Visions of what Cuba must be like have long permeated American culture -- streets crowded with vintage cars, the vibrant strains of the Buena Vista Social Club filling the air, and those addictive Cuban sandwiches. But the mere mention of these undisputed treasures trivializes the impact the island nation has had on the international performing arts community. Luckily, the monthlong Cuba Caribe Festival of Dance, Music, and Theatershowcases the arts of Cuba and its Caribbean neighbors to educate budding enthusiasts. Veering between the political and the spiritual, the dance performances include serious think pieces like Dear Fidel, a multimedia extravaganza that explores the tensions between the United States and Cuba, and A Piece of White Cloth, which, according to the organizers, "meditates between the ancestor and spirit world, creating a stunning evening of ritual dance theater." Other events explore further art forms from the diaspora, from lectures on the Afro-Yoruba spiritual to an afternoon of classes that teach you to rumba like a Havana local and tear up Haitian dance floors. The festival begins Friday at 8 p.m. (and continues through May 1) at Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $7-20; call 273-4633 or visit www.dancemission.com.
-- Jane Tunks
Fresh on the stage
David Henry Hwang captured our hearts in the late '80s with M. Butterfly, a play (and 1993 David Cronenberg film, with screenplay by Hwang) concerning a French diplomat who falls for a Chinese opera singer who's actually a man. Through decades of a marriagelike relationship, the diplomat doesn't notice the gender of his "wife," who turns out to be a spy. It's a sick, brilliant piece of cultural criticism, so we'd probably see anything Hwang wrote.
The Asian American Theater Company's production of his one-act, F.O.B., has charms of its own. Director Mitzie Abe cast 40- and 50-year-olds to portray the 20-ish characters -- the same actors who starred in a production two decades ago. The play is staged with Sean Lim's F.O.P. through April 10 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Building D, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $12.50-25; call 441-8822 or visit www.asianamericantheater.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
The new-music frontier is here
A four-octave vocal range, MIDI drums, and lots of bleeps and blips -- it could only be the latest music from Amy X Neuburg. In a style she dubs "avant-cabaret," the artist loops her voice onstage, creating a multilayered soundscape that is often compared to those of Diamanda Galas and Laurie Anderson. Tonight the experimental songstress performs several new pieces, including "The Secret Language of Subways," a song cycle Neuburg debuts for voice, cello trio, and her ever-present electronic gadgets. Hey Willpower and the Huts also perform at 8 p.m. at the Lab, 2948 16th St. (at Capp), S.F. Admission is $10-20; call 864-8855 or visit www.thelab.org.
-- Jane Tunks
The Alma Esperanza Cunningham Movement dance company opens its fourth season this weekend with a program featuring shesheshe, which Cunningham tells us "explores intimate relationships through a masculine and feminine lens." Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company joins the production this weekend only at 8 p.m. (AECM's performances continue through April 23) at Jon Sims Center for the Arts, 1519 Mission (at 11th Street), S.F. Admission is $15-20; call 554-0402 or visit www.jonsimsctr.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser