ODC/San Francisco and the Dallas Black Dance Theater inject some much-needed professional dance performances into the calendar.
Thursday, February 7, 2002
Photo: The ODC/San Francisco modern dance troupe performs at the World Theater tonight, and offers outreach programs throughout the week.
The Central Coast has long been home to a richly diverse cultural scene. From its annual music festivals to performances of Shakespeare to paintings and photographs that have shaped the way we see the natural world, the Monterey Peninsula continues to be a thriving locale for artistry of all kinds. With one notable exception: dance. Fans who are looking for a regular schedule of professional dance performances, whether classical ballet or cutting-edge modern, have typically been forced to go to San Francisco for this unique art form.
Brenda Way, founder and Artistic Director of the modern dance troupe ODC/San Francisco, observes that dance differs from other art forms in that it allows everyone anyone to create something from nothing, without reference to pre-existing forms. "We all have bodies," she says, "and we are all sending out dance messages, all the time." She adds that dance can be particularly helpful in touching children who may otherwise be hard to reach, especially before they have been taught by the media to loathe, mistrust or fear their bodies.
The lack of touring dance companies coming to the area is particularly noticeable this year with the Performance Carmel series on hiatus while the Sunset Center is being renovated.
Thankfully, a new performing arts series at CSUMB is poised to bring the wisdom and beauty of dance to the Central Coast. Beginning this evening, with the sneak preview of three new dance pieces by ODC/San Francisco, the World Theater at CSUMB will become a principal venue in this area for must-see cultural events. Two more dance performances--by the Lily Cai Dance Company in March, and the Lula Washington Dance Theatre in April--will also grace the World Theater stage later this spring.
This kind of diversity is exactly what Dawn Gibson-Brehon, the World Theater''s new director, was looking for when she put together the university''s first performing arts season. She notes that future series will always include at least one dance performance. More importantly, she hopes to engage artists and audiences, not only inside the World Theater but outside the theater''s doors as well, and ODC/San Francisco''s appearance here offers a blueprint for future programming by performing arts groups.
In addition to tonight''s performance, ODC, which celebrated its 30th year in 2001, will be here for a one-week residency, working with CSUMB students to create two new dances. There will also be workshops for the kindergarten class at Crumpton Elementary School in Marina. Prominent lighting designer Alexander Nichols and Brenda Way will present a teaching dialogue on "real issues" for students of lighting design at the university. Then on Saturday, members of ODC will participate in a benefit presentation of "The Velveteen Rabbit" at the World Theater to help raise funds for a new library in Marina.
Way, a classically-trained dancer who studied with George Balanchine in New York, created ODC in 1971, at Oberlin College, in Ohio. Proving that a dance company needn''t be based in New York to be successful, in 1976 she moved her troupe west to San Francisco in a big yellow school bus. Since then, ODC has performed for more than a million people in 32 states and 11 countries.
In a recent phone interview, Way and Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson spoke about the program they will be presenting at CSUMB. Following "Weird Weather," an abstract piece that Way describes as "pure power," the company will perform Way''s "Raking Light," a new work featuring lighting design by Alexander Nichols and music by Jay Cloidt that was originally commissioned by the Kronos Quartet. "Raking Light" is an image-based piece that evokes the 25 twilit minutes just before nightfall. It is a piece that has many sources. When Way saw the recent Vermeer exhibit in New York, she was struck by the image of the painter''s diagonal light--volatile, ephemeral--entering through the window, raking across a domestic scene. The piece has personal resonances as well; Way''s niece was involved in a car accident in which her niece''s boyfriend was killed. While "Raking Light" is not about that tragedy, something of its essence--an awareness of light''s brevity, before the final dark--did play a role in its creation. "In modern dance, your whole life is your palette," Way says.
The final work in the program, choreographed by KT Nelson, is called "Running Into Open Doors," a piece that grew out of the intense feelings one has just before taking a leap of faith. This work is set to music by Thomas Adès, an acclaimed young British composer, although Nelson has added some toy piano sounds to emphasize the sense of play we can bring even to serious situations.
For the viewer, the spectacle of bodies moving across a stage can be both beautiful and challenging, even liberating. And, as if the dance gods were making up for our dance-deprived past, this weekend finds two more exceptional companies in this area. On Saturday evening, San Francisco''s marvelous Smuin Ballets will perform at Cabrillo College, and Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre will be at the World Theater.
The DBDT was founded in 1976 by dancer-choreographer Ann Williams, to bridge cultures through performance and educational opportunities. It''s a tradition her troupe will continue on Tuesday, when they perform at two assemblies and offer an after-school master class at Seaside High School, whose students earned money to see the dance company by raising their SAT scores.
ODC San Francisco performs at 8pm tonight (Feb. 7) at CSUMB''s World Theater, Sixth Avenue, Seaside. $20/General; $15/discount; $5/CSUMB students. 582-4580. Dallas Black Dance Theater performs at the World Theater on Sunday at 4pm. $30/adults; $15/ students. 582-4580. Smuin Ballets performs at the Cabrillo Theater at Cabrillo College on Saturday at 8pm. 459-2159.