Modern dance show imagines a world of compassion

Two years creating and directing a dance production about genocide and the Holocaust had left Anne Bluethenthal feeling deflated. Her spirit suffered after such a close study of the ugly slice of human history.

She was ready for something lighter, more upbeat.

Then, like a one-two punch, one of her friends suffered a stroke, and another was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Bluethenthal picked up the fragments of her psyche and did the only thing she could think to do. She took care of the people who needed her.

“And I started thinking about how around the world, caretaking is primarily done by women, and is unwaged, undervalued and mostly invisible — and yet it is the work on which all other work rests,” she said.

So Bluethenthal started crafting a story; as a dancer, the story unfolded as she “created language through movement.” The choreography eventually evolved to become her latest production, which she has called “Cariño: Economy of the Heart.” It debuts Friday, March 21 at Project Artaud Theater in San Francisco.

Cariño has no literal translation from Spanish; it’s the deepest kind of caring that encompasses affection, nurturing, love and endearment.

“Our whole economy sits on another invisible economy that has no monetary value, and that’s the economy of the heart. That’s cariño,” she said.

The modern dance choreography is full of swinging hips and sweeping arms, sultry moves that remind the audience of the power of a woman’s compassion and sensuality.

The seven female dancers perform with live drummers and singers thanks to original world beats composed by Ajayi Lumumba. The set is spare and composed of several canvas murals by Nadine Gay, whose paintings will also be on display in the theater’s lobby.

Bluethenthal has always been socially conscious, and as an adult has infused that ethos into her work.

She grew up in Greensboro, N.C., around the civil rights movement. Her parents were tireless activists, participating in sit-ins and marches, forging alliances between the community’s Jews and blacks.

“As a young person, I felt like there was no way I could do what my parents did. So I do it in my own way,” she said. “Politics are so fraught with compromise. The stage is the one place where there will be no compromise.

“Whether the content is explicitly Jewish or not, there’s a social activist aspect to my work that I think is part of my cultural identity as a Jew.”

Bluethenthal has been choreographing, performing and teaching dance in the Bay Area since 1982. Two years later, she founded her own company; she is also the co-founder of the S.F. Lesbian and Gay Dance Festival. She has published essays and poetry on dance.

She hopes the audience is moved by “Cariño” and leaves the theater feeling optimistic and empowered about the good work of which humans are capable.

“We’re building an alternative universe that depends upon the economy of the heart,” she said.

“Cariño: Economy of the Heart,” 8 p.m. March 21-22 and 27-29 and 6 p.m. March 23 at Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida St., S.F. Tickets: $25 general admission, $10 children 12 and under. Tickets available at More information at

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.