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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

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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

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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This Week In Dance

by Renée Rothman

After all the activities of National Dance Week, you’d think we’d be slowing down. But, no, we’re not. Last weekend we saw Zari Le’on’s glitterBlack, Anna Halprin at the Rio, bellydancing at The Crepe Place…and that’s just what I was aware of. (By the by, did I mention that Halprin was mightily impressed with the SC dance community…said when they showed the film in her area, the audience was only a third of the size of the Rio turn out.)

This coming weekend we have Flex, Leslie Johnson’s contemporary dance group at 418; Cabrillo College’s Spring Dance Concert at the Crocker Theater; Raizes do Brasil’s capoeira Batizado (their ranking awards ceremony) at Louden Nelson; Sambada at Moe’s Alley; and the Artist of the Year Profile Performance by Robert Kelley at the Rio.

How’s a girl to decide? What are you going to see?

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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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