More than 40 years after Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit premiered on Broadway the world still has a lot to learn about the young Mexican-American women who forged an audacious new culture in the streets of World War II-era East Los Angeles.
While the hit play and Valdez’s 1981 film based on the innovative production broke new ground in introducing the world to pachucos, the focus stayed squarely on the men and their jazz cat-inspired style. Choreographer Vanessa Sanchez and her percussive all-women dance company La Mezcla widen the lens with Pachuquísmo, a pandemic-delayed production that premieres at Brava For Women in the Arts Saturday and Sunday, March 26-27.
Decked out in the dramatic makeup, hairstyles and outfits that defined the pachuca aesthetic, the singular Mission District dance troupe celebrates the overlooked legacy of the Chicanas who became fodder for sensationalist newspapers during the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots. Combining jazz-inflected rhythms of tap with the percussive zapateado footwork of Veracruz’s son jarocho, the company’s moves echo the cultural translation sparked by the proximity of Mexican-American and Black Angelenos.
“These dance styles, tap and son jorocho, share African diaspora roots,” Sanchez said. “Veracruz had a lot of enslaved Africans come through. And Chicano culture is really rooted in the African-American experience. The zoot suits were adopted from the African-American dance scene.”
Sanchez founded La Mezcla while searching for a creative outlet that felt consonant with her identity after years immersed in an array of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Brazilian dance traditions. Delving more deeply into her Mexican heritage, she spent several years studying dance in Veracruz, focusing on the intricate, percussive footwork, or zapateado, that dancers perform on a wooden platform as part of son jarocho. The folkloric New World tradition emerged when West Africans were brought to the Gulf of Mexico port as slaves for the Spanish Empire’s sugarcane plantations.
Before the pandemic, La Mezcla often struggled to find a niche because Sanchez has forged a style that doesn’t fit easily into the dance world’s dominant categories. Fueled by cultural fusions, the company is too idiosyncratic for folkloric festivals and is too traditional for modern dance events. But Sanchez seems to be wiggling out of the betwixt-and-between dilemma.
While several previous plans to present Pachuquísmo fell victim to the pandemic, La Mezcla still managed to break through to a wider audience when it was featured on KQED Art’s award-winning video series If Cities Could Dance. The piece captures the troupe performing excerpts from Pachuquísmo amidst iconic Mission murals and landmarks. After the Brava run the company is gearing up for a big year, including their debut appearance in August performing selections from Pachuquísmo with a live band at the storied dance festival in the Berkshires, Jacob’s Pillow.
For this weekend’s premiere the company also presents “Ghostly Labor: A Dance Film,” a short piece exploring Sanchez’s work in progress. Filmed on a farm with support from Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, the dance celebrates the workers whose toil feeds the nation.
— Andrew Gilbert
Presented by Vanessa Sanchez & La Mezcla
Brava For Women In the Arts, 2781 24th St.
Saturday-Sunday, March 26-27, 7:30 p.m. | $22+
20th St. and Illinois St. at Pier 70
The signs are everywhere. After two years as one of the most Covid-cautious cities in the country, San Franciscans are finally feeling comfortable taking off their pajamas and reintegrating into society. Those who are venturing back out are finding that there are a bevy of new places to see and be seen. New bars, rebranded clubs, rooftop restaurants and, um… Restoration Hardware. The tony home furnishing chain has just opened its newest location in the former Bethlehem Steel building, which the company has been renovating since purchasing the space back in 2016. Featuring five showroom floors and a restaurant on Pier 70, the store’s grand opening soiree was covered by Vogue and boasted an impressive guest list of A-listers, including Ellen DeGeneres, Jessica Alba and Steve Kerr. (NV)
701 Mission St.
Friday, March 25, 7 p.m. | Free with Cash Bar for 21+
Many arts institutions have been in hibernation since the onset of Covid, but Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is “reawakening” with a grand reopening celebration featuring food, drinks, dancing, live music and art activations. The event kicks off with a blessing ceremony by Galeria de la Raza in honor of the group’s new exhibition Pedagogy of Hope: Uncage, Reunify, Heal, a textile and photographic survey of the 100-day national campaign known as The Caravan that demanded the release and reunification of migrant children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Artist Caleb Duarte’s art installation on the exterior of YBCA, The Monument as Living Memory—which took on many iterations as an evolving canvas during the pandemic—also comes to life with a performance by the artist and students from Fremont High School. (CJC)
1 Avenue of the Palms
Saturdays, 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
Last weekend’s Saturday showers made for a less-than-ideal official first day at the new Woods Island Club. Then again, the San Francisco-born brewery has always enjoyed a challenge. Founded by Jim Woods in 2012, the beermaker has garnered a reputation for thinking outside the box. One of their most innovative brews was both unconventional and painfully obvious: The Fernando, an “herbal ale,” was inspired by the city’s love of fernet. The forecast for this Saturday is currently promising better day-drinking weather. Though the new TI location may not have an imported beach like the former Woods outpost did, it does boast a “they don’t build ’em like they used to” vibe. Enjoy a MateVeza IPA or Morpho—both brewed with yerba mate—outside of the Navy Administrative Building on the west side of the island, just a short jaunt from where the recently launched ferry disembarks. (NV)
2236 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Starline Social Club, Oakland
Saturday, March 26, 8 p.m. | $22.50
This Los Angeles-based artist collective has been making campy psychedelic comedy videos from the dregs of “media vomit” scoured from thrift store video tapes since the early 2000s. They apparently have plans to build a pyramid dedicated to Jerry Macguire VHS tapes in the middle of the desert. Fortunately, you don’t have to drive all the way to the group’s whimsical storefront in East LA or prospective monument site in the Southern California desert to see their hilarious and bizarre videos. Everything is Terrible! brings their quirky melange of remixed videos and live performance to Oakland’s Starline Social Club, and it’s well worth the trip over the bridge. (CJC)
201 Van Ness, Davies Symphony Hall
Friday-Saturday, March 25-26, 9 p.m. | $65+
Step into the backstage of Davies Symphony Hall for this experimental late-night music series and lab exploring the cutting edge of new music. This weekend’s performance features music curated by boundary-breaking composer, percussionist, pianist and trombonist Tyshawn Sorey whose music hovers between classical and jazz. Expect these genre-defying sounds to bounce around SoundBox’s nightclub-like setting, shape shifting stage settings and custom audiovisual elements for which the venue has become known. Another special treat? The lineup features two of Sorey’s works, one of which he’ll perform live on piano—though the exact pieces are a surprise! (CJC)
1015 Folsom, 1015 Folsom St.
Sunday, March 27, 8 p.m. | $35
Producer and multi-instrumentalist Simon Green, better known to his fans as Bonobo, has been making heady electronic music for more than 20 years now. Like San Francisco’s very own Tycho, Bonobo is known for putting on a big show—stepping out from behind his samplers, MIDI pads and Abelton Live controllers, and performing with a live band. For this show, however, Green will be back behind the ones and twos for a DJ set. (NV)
Save The Date: The Week Ahead
1 Warriors Way, Chase Center
Tuesday, March 29, 7:30 p.m. | Sold Out
After having to cancel her “Where Do We Go?” world tour at due to Covid, electropop phenom Billie Eilish finally brings the sounds of her sophomore album made during the pandemic, Happier Than Ever, to Chase Center. Whereas Eilish’s Grammy-winning debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? explored with the wild, bigger-than-life emotions of a teenagehood and the dark corners of mental health, addiction and self-harm over driving and minimalist pop beats, Happier Than Ever has the world-weary sound of a slightly more jaded young adult and pop star, laced with retro references to bossa nova and 1950s jazz vocalists. The soothing balminess of Eilish’s breathy vocals whisper wisdom beyond her years. The show is technically sold out, but tickets are available on the secondary market. (CJC)
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