Wednesday, May 13, 2009

National Dance Week 2009: Santa Cruz, CA

My Dance Week began a little early with a lecture-performance of Isadora Duncan technique by dancer Lois Ann Flood and historian Joanna Harris. It was, as always for me, wonderful to see Isadora’s style expressed on a living artist. I have had only two other opportunities: In 1981, I saw Annabelle Gamson perform at a dance conference called The Early Years, convened in part to keep alive the work of early modern dancers. That same year I took a workshop with Kathleen Quinlan-Krichels and had first hand experience attempting to move in the fashion of this early 20th century pioneer. Ms Quinlan-Krichels also performed several small selections of Duncan’s choreographies. In the intervening years, I have not seen much of Duncan, making this lecture-demo a rare opportunity.

Ms Flood’s performance evoked the Isadora we know mostly thru descriptions by witnesses, still photos, and artist renderings (there are no moving pictures of Duncan). The way she carried her weight, pressed thru the space, raised a gentle arm, and the soft shapes of those classical poses: Flood brot those ideas to life. Ms Harris, at comfortably paced intervals, spoke about Duncan’s life and artistic development, and reminded us that she was native to the San Francisco Bay Area. I only wish the audience had been larger. Few people knew about the event and I was truly dismayed at the general lack of knowledge regarding Duncan’s contributions to American art.

Santa Cruz’s annual Dance Week festivities opened with a series of performances on four stages scattered around the downtown area. I managed one of the stages, a job which consisted of checking dancers in, taking their CDs and operating the player. I tried to announce and thank each group but without a proper mic, I doubt anyone heard me.

Most of the artists performed with their student companies and demonstrated the health of the Santa Cruz dance community. We saw Salsa Rueda, Tango, Hip Hop, Samba, Polynesian, African, Capoeira, Modern, and four bellydance groups. The most unusual forms included the very ancient Balinese Masked Gamelon (nearby UCSC has a South East Asian theater major) and the very new Hula Hoop dancers. The entire evening was capped off with a stilt-walking, roller-skating, fire-dancing group called Nocturnal Sunshine.

I didn’t make any of the open classes which included, in addition to the styles represented above, Zumba, Waltz, Swing, Contact Improv, Contemporary, and Ballet. Not represented at all in these events were some of the local folk groups like the English Country, Morris, and Balkan dancers. I’m telling you, Santa Cruz is a fantastic place to live for a dancer: small city ambiance; big city variety.

On Monday, May 4, I performed several North African folkloric dances as part of an afternoon Sampler of World Dance. Marlene Pitkow, Varvara Paizis, and I first performed this program a year ago at a local senior’s community. We were invited to perform it again, this year at the local synagogue, Temple Beth El. We each spoke briefly about the history and cultural context of the dances before we performed them. I performed an Egyptian beladi and assaya (cane), and a Saudi Arabian khaleeji. Varvara performed an uplifting West African-style dance; Marlene provided a rare glimpse at South India’s dance-drama Kathakali. Varvara and Marlene danced four Spanish sevillianas, a flamenco-like social dance. And we finished with an old Israeli folkdance, Ma Navu.



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