California History Comes Alive in Unique Theatrical Production

‘The Farallonites’ Brings a Theater and Dance Hybrid to the Lobero

From left, Leah Curran and Garth Grimball in 'The Farallonites' | Credit: Andrio Fong

The Farallon Islands are uninviting rocks 27 miles off San Francisco, pummeled by wind and surf and concealed in fog. In the 19th century, the lighthouse there ensured the safety of the ships coming into the bay leaden with prospectors dreaming of gold — and entrepreneurs envisioning the profit to be made in boomtown San Francisco. The Farallonites, choreographed by Dana Lawton and based in part on poetry by Jennifer Kulbeck, is a theater/dance hybrid that tells the story of the intrepid lighthouse keepers (and their families) who braved the bleakness and extreme weather to keep the beacon of light alive in the mist.

“I’m a big California history buff,” says Lawton. “So when [Kulbeck] told me this one story in particular, ‘Off the Rope,’ I saw dance in my mind. The Farallon Islands are a very inhospitable place … the wind was so strong and the fog was so thick that when the women were doing their work and the men were up dealing with the lighthouse, they had to tie their children to boulders so they wouldn’t get blown off the island.” 

The Farallonites features music arranged by composer Thomas Edler, who found popular sheet music from the time period at the Library of Congress and reimagined it with new instrumentation.

“These people in the lighthouse were caring for people that they would never meet,” marvels Lawton, who says there are many aspects of this piece that audiences can enjoy. “If you love poetry, if you love music from that time period, if you love lighthouses or California history — there are a lot of entry points for audiences that are not just dance.” 

The Farallonites has two performances at the Lobero Theatre on February 4 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. See lobero.org/events/the-farallonites.

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