenades, the dancers plucked several members out of the audience to sway and shimmy alongside them.
Soon after, audience members closed out the afternoon watching the Epiphany Dance Theater's plangent and poignant "Pagine nel vento (Pages in the Wind)," accompanied by Jonah's Lift.
Outside the Fishermen's and Seamen's Chapel, musicians played accordion, guitars, tambourines and drums as dancers wheeled and soared along railings and rain-soaked pier planks. Overhead, seagulls floated slowly among light waves of rain.
George Kelly can be reached at email@example.com