Chico Performances unveils week-long festival of dance
When Stephen Cummins left the Windy City to become Chico State’s new director of University Public Events in 2013, he arrived ready to wear many hats, the most visible being the one worn as overseer of the schedule for Chico Performances. As the person in charge of booking the visiting performances at Laxson Auditorium, he’s been trying to bring his own vision to the local scene and this month Cummins and his team present their biggest new idea yet: Dance Chico, a week-long celebration of dance, March 22-28.
“To me, dance is the most beautiful art form,” Cummins said in a recent interview. “Music and movement can tell a story, but it’s also one of the hardest art forms to perform. It requires the audience to meet the performers halfway. With other events like a concert or a movie, you already know what you’re getting into and you can almost let it wash over you. But that’s not the same with dance. And it requires care and space and purpose for hosting. We’re building that hosting space.”
The main venue will be Laxson, which soon will welcome two visiting Bay Area dance companies—one led by choreographer Amy Seiwert (March 22), and the Joe Goode Performance Group (March 28)—as well as 140 local and regional dancers for the Dance Chico Spotlight Performances group program (March 26).
Sandwiched between those events will be a screening of Bob Fosse’s famous dance-musical film, All That Jazz, at the Pageant Theatre (March 24), and Broadway Boogie (March 27). As its name implies, the “boogie” is an invitation for people to meet downtown and get their groove on, to tunes from DJ Isaac Uhunmwuangho, as Third Street between Broadway and Main will be closed to traffic to make way for dancers as well as local food trucks.
Dance Chico is funded in part by a $20,000 Art Works grant that Cummins applied for and was awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. As Daran Goodsell, publicist for Chico Performances and coordinator for Dance Chico, explained, that money goes a long way.
“It’s not covering all the costs, but that grant gives us the ability to put this event on. And almost all the money we spend is going back into the community. We’re giving stipends to the dance groups, we’re renting out the Pageant, and we’ve paid to close down the street for the Broadway Boogie. There are a lot of expenses!”
The festival is bookended by the visiting artists. Opening the week will be Seiwart’s Imagery, a contemporary ballet performance showcasing the San Francisco-based choreographer’s dance troupe. And closing is Goode’s Hush, a contemporary modern piece accompanied by the live soundscapes of Foley artist Sudhu Tewari.
“We go from contemporary ballet to contemporary modern—two very different styles,” Cummins explained. “What’s so great about contemporary ballet is that it isn’t so rooted in tradition; it can catch you by surprise. It might even use modern music.”
Dance Chico takes the place of long-running local-dance showcase Keeping Dance Alive, which has partnered with Chico Performances for the past 24 years. This year, local dancers will be featured in the new Spotlight Performances production, an expanded version of the former Keeping Dance Alive program that will bring 10 different local dance groups to the stage to present a dozen unique five-minute pieces in a dramatic range of styles. Hype Dance Studio will perform a large-scale hip-hop routine; Chico State Dance Club will present a traditional Hmong hand-movement performance; and the rest of the program will feature everything from Mexican ballet folklórico to clogging and belly dancing.
“Chico has a dedicated group of dancers; it seems that there are always dance events going on from so many different groups in town,” Goodsell said. “I think the community appreciates dance, and by putting this event together, we’re recognizing that.”