Vital Signs

January 21, 2007

Cal Performances celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Connors, who started the job in 1945, recalls the early, pre-Misha era. “It was very hard to get companies to come out. There were so few performing opportunities on the West Coast. And they didn’t fly in those days,” she says.



In earlier decades, Berkeley hosted major dance companies before they became popular. Virtually every master of modern dance played there early in his or her careers. Limón debuted in 1957, Cunningham in 1962, Taylor the following year. The Joffrey Ballet held summer residencies there in 1970–71. When Gerald Arpino created his Sacred Grove on Mount Tamalpais in Berkeley, he dedicated it to Connors.

The current director, Robert Cole, has pioneered long-term relationships with Merce Cunningham (who premiered Ocean and BIPED there); Mikhail Baryshnikov (who imports his new Hell’s Kitchen Dances next month); and Mark Morris (who brings his King Arthur next September).


Cole has also taken chances introducing Germany’s Sasha Waltz, France’s Pascal Rioult, and Argentina’s Grupo Krapp.

In its second century, Cole will add something to the mix. “We’ll be working a lot more with Asian companies,” he says. “Dance used to travel from Europe to New York to California. We hope it will soon start moving from Beijing to California, and then, maybe, to New York.”


Happy Birthday!
• Carla Maxwell celebrates 40 years with the Limón Dance Company

• Les Ballets Grandiva, 10

• Venetia Stifler & Concert Dance, Inc., 25

• Rambert Dance Company (U.K.), 80

• American Dance Guild, 50

• Tau Dance Theater, Hawaii, 10



Philadelphia’s lady DJs, b-girls, and hip hop heads came together in February for the first PHRESH: A Celebration of Women in Hip Hop. The event, which included workshops, discussions, and film screenings, culminated in an evening of funky collaborations between female dancers, rappers, musicians and DJs. Dancer/choreographer/organizer Michele Byrd-McPhee said that, surprisingly, the panel discussion was packed. The speakers on the panel were from all parts of the hip hop world, including I-Rize, a business woman at Jazzy Jeff’s record label; and Rockafella, a Bronx-based break dancer. This was part of a recent surge of events bringing women together to highlight their involvement in hip hop. And to this we (and Queen Latifah) say, “You gotta let ’em know!”



Surprised audiences were asked to use their cell phones in the theater during Ballet Austin’s choreographic competition, New American Talent/Dance. Choreographers Thang Dao, Thaddeus Davis, and Sonya Delwaide set their pieces on Ballet Austin dancers. After each performance, audience members voted via their cell phones to award one contestant a $1,000 prize. When asked about comparisons to pop-culture phenomenon American Idol, artistic director Stephen Mills said, “That’s not a bad way to go! Ignoring pop culture is foolhardy with a contemporary audience. Dance is Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, but it is also so much more.”



In February, Heidi Duckler’s Collage Dance Theatre combined the disparate cultures of dance and law enforcement in C’OPERA, a site-specific work at the Los Angeles Police Academy. Through on-site training, actual police maneuvers were incorporated into the choreography. Audience members followed performances across a sprawling campus, including a lyrical solo performed by Officer Sara Faden. Faden had minored in dance at Cal State but switched to the security “beat.” After the performance, she admitted, “I miss performing terribly. I love the opportunity to be humanized again.”


Hemline Meets Kickline

Charles Nolan has already made a name for himself in the fashion industry. He designed for Ellen Tracy and Anne Klein before launching his own line in 2004. But now, for the first time, this ballet fan got an opportunity to create costumes for the ABT Studio Company’s performance of Seán Curran’s Aria. Curran focused on the interplay of movement and music, so Nolan had to make his costumes accentuate that, and avoid impeding the lifts. But he felt he needed a real story as a starting point for his creative process. So Nolan made up a tale about kids hanging out after their prom and dressed the dancers in some perfectly rumpled and slightly undone formal wear to illustrate it, which Curran and the company were happy to go along with. Pictured left: Nicole Graniero and Thomas Forster in Aria.


Honoring Their Hero

Despite the tragic death of Fernando Bujones, Orlando Ballet is going ahead with his production of Raymonda, May 12–14, but in reduced form. Bujones had choreographed the third act (wedding scene) for several companies in the past, but, as his associate Peter Stark said, “It was his dream to do the full-length ballet.” That will not come to pass. However, this production promises to be as large a spectacle as the 27-member company will allow, as well as a showcase for its dancers. “Raymonda was about showing the virtuosity and musicality of the dancer,” said Stark. Along with Bujones’ widow Maria and interim director Bruce Marks, Stark has the job of casting the ballet. “We’re constantly asking ourselves, what would Fernando have wanted? What would he have done?” said Stark. The program will be completed by Marks’ Lark Ascending and Val Caniparoli’s Going for Baroque.


Hitting the Boards
What’s that thundering sound? It’s the roar of tappers across the country putting metal to wood as they celebrate National Tap Dance Day this month. In New York City, the Tap Extravaganza (May 28) honors Jerry Ames, Jo Rowan, John Bedford, and Ralph Guild. New tappers will perform alongside old-timers. On May 18 the Chicago Human Rhythm Project kicks off a tribute to 90-year-old Ernest “Brownie” Brown with a medley of Chicago-area companies performing to Brownie’s favorite music. And down in Austin, The Soul to Sole Tap Festival (May 31–June 4) includes a participant showcase, an improv jam, a video night, a concert, and master classes with Arthur Duncan and Jane Goldberg.


Dancers DO Rule!

After analyzing DNA, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem concluded that dancers are genetically different from non-dancers. Their study last September examined the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to mood, and arginine vasopressin receptor 1a, a hormone associated with social communication and bonding. Results showed that dancers have higher levels of serotonin and arginine vasopressin than the non-dancer control group, indicating that dancers have potentially elevated communication skills and emotional experiences. You always knew you were meant to dance, now you know why!


Silver Belles

“All dancing makes you feel like flying,” said Marion Coles, 88. She sported a fuzzy pink ballcap, leather jacket, and lace-up boots for the New York premiere of Been Rich All My Life, a film by Heather Lyn MacDonald. Coles (far left) and the other Silver Belles, a glamorous troupe of octogenarian tap dancers and former chorus girls, were on hand for opening night of the 2006 Dance on Camera series. When asked, “What do you think of the new music videos?” Fay Ray, another troupe member, said, “I love hip hop. I love it.” The Silver Belles began in 1985 as a way to educate young people about the role of women in show business during the Big Band era. Distribution of a shorter version of Been Rich is planned.


QUICK Q & A: Stephan Koplowitz

Stephan Koplowitz has been named the new dean of The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts. After 23 years as a New York choreographer and a prime mover in site-specific work, Koplowitz is moving to Los Angeles this August.


What is your vision for dance at CalArts?
I want to continue to integrate the dance program into what’s going on with the rest of CalArts. I want to forge new alliances nationwide and make CalArts part of the California dance community.


What are the students like?
They have tons of energy. They were open-minded in my classes and they can work creatively at a fast pace. They are cooperative in a forward-looking way.


What’s different about CalArts?
It is the only conservatory that includes the visual arts. The act of choreography is already such a visual thing, that to have filmmakers, animation, puppetry, etc., is such a boon.


What will it be like for you to leave New York and go to L.A.?
I have no idea. What’s making this transition possible is the commitment I got from CalArts to support me as an artist who will continue to present work in New York and elsewhere. But you can make your own work anywhere as long as you keep your eyes and ears open.


What projects are you working on in New York?
I am collaborating on A Walk Between Two Worlds with Dao Anh Khanh of Hanoi (see “New York Notebook,” page 28) and a camera obscura installation (Revealed). It’s a room-sized camera with performances seen from the eye of the camera—in Battery Park City in June.


How does L.A. strike you?

It’s changed since I was there 23 years ago. I feel there are real artistic communities that are thriving. Aside from music, it’s become a hot spot for theater, cutting edge visual art and, to some extent, dance. REDCAT, which is associated with CalArts, is showing excellent work that is off the beaten path.


Is there anything that makes you nervous about the new job?

The obvious thing of finding a balance between being an artist and educator, but I am willing to take that risk. I’ve been committed to teaching for over 23 years and have juggled the two roles while teaching at The Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn. It’s a classic New York fear that if you’re not living here, people forget about you. I feel like I’m just switching platforms, but instead of a train, I’ll be on a plane a few more times.