On Tour at Home: The San Francisco Youth Eurythmy Troupe Festival 2021

by David Weber, February 2021

Over the past year, the pandemic changed everything for our San Francisco Waldorf community – our modes of teaching and learning, our play, our social activity, and how we come together as students, parents, teachers, and co-workers. We had to invent new forms of learning and working together, and the community responded with wonderful creativity and dedication.

As the school year started, we realized there would be no major performance or tour for the San Francisco Youth Eurythmy Troupe, for the first time in twenty-five years. Astrid Thiersch began rehearsals by teaching on Zoom, with students practicing alone in their homes. Then as classes slowly resumed in person, Astrid divided the Troupe into three groups that met in rotation on Mondays after school in Stern Grove. Each group worked on their pieces in the winter cold and dark, sharing rehearsal space with workout groups, ballet classes, and random packs of dogs.

The Troupe’s usual performance and touring season coincided with the opening of the David Bushnell Center for Athletics and Community, and Astrid conceived the idea of a Eurythmy Festival, an intensive week for the students to create and work together. Meeting in the Center on the first morning, we felt like we actually were on tour in a place we had never been before. The Bushnell Center is an astonishingly beautiful and pleasing building, inspiring just to be in, and even more to move in. We spent five days rotating between the Center, Herbst Hall, the Eurythmy Room, and the new Courtyard, with plenty of space to rehearse, create costumes and masks, and enjoy delicious food.

 

This year’s program has themes taken from the present moment: there is homage to Native American peoples and the Earth in a Lakota prayer and a speech from Chief Seattle; words of love, courage, and equality from Hafiz, Rosa Ausländer, and Nelson Mandela; a verse for selflessness from Rudolf Steiner; the four quotations engraved in the new courtyard circle; and a warning about internet gremlins. There was a lovely piece composed for eurythmy by Griffin Engels, and a series of beautiful variations by Schubert. Astrid devised a program not knowing what would be possible in such a short time – the most important aspect was for the students to experience the joy of being together, creating and doing eurythmy.

 

 

We had wonderful support to make this event possible. Craig Appel, Paula Piemonte, and Bryan Anderson encouraged the initiative. Heather Mitchell and Liz Perry conspired with Astrid to plan every detail. Heather worked with the students to prepare and iron the many costumes, and paint beautiful color-coordinated masks. Liz discovered amazing home-kitchen caterers, and we feasted on authentic cuisines from around the world. Mitch Mitchell helped us with all things technical, and created a beautiful lighting design. Lilia Zheltova suspended her teaching for a week to provide beautiful piano accompaniment. Chikara Motomura brought his cameras and his professional eye to capture rehearsals, interviews, and performances; he will produce a documentary of this special year and performance week in the life of the Troupe, which we look forward to sharing with the community and friends.

The twenty-five students in their three groups approached their work as a true culmination. They were filled with energy and the joy of working together, and they were united in the desire to make each program piece an engaging work of art. It seemed as though the months-long process of rehearsal in each isolated chrysalis had engendered a complete blossoming over our five days together. By the third day, many of the pieces, and costumes, were at an astonishing level of readiness. Chikara arrived and began filming; Mitch and Cory tried out the stage lights for the first time, and we enjoyed brilliant washes of color. Thursday’s dress rehearsal revealed that the students had reached a new level of eurythmy and a performance was being born.

Friday’s performance was a kind of miracle. The hall was filled with color, light, movement, and reflection. The performers’ energy was high, and their concentration unwavering. Each piece radiated intention and meaning; the gestures and movement were fluid and graceful, and every group achieved a new harmony of form as each student moved with the whole. The sequence was seamless, and the effect of the whole fifty minutes of unbroken performance was profound.

The movement of the week had been a grand acceleration, culminating in something greater than our individual efforts. Many students said they felt something magical happen as they performed. There was a feeling of grace; Eurythmy was present in a way that moved us deeply. In their reflections, the students expressed their great happiness in moving from isolation to socializing and creating together at last. We all felt we had arrived at our journey’s end – a stirring performance that was also a social catharsis.~