Published in KPBS On Air Magazine April 1991

What do spurting volcanic breasts, slave rape, the San Andreas fault , TV shtick and a female construction worker have in common?   (Freudians and psychotropic drug-users, please disqualify yourselves from this quiz). All make an appearance at Neofest IX, Sushi Gallery’s ninth annual Festival of the New Arts.

Sushi’s founder-director Lynn Schuette and Managing Director Vicki Wolf have chosen six new works from the wild outposts of dance and performance art.

This year’s Neofest sounds as provocative as last year’s, but less political.   And with the exception of one dance group, all the performers are women from New York .   “”The first eight years of Neofest, we were careful about geographic distribution,” says Schuette, “and we got some San Diego work in, too. After nine years, I like to shake it up. Maybe next year, it will be all California ,” she quips. “And after that, all white men from Minnesota !”

Schuette is addicted to change. But, much to her amazement, she’s stayed with Sushi, her innovative Eighth Avenue performance and visual arts gallery, for eleven years. The painter lived and worked in the 5000 square-foot space until 1986.   Then Vicki Wolf, a dance student at SDSU, signed on as typist. Her artistic vision meshed with Schuette’s, and she began to attract more dancers to Sushi.

Neofest IX, says Schuette, “opens and closes with hot dance.” The closing act, Ron Brown’s dance company, Evidence, was booked by Schuette sight-unseen.   “We always take risks,” she says. “I’m willing to trust my instincts. That’s what Sushi’s all about. Sometimes you have to curate with a leap of faith.”

Schuette’s instincts have brought her national attention in the world of performance art. She was the first on the West Coast to support Karen Finley, and she featured Tim Miller and Holly Hughes early in their careers. When those three controversial performance artists had their grants revoked from the National Endowment for the Arts last summer, Schuette immediately called them up and booked them for return visits to San Diego .

Said Holly Hughes during her third visit to Sushi, last December:   “Lynn Schuette is my favorite presenter. She was supporting multicultural work before it was a buzzword. Her arts organization is one of the few really class acts.”

It isn’t easy to grow as an institution and still stay flexible within an art form that changes by the minute. But Schuette is nothing if not receptive and open-minded.   A provocative photograph, excellent New York reviews and Wolf’s hearty recommendation convinced her to schedule the Ron Brown dance company for Neofest IX. The five dancers (one of whom, Terri Shipman, performed in San Diego for awhile with 3’s Company) are presenting the West Coast premiere of “Conversations in a Whisper” (May 16-18), which Wolf describes as “very athletic and physical, involving a lot of theatrics, not just movement.   It deals with victimization:   the dating game, rape, abortion, family matters. It has a stunning look.”

The opening Neofest dance performance is Donna Uchizono and Company, a group dedicated to “that point where the awkward becomes elegant.”   In the West Coast Premiere of “San Andreas,” the faultline is invoked as a metaphor for the risk, fragility and tension of our lives.

Sandwiched in-between the dance performances are the West Coast premiere of “Sally’s Rape and “Persimmon Peel,” montages of dialogue and scenario exploring the experiences of African-American women (April 18-20, co-sponsored by the African American Museum of Fine Arts and the Centro Cultural de la Raza), and the San Diego premiere of Dancenoise’s “Full Moon Show,” a wacky barrage of movement and message, concerning the idiocies of American culture (April 25-27).

Marty Pottenger, a construction worker for 17 years, presents “The Construction Stories,” a piece which combines onstage bricklaying with a builder’s-eye view of the beauty and brutality of the physical world (May 9-11).

One festival event (May 3-4) takes place at Sherwood Auditorium in the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art: noted performance artist Rachel Rosenthal, whose “Pangaean Dreams,” one of the highlights of last October’s Los Angeles Festival, uses images of tectonic plates to make powerful statements about coming apart and getting connected.

Once again, the backbone of Neofest’s $50,000 budget is provided by an NEA Inter-Arts grant ($9000, up $1500 from last year). The festival aim is to reach an expanded audience, while exposing San Diegans to “the range and richness of today’s dance and performance art.”   In the past ten years, says Schuette, “Artists have moved away from the notion of art for art’s sake.   They want to communicate with the audience.” It’s a lot easier in an intimate space like Sushi, and with an audience that performance artists consider to be one of the warmest and most supportive in the country.

“Neofest IX runs from April 11-May 18. For information, call 235-8466.”

©1991 Patté Productions Inc.