Fresh Meat Festival promotes transgender artists 

click to enlarge Las Bomberas de la Bahia
  • courtesy photo
  • Las Bomberas de la Bahia are among the performers appearing at the 2014 Fresh Meat Festival at Z Space.
San Francisco might be the only city in the world where transgender competitive vogue dancers, an all-female Puerto Rican bomba troupe, a trapeze artist and the directors of the “Matrix” trilogy all show up for the same party.

That’s exactly what will happen at the Fresh Meat Festival at Z Space this week.

Now in its 13th year, the festival is organized and hosted by Sean Dorsey, an openly trans choreographer and modern dancer. The variety show-style lineup includes a wide scope of music and dance styles, mostly performed by transgender artists.

“Matrix” trilogy director Lana Wachowski, slated to attend the festival with her brother Andy, is one of the few transwomen prominent in Hollywood. Wachowski first collaborated with Dorsey in 2009 for a music video, and the Wachowskis plan to film a scene for their new Netflix series “Sense8” at this year’s festival.

“Lana first came to the festival seven or eight years ago,” says Dorsey. “She introduced herself maybe the second time she came, and we became friends. It’s incredibly rare that you have artists of that caliber who are also so grounded and care so much about the community.”

The Fresh Meat Festival started in 2002 as a platform for transgender performance artists, and has since become a tradition in The City.

“We put together what I thought was going to be a one-time event,” says Dorsey, who has organized every festival. “The response was so overwhelming, we decided to make it an annual event. Audiences range from hip young LGBT youth to church-going seniors.”

Most performers come from marginalized communities and mastered their art forms under hardship. Bomba, a type of Puerto Rican drumming — represented by the group Las Bomberas de la Bahia at the festival — was developed by slaves as a way to communicate with each other.

The show also features vogue star Jocquese Whitfield. Vogue, a type of competitive dance, grew from gay and transgender communities in Harlem decades ago, when LGBT people were cast out of their families.

Dorsey sees the festival as a way to make the trans community more visible, both to straight people and LGBT people. When he started it, there were no organized groups or events promoting trans artists, and today it remains the only one of its kind in North America.

“I devoted a lot of my earlier life to more traditional activism,” said Dorsey. “It’s through arts and culture that I can make the most change. People’s hearts and minds are opened in a unique way.”


Fresh Meat Festival

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

Prices: $15 to $25


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