Monthly Archives: October 2010

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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A Brief Look at the Santa Cruz Ethnic Dance Festival

video shot and edited by Charles F. Ruhe

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Haaland and Fields Appearing Now at The 418

by Renée Rothman

Local modern dancers Per Haaland and Carol Fields share the bill for a two-for-one concert series at The 418 studio on Front Street. These artists tackle some heady issues as indicated in their titles: the Perfectly Realized Human Being and bipolar Memories. These personal contemplations are kinesthetically and verbally expressed with both pathos and humor.

Per Haaland explores the vagaries of the quest for enlightenment in his suite of dances and video dramas. Haaland provides a poem, spoken and sung at various moments, that indicates the direction in which he is traveling and the tone of his journey:

I can see that you’re seeing

That I’m a perfectly realized human being.

From the look in your eyes

Haaland enters the stage first, as a man who seems to be searching…and is dead tired of it. He flings his body to-and-fro as if by habit rather than enthusiasm and stares blankly around his world. Interspersed with pure dance sequences are short video dramas in which Haaland philosophizes and complains to actor Daniel Mollner. Haaland is also a kind of narrator, appearing for recitations of his poem and his opinions of the limits of spiritual enlightenment and self-improvement.

The highlights for me were in the pure dance sequences. In “Gula Gula” Stephanie Johnson and Evan Adler perform a beautiful duet of young love. Johnson and Adler are perfectly paired dancers both physically and technically and are young artists worthy of our attentions. They characterized the uplifting joy of a newly in-love couple with movements that stretch out to the world and come together again in an embrace. Haaland steps in to indicate that the next sequence concerns marriage. He and Lisa Christensen sit in straight back chairs, staring forward, occasionally trying to connect but not quite remembering how. They dance this struggle out to Meredith Monk’s sometimes disturbing music. Finally, the quartet of old and new lovers meet, trading out partners in various configurations. Are they remembering who they once were and will become as individuals and as couples? In the end, they waltz off, Johnson with Adler, Christensen with Haaland.

The audience also loved Haaland’s humorous banter on a subject they seemed intimate with: the search for enlightenment. Just how perfectly realized can we be, he asks. How much yoga does it take? How many questions need we ask and answer? For an answer to that (it finishes on a laugh) and to experience Fields’ bipolar Memories you will have to attend the next performance!

I was speaking with RD Bolam right before the show and he reminded me of the variety of dance programs The 418 is bringing to the community. Experienced local artists, like Haaland and Christensen, as well as artist from out of town to bring a fresh perspective. The next event, “Tabula Rasa”, features Artist in Residence Leslie Johnson. In November they present their Emerging Choreographers Showcase providing young local artists with the opportunity to perform in one of Santa Cruz’s best little studios. The 418 Project is working hard to bring you an innovative and diverse season of dance. The fact that they are situated next to one of Santa Cruz’s all-time-favorite restaurants—India Joze—makes these nights out irresistible.

For program details, go here.

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