Night Crawler

From the street, the long, steep stairway leading up into the Broadway Studio (formerly Studio 435) reveals nothing. Like so many stairways in North Beach, it is alluring in its antiquity; it could lead up to a 19th-century bordello as easily as it could a family-run bistro. Of course, it leads to neither. At the top of the plush, carpeted staircase, three figures stand greeting guests: a meticulously made-up Asian woman who hands me information on the JeungSanDo of America, a meditation center based on the TaeUIJu Healing Mantra; a cheerfully rotund man clad in a luxurious silk robe who doles out programs for tonight's presentation of "Journey to the New World"; and a Caucasian woman wearing white robes and an elaborate Egyptian headdress who smiles and motions everyone down the hall, which has also been generously draped in white cloth. Just like in TV dream sequences in which the main character travels down a long, billowing, white hall, there is a luminous doorway at the end which is obscured by more white cloth. Harp music drifts through it.

"Break on through to the other side," suggests a tall, muscular, brown-haired gent coming up the rear. The Doors cliche aside, I take his advice.

Inside the antechamber just off the main dance hall, a cocktail party worthy of a Grecian prop room from Fantasy Island is in full swing. The room is beautifully accented with gold and white cloth. Candles flicker from nearly every surface. Great baskets of flowers overflow onto the floor. Ivy twines across large gold mirrors and around chair legs. Guests are invited to seat themselves in large embroidered armchairs or recline on the floor while nymphets clad in white linen and lace serve them fresh fruit, shrimp, salmon, hummus, and limitless champagne. In the corner, a lovely harpist named Julie Ann Desmond sits inside a Greek pavilion constructed of two golden pillars and reams of white fabric. She smiles mildly as her fingers flutter over the strings, and the peaceful crowd claps appreciatively between handfuls of grapes.

"Isn't this nice?" asks a well-dressed older woman with a warm smile.
"Yeah, but what is it?" I ask with all the grace of an amputee.
"Relax and enjoy." She pats me lightly on the back and turns to greet several people by name. Beyond a wall of windows, an oddly eclectic mixture of folks -- old, young, black, white, Asian -- gather on the patio, not to smoke, but to take in the breathtaking view. It is apparent by the warmth of their salutations that they are familiar already, as is most of tonight's crowd. Inside, a young man suddenly gets up out of his chair and moves a candelabrum two feet. Simultaneously, two women drinking near the bar put down their glasses and pick up platters of hors d'oeuvres to offer around. The distinction between paying customer and hired help bubbles away. I start to panic just as several young hipsters in polyester shirts and platform shoes push their way through the white curtain. They look momentarily confused -- which is reassuring -- but soon they have settled in with a group whom they know.

"Many of us have taken tai chi classes together," explains a sympathetic sandy-haired man. "There are DoJangs [meditation centers] all over the world. This is a benefit." A young boy clad as King Tut enters the room blowing a small wind instrument. In his procession are two nearly nude serving boys and a bald woman wearing dark face makeup. The woman, Cat Schlyder, stops and intones in a thick Australian accent, "Here you wait in the ethereal garden of splendor. ... You are now about to enter a new world where the essence of life flows from our cultural roots, where art heals all wounds." Coats and glasses are gathered and the crowd enters the main hall via a red carpet with Egyptian sentries.

On a stage covered in Persian rugs and gold pillars, dancer Michelle Stortz twirls in her red skirt as Peter Whitehead performs accompaniment on a variety of aboriginal stringed instruments. A collage of goddess-related visuals plays across a large screen to the right. The crowd moves in to fill the tables and chairs on the main floor. Others make their way into the balcony, where they peruse the artwork on display. Cigarettes are lit and people begin to chatter. The Egyptian sentries tumble across the dance floor performing acrobatics before they climb into white, flower-crowned cages where they dance throughout the night. Two topless women adorned with body paint crawl into gauzy tubes hanging from the ceiling. The crowd's chatter turns to silence, then, as the dancers pick up the rhythm of the music, into sounds of approval. A woman in a white satin cape entices people onto the floor -- where ethnicity, age, and fashion preferences seem irrelevant.

"It will make you feel good," says a lovely Latina in a turban, indicating the dance floor.

Next, the Mbongi Dance Theater Project, a group of eight musicians and dancers who perform traditional African music in schools, take the stage in a flurry of flashing eyes and brightly colored skirts.

"We sing songs of healing," says frontman Titos Sompa. The crowd lets out a collective sigh. "Music is a cultural experience. When we know each other, that is the most beautiful thing." Emphatic nods all around.

"See, it feels good," reiterates the turbaned Latina, who begins to sound suspiciously like a cult member.

"Do you believe in UFOs?" I ask low enough so as not to be overheard by the surrounding tables.

She smiles and dances off.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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