A Live Mashup
Esalen Arts Festival gives meaning to diversity.
Thursday, July 6, 2006
A Tibetan monk stomps to the echoes of drums pounded by an African dance troupe. A child discovers the art of beat-boxing from seasoned a cappella performers. This confusion of art forms, ages, and cultures may seem impossible, but Jayson Fann has found one of the only places on the planet where this vision could come to fruition, and this year he ups the stakes.
The Esalen Institute has served as the backdrop for this year’s International Arts Festival, a five-day event that culminates in a rare public performance at Esalen on Thursday, July 6, and a visit to Monterey’s Golden State Theatre on Friday, July 7.
More than 100 artists have congregated at the Big Sur retreat to share their work and raise funds for Esalen programs. As Sunshine Becker, one of five that make up the a cappella group SoVoSo, says, “We’re coming together to see how we can blow each other away.”
Four hundred viewers will also be blown away, if not by the worldly ventures of Becker’s group, then from the crumping, clowning, and hip-hop dancing of 16 Los Angeles based dancers featured in recent films like Rize and You Got Served.
Fann commissioned Tommy the Clown to come up with this dance troupe, ages ranging from 4 to 40, to grace one of the festival’s multiple stages during the eight hours of performance on Thursday, July 6.
Tommy, the originator of clown dancing from which “crumping” and other forms of hyper-speed, animalistic, hip-hop infused movement grew, won’t be attending the festival himself. But he is sending his second-in-command, Kool-Aide the Clown, to lead the troupe and their families in what Fann calls, “a whole exodus from LA to here.”
Youth gospel singers from San Francisco will meet the Los Angeles team and, according to Fann, they can’t wait to try their hands—and feet—at a dance battle on stage.
The meeting of forces from San Francisco and Los Angeles reflects the theme Fann set out to create. An archer will shoot “The Arrow of Intention,” a symbol of the mingling of cultures throughout the festival, at the end of the week.
The mission of the event is for everyone to come together in a collective prayer of intention as the arrow glides into the ocean. Fann adds that the point is not just to gather groups and call it diversity. “It’s to bring these people together so that they have the opportunity to interact,” he says.
Fann does draw a diverse crowd. Thursday, a Native-American chief, Sonne Reyna, serves as a master of ceremonies while Babatunde Jimmi Gureje offers Nigerian fashion from 100 years ago to the contemporary. Tandy Beal presents a performance of acrobatics and stilts in her Jump for Joy circus before heading to the Golden State Theatre to direct her Song Circus on Friday. Bob Wisdom, recently in the film Ray, appears to direct an improvisational acting workshop. And SoVoSo arrives from Oakland to perform a non-doo-wop, original palette of a cappella tunes. The five-person sound of SoVoSo could be confused for any top-40 band because each member takes on a role as a vocal percussionist, bass player, or lead singer. Sovoso does not decide on its program of music until after the sound check, just before they go on, and they often improvise from there.
Along with many of the main stage performers, they offer workshops throughout the week, “open to anyone who has a voice,” says Becker. She says attending the workshop will be like being in the show.
THE ESALEN INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL wraps up Thursday, July 6, from 2-10pm at Esalen Institute, 55000 Highway 1, Big Sur $65/person. 667-3005. A special encore program happens Friday, July 7, with a 6pm reception and 7:30pm performance at Golden State Theater, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $35/adults; $15/children under 12; $100/ special reception seats. 415-392-4400 or cityboxoffice.com.