Performance artist Dohee Lee unravels a strip of red cloth in Strawberry Creek on the edge of the UC campus. Photo: James Corr
Performance artist Dohee Lee unravels a strip of red cloth in Strawberry Creek on the edge of the Cal campus. Photo: James Corr
Performance artist Dohee Lee unravels a strip of red cloth in Strawberry Creek on the edge of the Cal campus. Photo: James Corr

By James Corr

The out-of-town parents and friends of UC Berkeley grads may have been bemused, but locals took it in their stride, even delighting in it.

This weekend, a collaborative of Bay Area and international dancers and musicians staged a “site-specific ritual performance” called NOMAD: The Blue Road in support of ‘daylighting’ Berkeley’s Strawberry Creek and other hidden urban streams.

The performance on both Saturday and Sunday began on the Cal campus, where Strawberry Creek still runs open, before heading into a culvert a few yards east of Oxford and Center Streets. Slowly unravelling a blood-red cloth into the water, renowned Korean-born dancer Dohee Lee backed balletically into the creek up to the entrance of the culvert while a mournful wail lamented the fate of what had once been a source of Berkeley’s water supply.

Dohee Lee at Strawberry Creek. Photo: James Corr

From there, the troupe walked and danced their way down Center Street past the sidewalk cafés and restaurants to the beat of a variety of percussion instruments while two members carried a blue canoe filled with flower petals and others bore buckets of water on their heads.

The event was orchestrated by Rodrigo Esteva and Mirah Moriarty, founding directors of DANCE MONKS, an internationally traveled environmental company based in both Berkeley and Mexico. “We envisioned this project last year and were so delighted to see it come to fruition with such high-level collaborating artists, including Dohee Lee, Jose Navarrete, Debby Kajiyama and other international guests,” Moriarty said Monday.

At various points during this weekend’s performance, dances and dramatizations of the environmental degradation symbolized by the disappearance of urban waterways and the global clean water crisis were performed, before the presentation ended at Strawberry Creek Park on Allston Way where the stream reopens briefly in advance of its final passage into the Bay under I-80.

Asked if she thought it realistic that the creek would ever be fully ‘daylighted,’ Dohee Lee said that she developed her part of the performance as a way to restore people’s connection with the environment and make them aware of the spiritual and healing nature of water.

Certainly, a number of the spectators who witnessed the event agreed. Mary Frances Michaels, a Berkeley-based art director, was so impressed with the quality and depth of the performance that she came to see the ritual on both days:

“This is a gift,” she said, “A gift to the city. It goes beyond the political — it embodies in a visceral way the issues that we hear and read about all the time. They gave a voice to the creek itself.”

Members of the dance troupe NOMAD carry water-symbolizing elements along Center Street in downtown Berkeley. Photo: James Corr
“Clothed” in plastic water bottles, NAKA Dance theater founder Jose Navarette rolls off the ledge of a building in downtown Berkeley to represent the risks we face from polluted water. Photo: James Corr

Likewise, Berkeley resident Emiliana Franzen, who heard about the event from a neighbor, thought that the dance “brought together so many environmental perspectives. It was amazing,” adding: “I just loved it when they walked right through the traffic and it stopped.”

Plans to daylight Strawberry Creek as part of a bigger project to transform Center Street between Oxford and Shattuck into a pedestrian-oriented public plaza have been considered by Berkeley City Council many times over the years. A sustainable design proposal was created by landscape designer and urbanist Walter Hood, but the project has yet to get off the ground.

Strawberry Creek Plaza: City votes tomorrow (03.22.10)
A possible future for Center Street (2.9.10)
A green, pedestrian-friendly vision for Downtown (2.8.10)

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