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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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