Unobtrustively nestled on the quiet strip of 48th Street between Shattuck and Telegraph in Oakland, the Temescal Art Center has been hosting classes and experimental theater since 1994. Begun as a shared cooperative of five directors, each with a background in dance or yoga, the TAC now runs under a spare staff of three-plus volunteers, with only Leyya Tawil, also the artistic director of contemporary dance company Dance Elixir, remaining from the original collective.
The space defines what theaters call intimate and what real estate agents call cozy -- a windowless room sheltered from the hubbub of the avenues that gets its amplitude from the sprung wood floor below and the skylights above.
"It's like a unicorn or a tree house," says Tawil. "People are always surprised when they see it. They've been walking by for years without knowing that we were there. Work looks different there, too, because the space is so warm and homelike."
This weekend, the TAC presents the result of its first residency program, an evening of dance by choreographers Deborah Karp and Karla Johanna Quintero, awarded unlimited time in the studio these past three months to develop and refine their work. In her trio, In the Country of Last Things, Quintero explores a post-Apocalyptic world of objects left behind -- "toasters and toothbrushes, keyboards and mannequins, bags and pens"-- that each memorialize the world of those who wielded them. Karp presents two works, the solo Dis(still): 2 and Streaming Mountain, an abstract ensemble piece inspired by the "thrill and cacophony" of a snowstorm lit by the sun.
Tawil selected Karp and Quintero from performances she had seen at the Garage and CounterPULSE in San Francisco.
"I knew they were making work that would look good from close up," she says. The choice reflects TAC's ongoing dialogue with small theaters for experimental performance -- Tawil also lists Oakland's Milkbar, Berkeley's Subterranean Art House, and San Francisco's KUNST-STOFF among the pioneers. Of these, she says, "our overhead is low, and we're artist-run and independent, so we can put the artist and the art first. We operate from a community-building rather than a money-making priority."
Yet Tawil also asserts TAC's special place in the East Bay. "The same work has a different voice in Oakland. It's not generic to the Bay Area. All the artists live in Oakland, and artists making work at the TAC feel they can really do their thing. There are no windows to the street. No one has access but you. So you're protected to do whatever you want."
Temescal Art Center presents Deborah Karp and Karla Johanna Quintero's Cracked Wide Open at 8pm June 21-23 at Temescal Art Center, 511 48th St., Oakland. Tickets are $15 at the door.