From Estonia With Love by Julia Chiapella

Estonian and U.S. Dancers Come Together for Evening of Dance

Infused with a physical languor that pitched its tent from the start, “From Estonia with Love” pulled a fecund but by no means reckless joy from the well of human experience.

Cid Pearlman/Performance Projects and Santa Cruz Dance brought “From Estonia with Love” to Motion at the Mill for the first of its three-city tour. The dancers will also perform in San Francisco at the Marines’ Memorial Theater Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20, and the following weekend in Los Angeles.

Estonian dancers Tiina Mölder, Helen Reitsnik, Alexis Steeves, Rain Saukas, were joined by West Coast dancer David King for three of the evening’s four pieces. Filling out the program was a 2006 piece choreographed by Cid Pearlman, Catch-as-Catch-Can, performed by Santa Cruz Dance resident company Flex.

The four pieces formed a complimentary diptych, their tenaciously exploratory movements mirroring and repeating throughout the evening.

From the moment Helen Reitsnik and Tiina Mölder stepped on stage—elbows cocked, lightly fisted hands at their chests, “From Estonia with Love” pulled us into territory rich with enchantment and wariness of the wild. The soft staccato of chattering crows formed the backdrop to the women’s walk in the woods as they explored the realm of “Facing Forests.”

Choreographed by the dancers, the dance successfully breached the divide between trepidation and wonder as the two women spun, high-stepped, peered, and tumbled, each movement carefully articulated, each step taut with the unknown.

Following on its heels was “How Quickly These Accidents,” choreographed and performed by Alexis Steeves and Rain Saukas. An homage to the pair’s own attempts at traversing cultural and sexual divides—she’s from the States, he’s from Estonia—it cleverly uses a floor-length skirt to underscore the push and pull between power, desire,  and creativity as they course their way through a relationship.

“How Quickly These Accidents” is a serious game shrugged off with a side-long look, a caress of the face, its whimsy never getting the better of a struggle as hilarious as it is achingly serious. That Steeves and Saukas approach the dance with a lighthearted sense of mischief combined with technically flawless execution make this a duet of genuine magic: clever, bold, and deft.

The final two pieces of the evening were both choreographed by Pearlman. “Catch-As-Catch-Can” came first, a physically demanding piece executed with a tremendous dose of mirth by six members of Santa Cruz Dance/Motion at the Mill’s resident company, Flex.

With original music by Jonathan Segel, formerly of Camper Van Beethoven, and Rafe Pearlman, the dancers ran, leapt, swung one another, and hurled themselves onto the floor and into one another’s arms, embracing the glory of falling as if were as effortless as breathing. At one point the dancers sent a great waft of breath against the shoulders and chests of their partner, sending arms and upper bodies careening in response. The effect was mesmerizing and a testament to the thread that binds these dancers.

Finally, “This Is What We Do in Winter” was a paean to the long nights of Estonia and the work done in the soft glow of candle light. A Fulbright scholar working in Estonia at Tallinn University during the 2009-10 academic year, the piece was created during her time there.

Pille Kose’s costumes for the piece, brought from Estonia, are simple, black shifts and pants overlaid with soft umbers and off-whites. Again, the four original dancers—joined by co-chair of the Cabrillo Dance Department, David King—explored the territory between one another, negotiating physical boundaries with a raucous reverence. Pearlman is adept at exploring lines, levels, and tempo, infusing her work with an eye toward complexity that’s never overwrought yet insistently inventive.

“From Estonia with Love” perfectly bridged the cultural distance, bringing a nuanced portrait of inquisitive yet solemn adventure. It is a treasure of unguarded, thoughtful dance, elegantly performed.

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Looking Left- Motion at the Mill’s Premiere Show

Photos by Beau Saunders

Though it’s been over a week since Motion at the Mill mounted its inaugural performance, the after-effects continue to ripple.

Billed as a “low-tech festival of dance and performance,” Looking Left was performed at Motion Pacific’s brilliant new dance studio Oct. 21-23 at Motion at the Mill on Front Street and was exactly that: simple props, simple costumes, simple lighting and sound.

But if low-tech should in any way convey the notion that the concepts behind the dance were low-tech, that notion needs to immediately be dispelled.

Dance in Santa Cruz has been taken to another level.

Thanks to Cid Perlman, the Fulbright scholar who, along with Cabrillo’s David King, has taken up residence in Santa Cruz, Looking Left drew from the work of dancers working in the Los Angeles and San Francisco area to bring an evening of thought-provoking, ethereal, and sometimes enigmatic dance to Santa Cruz.

Beginning with Rebecca Alson-Milkman and Carol McDowell’s “Surveillance Solo No. 1” the stage was set for an evening unlike others. Alson-Milkman sat behind a desk and read from government-issued reports while McDowell, dressed in black and white polka dots, furiously danced her regrets and dreams as laid out by a series of detailed accounts of her personal life presented as surveillance documents. Alson-Milkman’s bureaucratic monotone provided a great foil for McDowell’s frenzied movements though I would have liked to see some movement from her, however small, that echoed her status as McDowell’s superego.

Meg Wolfe performed the only other solo of the evening with her “Are You Picking Up What I’m Putting Down?”–a piece that was both languid and puzzling. Constantly shifting her center of gravity, suspending movement, and with a gaze that appeared inner-focused and unaware of her audience, the long piece was a direct challenge to the audience, as its title indicated. By its end, a space had been cleared where more questions settled in its wake.

The evenings two duets, “Shofar” and “Forecast: All The Time in the World,” were equally ethereal and mesmerizing. Danced by Danied Bear Davis and Kristen Greco, “Shofar” served as meditation to both the languid and buoyant moments in a relationship as well as the gut-wrenching havoc generated by them. What happens when we walk side by side with another? “Forecast: All the Time in the World,” featuring Damara Vita Ganley and Melicio Estrella of Joe Goode Performance Group, brooded deliciously on the possibilities. All four dancers in these pieces brought a sense of rigor and commitment to their dance. Watching them was pure delight.

Rounding out the evening were the group pieces: Gnome” choreographed by Dixie FunLee Shulman, Cid Perlman’s “Drowning Poems,” and “Yes Is Not Passive,” choreographed and directed by Stephanie Nugent. Shulman relocated to Santa Cruz two years ago from New York and brings a sense of comic outrage to her pieces. “Gnome,” made use of dancers from Motion at the Mill’s resident dance company, Flex, who used the words of Noam Chomsky to pit their movement against. Nugent used a square of light on the stage as a focal point for her dancers, one of whom chanted the word “yes” at points throughout the piece. Both pieces were well danced and loaded with implications, both simple and complex. But it was Perlman’s “Drowning Poems” that trembled with a poignancy and grief so textually rich it took my breath away. With startling motifs that put the performers in a watery underworld, Daniel Bear Davis, Damara Vita Ganley, and Molly Katzman danced the piece with a solemn passion that was mesmerizing.

Looking Left should be reprised. It was that good. But with Motion at the Mill’s riveting new space and dedication to bringing quality dance performance and education to Santa Cruz, there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

Written by Julia Chiapella

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Photos from NDW Dancing in the Streets

all photos by Renée Rothman

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Santa Cruz joins the nation in celebration of dance

Review by Renée Rothman

National Dance Week, Santa Cruz kicked off last night with a celebration of local dance on three stages. NDW, Santa Cruz is a community festival and its performers are young and old, amateur and professional, students and teachers. It is an opportunity for every dancer, dance company, and dance studio to show off for the wider community. And it’s a chance for the community to discover the remarkable range of dance available in Santa Cruz County.

Located within a half a block of one another, each stage had continuous dancing from 5:30 to 7:30. With schedules in hand, hundreds of fans dashed from stage to stage to catch their favorite groups. Half the fun is planning out your night: if I watch Steps Dance Studio at 6:00 on Stage 2, I can be at Stage 3 in time for Desert Dream and at Stage 1 for Yabas Dance Company. On the other hand…be ready to improvise in case a group you’ve never heard of before surprises you. There were times when I stood at the nexus of all three stages, just spinning around wondering where to go next: modern dance? African? Brazilian? Hip hop? Tap, tango, or tutus? Dear me, whatever shall I do. If you missed it this year, mark it on your calendar for 2012.

All that dashing between stages, sitting on tarmac, squatting on curbs, and holding up a video camera is surprisingly exhausting and I couldn’t make it through to the big fire dance finale. But I left with a smile on my face and the simple happiness of knowing that I am a member of a passionate dance community here in Santa Cruz.

The week isn’t over. There are open classes and more street performances. Check out the program at santacruzdance.com

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Motion at the Mill: A New Center for Dance

There is a New Dance Movement in Santa Cruz

As 2010 draws to a close, the hammers began to swing and the renovation of the old
Mill Gallery at 131 Front St., has officially commenced.  After a year of preparation,
Motion Pacific Studio and Santa Cruz Dance have come together, exploring intimate
dance performance rooted in Motion Pacific’s strong commitment to dance education.
The renovated space will provide a unique experience for audience members and artists
and will include two new studios for classes and rehearsal space, as well as a visual
arts gallery.

Highlights of the project include:
· 120-seat performance space, high ceilings, good ventilation, and a  technological
upgrade  to enhance production values;
·  two new classroom/rehearsal studios;
·  lobby and a new visual arts gallery.

The Space
This new 3600 square foot space will support a program strong in Dance education,
administration and presentation.. The large studio (1800 sq FT) provides an ideal
setting for Motion Pacific’s wide range of Dance classes, while also serving as
an intimate performance space, curated by Santa Cruz Dance. A smaller studio (1200
sq FT) will be committed to a second teaching studio, hosting classes specific to
lyrical, jazz, contemporary and ballet.

Santa Cruz Dance
Dedicated to supporting a culture where integrity, discipline, and imagination are
central to dance as art, Santa Cruz dance (SCD) is a Dance presenting organization
operating with 501(c)3 fiscal sponsorship under Dancers Group San Francisco. Having
established a reputation for large community festival events including National
Dance Week Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Ethnic Dance Festival, SCD is excited to
be part of an intimate venue designed specifically for the presentation of Dance
performance.

Motion Pacific Studio
For 12 years Motion Pacific has been committed to dance education and performance.
Motion Pacific seeks to strengthen community across dance genres, bringing traditional,
street, folk and contemporary dance to the theatre and streets. Encouraging the growth and artistic expression of dancers and choreographers, Motion Pacific, provides a strong center of discipline and community for dancers of all ages and levels.

The Ronn Reinberg Dance Theater
Anyone  who has had any involvement with Dance performance in Santa Cruz over  the
last 30 years will understand why it is such an honor to dedicate  the naming of
our performance space to someone who gave so much to the  community and supported
Dance in Santa Cruz in so many ways. Whether  serving as a consultant, a designer,
a technician or a fan, Ronn was  always an advocate for the beauty of dance and
the power of performance.

Building a Strong Dance Community
Santa Cruz enjoys a long and rich history as a community with a deep and unwavering
support for Dance. Today we are excited to be launching a fundraising campaign to
raise the final funds needed to complete this project. By joining us a s a contributor,
you will be part of fulfilling our goal of creating a dynamic and sustaining home
for dance in Santa Cruz.

You can help create this dynamic new center for Dance by becoming a Founding Dance
Partner.  What ever your comfort or capacity, we Will find a contribution opportunity
for you. Because of this extraordinary partnership only $30,000 is needed to complete
this facility and open the doors this winter. Donate Now at Dancers’ Group under Santa Cruz Dance.

Levels of Contribution for the Building

$5000+ – Dance Floor Angels
Our new Space will feature 1800 square feet of ash sprung floors in the performance
space as well as an additional 1200 square feet in the Loft studio. Your tax-deductible
donation of *$5000 or more will greatly help with the cost of these floors. Your contribution
will be acknowledged with a permanent plaque, prominently displayed in the studio.

$2500+ – Steps
A set of stairs will be installed leading from the Performance Studio to the Loft
studio.  Your $2500 contribution will pay for your name on the face of one step.

$50-$2000 – Dance Partners
Your Contribution of $50-$2000 will help with specific equipment needs for the space.
Your name will be etched, embroidered or stamped on your piece of equipment as appropriate
and displayed in the lobby among the Founding Dance Partners.

$2000 – Light Board or Sound Board

$1000 – Risers

$1000 – Curtains

$750 – Doors

$500 – Speakers

$250 – Lighting Dimmers

$200 – Lighting instruments

$125 – Seats

$50-$124 – Hardware helpers

When we ask you to support Santa Cruz Dance, we are asking you to be an integral part of nourishing inspiration and creation in our community.  Please, join me in contributing to Santa Cruz Dance and make your tax-deductible donation today.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Abra Allan
Founder/Director, Santa Cruz Dance

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GaryFest: Celebrating the Life of Gary Kendell

by Zari Le’on

This week Santa Cruz is celebrating GaryFest, an inspiring and entertaining memorial dance show commemorating the life of Gary Kendell.  A virtuosic dancer, educator, choreographer and performer Gary was committed to uplifting and unifying his dance community.  GaryFest 2010, will be held at the Henry Mello Center in Watsonville on October 16, at 7pm.  At GaryFest dancers and choreographers of diverse styles come together to acknowledge through dance how Gary influenced their lives.

Gary Kendell is our superstar.  He is the kind of hero whose loss can break a soul in two:  he is a poet.  Not all writers are poets.  Not all dancers are poets.  Some entertain, some perform theater, some stick to form and structure, and some deal in aesthetics.  I will go so far to say that Kendell deals with the poetry of the dance by connecting the dots between our bodies and our souls.  Like many famous poets from antiquity, his fame came posthumously.

Gary’s most famous success came in 2008 when his dance group “Jabbawockeez” won America’s Best Dance Crew, but his journey in Santa Cruz began in 1992 as a Hip Hop teacher at All the Right Moves.  After the closure of All the Right Moves, Motion Pacific Dance Junction was created with the specific purpose of giving Kendell the space to practice his art.  Carmela Woll, Molly Heaster and Greg Favor recognized Kendell’s vision and opened the studio as a home base for his classes and dance rehearsals.  Gary’s teaching was met with ferocious commitment by the community of Santa Cruz and his students ranged in ages from 5 to 70 years old.  At the height of his teaching in Santa Cruz he had over 110 students and directed four dance companies based out of Motion Pacific (Flava Unit, Boom Squad, Boom Boys and City Heat).  A large part of Gary’s legacy is that he made it possible that all people could perform his style and communicate a unique voice that was and will always be intrinsically Gary Kendell.

The generosity of his vision made him popular with colleagues and dancers, and his energy and creativity exposed the community at large to different types of teachers and dance styles that were previously isolated in particular niches around Santa Cruz County.  Kendell’s approach to dance provided a unique foundation for appreciation of dance.  Gary loved and appreciated other dance styles and collaborated with belly dancers and ballet dancers.  His generosity permeated the dance culture at Motion Pacific.  Ballet students took Hip Hop, Belly dancers took Jazz, Hip Hop dancers took Yoga and ballroom and everyone in between was taking everything.  Prior to Gary’s classes Hip Hop was not being taught in dance studios in the area.  Kendell said, “Nobody was teaching Hip Hop dance in Santa Cruz.  It was called aerobics and Cardio Funk, and you had to take it at gyms.  It was watered down.”  His method of teaching emphasized dance as an art form that communicated his voice-vision.  This required the student to commit to a practice of hard work and dedication, as well as, focus of the body, mind and soul.  People who danced with Gary in Boom Squad, Flava Unit or any one of his dance groups knew what a taskmaster he could be.  He emphasized excellence, precision and clarity.  These are the tools that create a genuine appreciation of the dance.  People who studied with Kendell worked hard and learned a new movement language.

Gary Kendell’s technique was not easy, but he delivered complicated information with ease.  As an artist, he went through challenges and trials, at times his popularity waned, and he auditioned throughout his career for everybody from Janet Jackson to Freddy Jackson to no avail.  He never stopped living with purpose.  He connected the disappointments with the triumphs and never lost sight of the dance.  His spirit lives on in every motion and every step he taught. Gary’s popular white mask dance titled “The Matrix” premiered at Motion Pacific’s “First Night” performance in 1999.  A decade later Gary’s group “Jabbawockeez” would perform in white masks in a Gatorade commercial with the slogan “What’s G?”.  Now millions of people recognize white masks as the trademark of their favorite dance group.

“Boom/Boom/CRACK!” Kendell would often exclaim to illustrate the rhythm of his choreography.  Come see GaryFest, Saturday, October 16, 7pm at the Henry Mello Center in Watsonville.  See what poetry looks like onstage.

GaryFest 2010 will present four of Kendell’s signature works performed by Boom Squad, Flava Unit, Randy “Wish One” Bernal, and with Bellydance choreographer Sahar accompanied by Holi Choli and Rebecca Blair and Vicki Bergland accompanied by International Academy of Dance.  Also performing are local favorites TT Robson, Tropicalismo, and Beat Techniques.  To read more about Gary Kendell and GaryFest go to www.facebook.com/GaryFest.  Tickets are on sale at Motion Pacific and Santa Cruz Dance Company.

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Leslie Johnson’s Tabula Rasa at 418 Project

by Julia Chiapelli

Leslie Johnson’s Tabula Rasa is anything but, though it wants us to remember that all of us started out that way.

Tabula Rasa is, of course, a clean slate. It’s also Johnson’s evening length collection of dance pieces and can be seen at the 418 Project—where she’s currently Artist in Residence—through October 10.

Still athletic, still breathtakingly energetic, Johnson has gathered this collection of pieces around a central idea, one that’s been whacked around as long as peddlers and swindlers have tried to separate people from their money: the effects of advertising.

What Johnson wants to hammer home, however, is how high the stakes have become: with multiple sources of media available and all of them bloated with advertising images, film clips, and logos, children are constantly inundated by messages from advertisers.

It’s a Brave New World, one that Johnson courageously attempts to expose—the Wizard has grown so large, so insidious; it’s like trying to trace the path of culpability in the BP oil disaster—if only to remind us what’s at stake: nothing less than our relationships and our sense of self.

If all this sounds a bit heady, be reassured: Tabula Rasa is a kick-ass antidote to anyone who has the impression, however slight, that our electronic media has spiraled out of control.

The evening begins and ends with that tried and true purveyor of fantasy: the television. As the dancers gather in the dark around the glowing TV screen—eyes glazed, bodies slack—Johnson makes her point: left unchecked, the glowing screen is adept at filling our subconscious with information.

It all seems harmless enough, can look cozy, in fact; the members of Johnson’s company Flex, lean and drape over one another, tucked safely into one another’s arms as they gaze raptly at the screen. But that, in itself, is part of Johnson’s premise: we have to peel away the layers of our, by now, well-accepted conventions and reveal the harm they are doing to our sense of play, our sense of wonder.

Throughout the evening, the Flex dancers display their unabashed dedication to Johnson as they engage in the blistering physicality that has become emblematic of her work. They careen into one another and are tossed, dragged, grabbed, and punched: in one piece, an assortment of clothing is used to wrap around dancers in a decidedly vicious-looking battle for goods.

Special mention needs to be made of Sara Russell and Melisa Wiley. In her solo performance, “Slim Hopes,” Russell artfully dances around the issue of eating orders, imbuing her jar of cookies with a quiet but sensually powerful angst and ardor. Melissa Wiley brings her delightfully passionate sense of accomplishment to “Housewife House Life,” a rollicking piece of commentary that’s a hilarious send-up of the 50s.

In addition, the all male members of the piece “Tough Guise” extend Johnson’s social commentary to the role of gender as she cracks open the double-sided coin of camaraderie and violence inherent to organized sports. Michael Miller, Nick Katzman, Hamid Martin, and Travis Johnson join Flex company stalwarts Evan Adler and Eli Weinberg in bringing all the bravado and thinly veiled aggression to the dance floor in a compellingly performed bit of dance.

Some dancers still need to watch their extensions and it’s a personal wish of mine to see Johnson bring her crushing physicality into quiet moments.

Far and above these assessments is the appreciation for both Johnson and her company as they continue to explore ideas and dance as venues for discovery and excellence.

You can still see Tabula Rasa on October 15, 16 at 8pm

and on the 17th at 6pm at The 418 Project, 418 Front Street, Santa Cruz.

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