SAN DIEGO — Sushi gallery will push the edge of its performance envelope more than ever before with Neofest, its annual monthlong annual festival of new arts, beginning with a multidisciplinary work dubbed "Games," to take off at 8 p.m. Sunday on the new Lyceum Space stage in Horton Plaza.
Performed by a cast of eight, "Games" offers visual, aural and movement counterparts to a series of poems by Yugoslav writer Vasko Popa. The attempt is to strike a balance between the playfulness and grimness of Popa's images, which are rooted in Yugoslav folklore. "Games" is a collaboration of Los Angeles choreographer Gilberte Meunier, composer Miroslav Tadic and visual artist Julie Keller.
Sushi director Lynn Schuette has doubled the budget for this year's festival, to $40,000 (which includes an $8,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts). "Over the years, certain events in Neofest have sold out," Schuette said. "We wanted to accommodate audiences better, plus artists' fees are higher," requiring halls with more seating.
Neofest acts will appear at the 500-seat Sherwood Auditorium at La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art; the San Diego Repertory Theatre's 6th Avenue Playhouse and the new Lyceum Space, both 200-seat venues, and at Sushi, 852 8th Ave., which seats 100.
Before closing June 27 with a contemporary silent film accompanied by live country music, the expanded festival will present 14 performances at four locations around San Diego by artists from Mexico City, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego.
Neofest is getting a reputation as the place to see new arts pieces that may gain national prominence. Those who attended last year may have seen a series of monologues by Eric Bogosian before he took the show on to fame and fortune on Broadway.
(Only one of three sites where the act played before going to Broadway, Sushi received credit in Bogosian's Broadway program for its part in developing his act.)
Dancer Judith Ren-Lay received a Bessie award from New York's Dance Theater Workshop for "The Grandfather Tapes" after the piece's West Coast premiere in San Diego.
Although Sushi is San Diego's only regular venue for performance art, its national reputation has allowed Schuette to sign such acts as Bogosian and dancer-performance artist Tim Miller. Neither will appear in Neofest this year.
But performing in spaces larger than the tiny Sushi studio will accommodate acts such as "Games" and performances by Ma Fish, Ethyl Eichelberger and Rikky George.
Ma Fish, short for Margaret Fisher, a Bay Area performance artist with an international reputation, will produce two works in Sherwood Auditorium. "The True and False Occult" and "War Nerves," an interdisciplinary work based on a poem by Ezra Pound, will be presented in association with the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. With music by Fisher's collaborator, composer Robert Hughes, these works include slides, poetry and dance.
"Neofest always brings us a new audience," said Schuette. "We have a diverse audience to begin with, but Neofest has a higher profile. It's a chance to develop our audience more and educate it. A woman just called who was happy about the dance pieces, but she bought the full series. She'll see a lot more than dance."
Dance, however, at Sushi is not the American Ballet Theatre or even Martha Graham or Twyla Tharp. The Neofest dance performers generally are conceptually oriented. They focus on the impulses behind a series of movements rather than on dance as pantomime or even as pure movement.
The four-member Mexico City dance/theater troupe, El Cuerpo Mutable (The Changeable Body) in its American debut will present "The Morning After," in which body movements rather than the voice are the language.
"It's about relationships in a completely decadent society," Schuette said of "Morning." But people who come expecting an American approach to dance will be disappointed. "It's not athletic. There are no lifts. It's more related to European cinema, like a Luis Bunuel movie," she said.