People are milling about in groups with dogs (hot, veggie and even a few of the furry variety), exchanging hugs and stories. A few walk by in full circus make-up, or carrying enormous drums. Every once in a while, a group walks by that is clearly performing together (because they’re all wearing the same shirts) and clearly artists (because each shirt is cut or tied up in a different way). It’s Saturday night at the Rhythm Industry Performance Factory.
The event is a celebration of 10 years of operations at Rhythm Industry Performance Factory (the space was bought in 2006, but not up and running until ’07) and also marks the return of the space’s quarterly reviews. The quarterly reviews were a part of the space for the first several years, but that having the space to practice meant that artists got better, and busier, so the reviews became too hard to schedule.
Earlier in the week, Kren Falkenstrom, owner of the building and director of the Japanese taiko drum ensemble, Odaiko Sonora, gave a tour around the enormous building, located at 1013 S. Tyndall Ave., before it was filled with music and people: past the gender inclusive bathroom and cubbies, into a back room where costumes and stilts for Flam Chen were being constructed and across the 1,400-square-foot sprung wood dance floor. She’s been told it’s the biggest sprung wood dance floor in Tucson, but doesn’t seem to believe it. She built it herself. The artists at RiP do a lot of things themselves.
“Along with teaching really great art forms and performing, we also get to fix toilets and learn carpentry,” she laughed.
After decades on the arts scene in both Tucson and Virginia, where she’s from, Falkenstrom witnessed too many artists rent out spaces, completely renovate them and get kicked out a few years later. In 2006, she scraped together $80,000 for a down payment for a space where artists could permanently and securely create art.
It hasn’t been easy. Falkenstrom has to come up with $4,000 a month to keep the space, most of which comes in the form of donations under $50. It’s been a long 11 years, and Falkenstrom is passionate but tired. Earlier this year, she even considered giving up the building.
“Maybe we should just sell the building, cut our losses and say it was a great ride,” she remembered thinking.
And then life, and its counterpart, happened. Her father—a musician himself—passed away in June, and she had been there to hold his hand in his last moments. Being able to appreciate that moment, rather than shy away from it, was something that made her stop and reflect.
“The only way I did that was because I’ve been walking the All Souls Procession for 17 years,” she said. “That community event gave me a new perspective on death.”
Odaiko Sonora and Flam Chen, a circus, dance and theater group which also uses the RiP space, both perform in the grand finale of Tucson’s All Souls Procession, in which people of all cultures come together to celebrate and honor the dead.
Walking and drumming for miles, surrounded by and learning from thousands of other people facing death in all of its stark inevitability, prepared Falkenstrom to face life’s other difficult realities.
“I’m going to either have to turn this building around and get everybody reinvested, or I do just have to let it go,” she said, wiping away a rogue tear with her colorful scarf.
When she approached the groups who use the space, everyone wanted to help keep RiP alive, and decided together that one of the ways to do it would be to bring back the quarterly reviews.
The space means a lot to the artists who use it and the community who benefits from it. Yarrow King, who teaches African diaspora dance classes in the community, has been renting the space on and off since its inception.
“I think it’s an amazing space,” she said. “I think the artists renting it and using it are really important to the community.”
Nicole Stansbury, assistant director of Odaiko Sonora, explained that the reasons she loves taiko are the same reasons that she loves the space:
“It is movement and music and spirit and community all in one.”
That was also a good way to describe the event. Odaiko Sonora kicked off the night with an ensemble drum performance and then a solo piece by Stansbury. Then came other ensembles, like the improvisational dance group Movement Salon, in which three movers and one musician completely improvised a performance.
“It’s been really very special to have a home, and also to feel a part of a community of other movers, other artists,” said mover Kim Eisele. “It feels very supportive, and that feels very necessary when you’re trying to do something unusual.”
After a group performance from a class taught by King, and a dance class for everyone in attendance, drum and dance group Sol Axé hit the stage with a trio of instrumentalist that erupted into an enormous drum and dance ensemble, and then grew further into a full-blown dance party. A colorful dance performance by Flam Chen, with aerial stunts by Monica Boccio, was followed by audience members pouring outside to watch Flam Chen members do some fire spinning.
Words from Falkenstrom earlier in the week were brought to life by the performances.
“The space is incredible,” she said. “What happens here is incredible.”