The day Roberto Vega Ortiz put on his first pair of pointe shoes, he felt free.
“There was just something so liberating about being on your toes,” remembers the 25-year-old dancer, who stood out amongst his peers in Puerto Rico. Not only was he a boy training in ballet, but he was audacious enough to attempt dancing on his toes, a technique most commonly performed by women.
While learning to dance on one’s toes is a typical rite of passage for almost any seriously studious aspiring ballerina, the practice is much less common for male dancers, who are typically trained to lift, spin and partner their typically lighter female counterparts tilting on tiptoe.
Now as Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Ballet22, Vega Ortiz wants to create a “safe space” for male, male-identifying and non-binary artists to genuinely express themselves en pointe, push the limits of the art form and enhance LGBTQ+ representation in ballet.
The Oakland-based dance company, which was founded during the pandemic and also specializes in breaking down traditional heteronormative gender roles in ballet by pairing men with men and non-binary artists in partnering, presents a mixed bill of classical and contemporary works at the Great Star Theater in Chinatown this weekend.
But don’t expect the wigs, heavy makeup or the comic antics of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a world-class ballet company, which grew out of the LGBTQ+ activism of the Stonewall Riots and whose dancers perform ballet parodies en pointe and in drag.
While Vega Ortiz is an alum of that company and appreciates the legacy that has come before him, the mission of Ballet22, he says, is to allow company members to dance authentically without the artifice of excessive costuming or comedy.
“We’re not imitating the old Russian ballerina that they try to emulate at Ballet Trockadero,” explains Vega Ortiz. “We’re not making weird jokes or being funny. … We’re actually dancing as our true selves and with real choreography that you would find at any other company.”
Ballet22 Co-Founder and Executive Director Theresa Knudson also observes that the company’s focus on male, male-identifying and non-binary artists not only normalizes nontraditional gender roles in ballet, but also allows for new choreographic possibilities. She compares the company’s emphasis on male-with-male partnering to the creation of new color combinations on canvas.
“We’re really creating a space that allows for choreography to be created that would never be created before,” she says.
“Adding the pointe shoes…really is a new tool,” emphasizes Vega Ortiz. “You’re adding another color, you’re adding another instrument, and then you can create new stuff that could not be [performed] before.”
— Christina Campodonico
The Great Star Theater, Chinatown
Friday-Sunday, Feb. 25-27, 7 p.m. | $20+
Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St.
Thursday, Feb. 24 – March 5 | $25
Valentine’s Day may be over, but you can still get in the mood with HUMP!, a festival of indie erotic film shorts that’s been shaking up how America thinks about on-screen sex since 2005. The lineup is curated by sexpert and advice columnist Dan Savage—who some may have first discovered in the pages of SF Weekly (RIP)—and features a full spectrum of porn styles, from high-concept hardcore to comedic sexcapades to musical fantasies. The film festival also celebrates all body types, ages, genders, skin colors, kinks and sexual oritentations with a playful, sex-positive vibe. (CC)
Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St.
Thursday, Feb. 24, 6:30 p.m. | Free
Before the month is out, be sure to stop by Grace Cathedral’s display of digital artwork on the facade of the church. Each month’s show centers on a social justice theme and February’s honors Black History Month with projected portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama, Lil Nas X, Malcolm X and more inspirational Black leaders. Michelle Gottlieb Regenbogen, founder of the SF-based strategic design studio Macchiato, curates the display and onlookers may recognize work by artists from the nonprofit design lab Amplifier, whose campaigns have been the face of Women’s Marches in recent years and the March for Our Lives. Italian sculptor Paolo Ottone’s Cristo Velato, or Veiled Christ, carved from a precious block of Carrara marble and inspired by the original Veiled Christ in Naples Sanservo Chapel, is also on display at the cathedral. If you’re in that neck of the woods already, take a moment to ponder the way the light reflects off the marble’s sinous contours. Admission is free, so it’s far cheaper than a trip to Italy. (CC)
SOMArts, 934 Brannan St.
Thursday-Sunday, Various Times | Free
SOMArts’ first solo exhibition in over a decade highlights Oakland-based sculpture artists Angela Hennessy. Focusing on Hennessy’s sculptures—mostly made from hair—the exhibition explores death, mythology and African diasporic traditions. Seeing Hennessy’s work conjures the sensation of sharing space with the departed. Her sculptures possess a presence that looms in powerful and unsettling ways. It’s no wonder: Hennessy survived a gunshot wound in 2015 and works as a hospice volunteer, both experiences that directly inform her practice, which also includes teaching workshops on how we mediate the boundary between the world of the living and the dead. It runs Thursday-Friday, from 3 p.m.-7:30 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. (MB)
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St.
Friday, Feb. 25, 7 p.m. | $46
The Guardian describes The War on Drugs’ latest album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore as the perfect soundtrack “for cruising down never-ending highways.” They were once famously derided for producing “beer commercial rock,” perhaps on account of their penchant for crafting contagious arena Americana anthems. Whatever… haters gonna hate. Plus, what’s not to love about Tunnel of Love-era Bruce Springsteen? San Franciscans won’t have to make their way to Route 66 to catch the smooth synths, thundering snares and Grand Canyon guitars of this Philadelphia outfit. They just need to make it to the Bill Graham Civic on Friday. (CC)
All Good Pizza, 1605 Jerrold Ave.
Friday, Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m. | Free
Fifty years ago, personal, domestic and international turmoil provided the inspiration for Marvin Gaye’s hit song, “What’s Going On,” and the album of the same name. The lyrics of the tune deal with the shift in his brother Frankie’s attitude after returning from Vietnam in the ’70s and seeing his community in shambles—eroded by drug use, poverty and racial tensions. The album’s themes remain resonant to this day, as they are reflected in the most significant challenges and divisions we continue to face as a society. This Friday, in honor of the album and its impact, businesses from the Bayview will come together at All Good Pizza for a special evening celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark record. Expect art, conversation, food, glassblowing and a special live music set by Martin Luther McCoy. (MM)
John’s Grill, 63 Ellis St.
Saturday, Feb. 26, 3:00 PM | Free
Can you imagine San Francisco without its iconic cable cars? It came close to happening in 1947, when Mayor Roger Lapham proposed the closure of two Powell Street cable car lines. The cars were rescued thanks to an opposition campaign organized by a man named Friedel Klussman, who gathered tens of thousands of signatures to stop the removal of our beloved pulley-powered trolleys. Since then, the city’s cable cars have boosted the economy by attracting tourists and made cameos in many movies—all while continuing to move everyday San Franciscans around town. The Union Square Alliance will host a festive ride with food and shopping on Saturday to commemorate the historical significance of San Francisco’s Cable Cars. The festivities begin at 3 p.m. at John’s Grill, followed by a ride from the Powell Street turnaround to the Buena Vista Cafe. (MM)
Cafe Alma, 888 Innes Ave.
Saturday, Feb. 26, 2 p.m. | Free
Art enthusiasts take note: This Saturday, “purchase Black” with Black on Point and the Hunters Point Shipyard Artists. The event commemorates Black History Month with works by 10 Black Shipyard Artists. Afatasi the Artist is a San Francisco native known for painting murals on small businesses in Hunters Point. She also worked on the Mothers of Gynecology traveling exhibit and the Monumental Reckoning Sculptures in Golden Gate Park. Come for the inspiration and stay for the food and refreshments. (MM)
Visitacion Valley Playground, 263 Leland Ave.
Saturday, Feb. 25, 11 a.m. | Free
This month, San Francisco is busy celebrating both Black History Month and the Lunar New Year. On Saturday, Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton will bring the city’s Chinese and Black communies together with a joint celebration at the Visitacion Valley Playground, located in District 10, which Walton represents. Highlights include cross-ethnic community performances celebrating Black History and Chinese culture. (HL)
Southern Exposure, 3030 20th St.
By Appointment | Free
In this show, Cristóbal Martínez offers two soundscapes inspired by his childhood memories of the high desert of North Central New Mexico. The pieces are meant to trace the changes in the ecosystem caused by human activity. One of the immersive environments uses generative computer algorithms to infinitely layer and shift sounds through multiple channels, illustrating the change that has come over the once sonically vibrant landscape as native species diminish over time, simultaneously transporting visitors and reminding them of the role they play in their own ecology. A performance by the synth duo Red Culebra (Martínez and Guillermo Galindo) will take place on Friday at 7 p.m. at Southern Exposure. (MB)
Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Chenery St.
Sunday, Feb. 27, 5 p.m. | $20
Pianist, composer and shamisen player Glenn Horiuchi (1955-2000) played a central role in the rise of the politically-charged Asian-American jazz movement of the 1980s, and his closest creative allies reconvene every few years to celebrate his life and legacy on his birthday. The collective known as Purple Gums brings together San Francisco tenor saxophonist Francis Wong, a fellow Asian American jazz pioneer, with poet Genny Lim, tuba maestro William Roper and 87-year-old Los Angeles cornetist Bobby Bradford, an avant-garde jazz patriarch best known for his extended collaborations with Ornette Coleman and clarinetist John Carter. The event, dubbed “Zen of Glenn” is sure to be both righteous and melodically adventurous, as Horiuchi’s music has lost none of its potency. (AG)
Center for New Music, 55 Taylor St.
Sunday, Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m. | $15
The prolific and prodigious New York alto saxophonist/composer Tim Berne has covered a lot of ground since the mid-1970s, collaborating with a broad swath of jazz’s most earthy and innovative improvisers. In the years before the pandemic he played several memorable reed-centric Bay Area gigs with his band Snakeoil and the collective quartet Broken Shadows, which explores tunes by Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman. His fire-and-water duo with guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi, a player who knows the value of space, represents a fascinating new development, judging by their recent releases on Berne’s Screwgun Records. Acoustic guitarist Gordon Grdina, a Juno Award-winning jazz musician from Vancouver, shares the bill. (AG)
The Standard Staff can be reached at [email protected]