Amara Tabor-Smith knows how to throw a party. I know this because I’ve taken her dance classes at Rhythm and Motion, housed now at the ODC Dance Commons in San Francisco, for almost 20 years. It might be early in the morning but there’s a feel-good groove going on in that dance studio. The Oakland-based choreographer and performer has created a tight community, it’s a bit like going to church, if church is a place where you shake your booty, swivel your hips, and stamp your feet. Tabor-Smith’s energy, spirit, and modern dance moves have inspired legions of fans.
In the past year or so we’ve discovered a mutual interest in food. Tabor-Smith has hosted food parties and events, including “Visceral Feast” at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley and “Fresh From the Oven” at the Tenderloin National Forest in San Francisco, as she workshops a performance piece about food traditions inspired by her mother’s family gumbo tradition, and recent trips to New Orleans, Senegal, and Congo (find more details on her blog.)
The event, dubbed an Eat-In, kicked off with a three-block Second Line featuring authenticly festive NOLA beats by MJ’s Brass Boppers. The Second Line started at the corner of 8th and Mission Streets and snaked its way to CounterPULSE, a non-profit performance space for emerging artists and cultural innovators where Tabor-Smith is currently an artist-in-residence.
The meal was pot-luck and appropriately home-style. Rice, beans, salad, and Tabor-Smith’s trademark Jamaican-style Coconut Cornbread, which features buttermilk and shredded coconut, accompanied her Recession Roots Stew. A fellow dance student, Claire Bobrow, had whipped up a pile of crepes in honor of Fat Tuesday and adults and children were happily slathering them with Nutella.
Among the attendees spreading the gospel of good food: Nikki Henderson, executive director of People’s Grocery, and Dannae Washington, who helps runs the West Oakland food justice and education group’s Grub Box program. Also on hand: Chef Bryant Terry, author of Vegan Soul Kitchen and co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, whom Tabor-Smith collaborated with on “Visceral Feast.” Chowing down in the crowd: Students from Mission High School and Pie Ranch youth worker Mary Ann Brooks, who helps these teens make healthy connections within the food system.
The Eat-In was part of a series of food-focused meet-ups culminating in a performance piece at CounterPULSE in April called “Our Daily Bread,” a collaboration between Tabor-Smith’s Deep Waters Dance Theater, director Ellen Sebastian Chang, and visual artist Lauren Elder.
“Our Daily Bread” is billed as a program of dance, text, and video that examines food traditions and how they’re linked to cultural identity — and impacted by industrialized agriculture, fast food culture, and the global food crisis. How do you, for instance, recreate your mother’s gumbo when fish stocks are threatened and some species contain dangerously high levels of toxins?
And the thinking behind the community gatherings leading up to the performance premiere?
“These events are about sharing food, coming together, cooking together, and eating together, which is something most of us don’t do enough of these days,” says Tabor-Smith, who also teaches at UC Berkeley. “We’re at a time when food has been exotified and people focus on restaurant dining. But there’s nothing more beautiful than sharing a home-cooked meal together.”
Our Daily Bread
April 14-24, Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.
1310 Mission Street
Tickets $15-22 available at Brown Paper Tickets.
Scenes from the upcoming performance piece exploring food, “Our Daily Bread” features dancer Amara Tabor-Smith. Photos: Ana Teresa Fernandez, courtesy of CounterPULSE.
This post originally appeared on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.
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