Thursday Nights World of Dance

by Julia Chiapella

Under blue, windy skies, National Dance Week waltzed into downtown Santa Cruz last night with a vibrant sense of community.

The Aerial Collective—Saki, Anna Fletcha, and Abra Allan—began the evening, their aerial high jinks setting the tone for the event amid the ethereal notes of a single piano. Attached to a cable from above, they took to the wall outside Lulu Carpenters as the earth-bound cast their eyes above and held their breath. They jetéd and somersaulted in languid arcs, cavorting as if gravity had no power. Those of us below were spellbound.

For this kind of thing, there’s no place like Santa Cruz. It was a good time to remember that.

Kicking off a week of both planned and spontaneous dance around the county as well as a grab bag of free lessons for the interested, Thursday night’s Dancing in the Streets event was good evidence that we harbor enough dance to make any city of similar size look flat-out sluggish by comparison.

And while, for some performers, stages were cramped and the wind chill factor hardly conducive to proper warm-up, dance schools and companies toughed it out, infected by the gorilla theater enthusiasm of crowds literally at their feet.

Three stages set up within a block of one another showcased over 20 dance schools and groups: in front of Cinema 9, on Locust between Pacific and Cedar, and on Pacific outside Jamba Juice. For the most part the proximity worked, but when the high-energy throb of Beat Techniques started off the Locust Street performance area it threatened to overwhelm the classical accompaniment for Santa Cruz International Dance in front of Cinema 9.

No one seemed to mind.

Ballet dancers in tutus kept their elegant cool while, around the corner, break dancers popped and crimped, flipping off each others’ backs to bring it home to the beat. Further down the street, the Te Hau Nui Polynesian Dance Company let the simple power of the hula remind us of the warmth of the tropics, their bodies a lilting testament to the magic of aloha.

If you were lucky enough to be there, it was a world tour of dance.

Brought to us by Santa Cruz Dance founder and Director Abra Allan, there was something for everyone. From the Balinese drama of Made Surya to the respectable rendition of West Side Story’s “I Want to Live in America” contributed by UCSC’s Random with a Purpose, the breadth of the evening was impressive. There was tango, modern, hip-hop, salsa, and ballet. Belly dancing, West African, and Afro Brazilian. Fusion was afoot as Raks Arabi and Kazoo melded belly dancing with hip-hop. Emerging choreographers brought the goods as Leslie Johnson’s dance company Flex braved cramped quarters to preview a new set of pieces to be performed May 21 and 22 at the 418 Project.

At evening’s close, everyone gathered at the intersection of Locust and Pacific for the finale, kept behind a large circle outlined on the ground. Anticipation was running high. The lighted hula hoops of Hoopalights and fire dancing of Nocturnal Sunshine brought the event to an end and, riding high on the joy and infectious energy of a night that allowed the human spirit to soar, it was something of a letdown. More gimmickry than art, the two groups sacrificed technique for theatricality. Not a bad thing in and of itself but for this event, it needed to be taken up a notch. Put fire in the hands of the Aerial Collective. Now that would be something.

In the end, tired feet and happy hearts wandered away, the words of Alan Watts from one of Beat Techniques numbers acting as a mantra for the night:

When we dance, the journey itself is the point.

Santa Cruz Dance Week continues through May 7 with spontaneous performances around the county and free classes at a variety of locations. When the urge strikes, get up and dance.

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