By Kendra Sitton | Editor
With go-go dancers, flared pants and even Don Vito Corleone walking around, someone looking in from F Street might have thought they’d stepped right back into the ’70s, which, of course, was exactly the point. On Saturday, April 20, the central patio of IDEA1 filled with people transformed: there was a gender-swapped Sonny and Cher, a man in disco pimp shoes who looked like he time-traveled from a dated club’s dance floor, and everyone was sporting the fashion of the ’70s. They were gathered for Vanguard Culture’s latest event in their Breakthrough series.
The quarterly spoken-word events are focused on one decade for each show, themed around catalytic moments in the history of art, fashion, music and pop culture. The series, curated by California poet laureate nominee Gill Sotu (who hosted the evening’s performances on April 20), fuels Vanguard Culture’s missions, which are dedicated to advancing San Diego’s creative industries. Their cutting-edge events feature collaborative efforts from visual, performing and culinary artists.
“We decided to highlight the Roaring ’20s, the ’70s and the ’90s because we found them to be some of the most compelling eras in modern history. We also found many uncanny similarities to current events that we thought would be worth bringing attention to, through spoken word, live music, and visual arts. Our final ‘Breakthrough: The Future’ will be a hopeful visioning of the future of pop culture, fashion, science, music, etc. that would change the world for the better,” said Vanguard Culture founder Susanna Peredo Swap. “Our hope is to celebrate the best of human achievement and leave guests feeling inspired and hopeful for what’s to come.”
The night opened with three chef stations put together by Vanguard Culture Culinary Director Daniella de la Puente.
“I started working with [Vanguard Culture] because I love art and I love food, so what better way to give back to the community than working with a foundation that supports the arts?” de la Puente said. The vibrant colors of the ’70s informed her decision to include flowers in the ceviche and other items being served.
Attendees sipped on era-themed craft beers and cocktails while having their palms read inside the Sparks Gallery pop-up art show. Others visited the Vanguard Culture Headquarters Gallery to take a journey through the collective unconscious by contributing to dream journals that Ingrid Croce (widow of singer/songwriter Jim Croce) will incorporate into her next collage.
Since the event was declared a cell phone-free zone, when Sotu finally began bringing up the night’s performers onstage, it was difficult to tear people away from the socializing taking place near the chefs’ tables.
Before introducing any of the dancers, singers, musicians and poets who were on-hand to share their talents that night, Sotu explained why he was initially drawn to centering the event around the ’70s, which saw the rise of feminism, and the black power and flower power movements.
According to Sotu, the counter-culture movement of that decade shaped the culture of today. He asked the spoken-word artists to share poems that were relevant in both eras. Sotu said although the singers and dancers performed songs from the ’70s, they did not regurgitate the art from that time. Instead, they reinterpreted it for today.
“Three things inspired me: creativity, self-expression and self-love,” said Kaia Reuter, who performs as Kaia Olivia. During her solo dance number, she spontaneously decided to bring people in the audience to dance alongside her. “I was able to bring community together. We were all able to be one. Not just the separation of performing and partaking by being the patron. That’s why I love live art shows. People are interactive and when they are interactive, they get to be a part of it. That self-love… that’s what inspired me to grab the mic and talk and then have people onstage to perform.”
In addition to professional San Diego artists, students from City College also showed off their talents at the event. Members of the school’s Special Effects Makeup Class showcased their abilities to transform into some of the icons of the 1970s in a fashion show (this is why the titular character from “The Godfather” and a gender-swapped Sonny and Cher were in attendance). Each student strutted down the runway — a thin concrete rail that ran parallel to the stage — before stopping to pose for pictures. Among them was Isabel Madera, who said the rainbow painted on her face was inspired by the hippie movement. “Anything ’70s is just bright and colorful,” Madera said. While she attended the previous Roaring ’20s event, this was the first time she participated in a Breakthrough show. “I normally have a model to practice [on] and this time I had to [paint] on myself. It was scarier. I’m proud of how I ended up and I’m surprised I went up there and did what I did.”
Vanguard Culture’s next quarterly event in the series will be held on Sept. 21 with a focus on the ’90s. To learn more, visit vanguardculture.org.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.