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San Francisco

'Precarious:' Hope Mohr Dance Explores Role of Labor In Changing City

Through a series of performances commemorating local artists and laborers losing their place in San Francisco, Hope Mohr Dance is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year in June.

"Precarious" is a blend of a site-specific performance and studio work, with separate acts taking place during a walking tour through SoMa, rich with labor history, and a longer piece at CounterPulse Theater in the heart of the Tenderloin.

The performances focus on the body at work, and the differences between labor of the past and how most work is done today.

Photo: Klockars Blacksmith & Metal/Facebook

The anniversary comes at a time when Mohr herself is navigating displacement in a changing city. Last year, Mohr was developing a site-specific performance for Klockars Blacksmith and Metal Works. Tracy Taylor Grubbs, whose work will also be displayed at CounterPulse, lost her studio space at the shop that she had held for eight years.

The 1906 shop where blacksmith Tony Rossellini worked for forty-five years is a small wooden building now surrounded by skyscrapers. The building is owned by Edna—Edwin Klockars' daughter and Rossellini's ex-wife—and Rossellini's grandson intends to turn it into a marijuana dispensary. Grubbs, who had a month-to-month lease, was asked by the landlord to leave the day after the 2016 election, when recreational marijuana was legalized in California.

"Precarious I" performer at Klockars | Photo: Margo Mortiz

After losing the use of the shop as a venue, Mohr realized she needed to re-conceive the project. She was hosted a performance of "Precarious I" at Klockars in January, and the same dancers—four men and two women—have been working together since August 2016 as an ensemble.

While the dancers will be the same, Mohr’s concept of the upcoming performance is a “translation, not a recreation” of the prior work.

“Klockars had real hazards the dancers had to be aware of,” Mohr said. “It's dirty—the floor is literally dirt—and there are rusty, heavy machinery and tools scattered throughout.”

One of the conceptual themes Mohr intends to reflect on in "Precarious" is a certain kind of nostalgia for something that people didn’t actually have a relationship with. That nostalgia takes the audience back to the old days of San Francisco, when Klockars was a bustling blacksmithing operation in the midst of Rincon Hill's carriage trade, or even the more recent past, when artists could afford to thrive in the city.

Map of "Precarious!" Walking Tour. | Image: Lisa Ruth ElliotT

Mohr is working with Shaping San Francisco to create a walking tour that begins at Klockars and explores some of the more poignant labor history sites in the city.

With an an online portfolio of historical photos and stories about the city at FoundSF.org, the organization is dedicated to telling the stories in SF history that wouldn’t be included in textbooks: stories of ordinary people who made an impact through small decisions in their neighborhood, or the ways workers shaped the city, co-director Lisa Ruth Elliott told us.

The walking tour associated with "Precarious" builds off previous Shaping San Francisco’s walking tours, but also incorporates new material, including the initial stop at Klockars and a stop at the location of the Second Street Cut, where teams of men with picks and shovels filled carts pulled by horses to cut 87 feet in elevation off the hill on Second Street, Elliott said.

It also include performances by the Community Music Center Aquatic Park Older Adult Choir, directed by Beth Wilmurt.

Second Street before the cut in 1868. | Photo: California Historical Society

Standalone and package tickets are available on CounterPulse’s website. The walking tours will be held on Friday and Saturday afternoons, and performances of Precarious at CounterPulse will be at 8pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.


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