Makes you feel alive
Chico Performances brings the world of dance to town
Legendary avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham once said that dance is “nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” It makes you feel alive when you do it, and it can make you feel alive when you watch it.
However, many people are afraid they wouldn’t like modern dance. They often imagine gaunt leotarded waifs (or worse, unitarded waifs) rolling around to Philip Glass. Waifs in Spandex do make up one branch of modern dance, but only a small branch on a mighty oak. If you haven’t seen modern, or classical, dance that makes you feel alive, it might simply be that you haven’t found the right branch.
Fortunately, if you are interested in seeking out some new moves, Chico is actually just the place to be. Every year Chico State’s Chico Performances brings the best of dance to the North State. Over the years, the university has hosted some of finest companies in the world: Moscow Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Ballet Trockadero, Mark Morris Dance Company, Martha Graham Dance Company and my favorite, Pilobolus.
As a dance teacher, taking my students to see Pilobolus at Laxson Auditorium in the fall of 2011 was one of the highlights of my career. The performance itself was inspiring, and the company took time after the show to talk to my students. It was a dream come true, and I am so grateful to the university for hosting such fabulous events.
And this spring’s line-up is one of the strongest yet, with Chico Performances hosting four quality dance programs over the span of two months, starting with two earlier this month—Lula Washington Dance Theatre (March 14) and Rhythm of the Dance (Ireland’s national dance troupe, on March 16)—and continuing with Chico’s annual multi-discipline program, Keeping Dance Alive! (April 5 & 6) and a visit from the legendary Paul Taylor Dance Company (May 9).
The Lula Washington troupe performed to an adoring crowd during its visit to Laxson a couple of weeks ago. Most of the dances presented were narratives about the African-American experience, many of them dealing with heavy topics such as slavery, segregation and racism. The dancers themselves were delightful and nearly perfect. They executed even the most familiar moves with precision and deft fearlessness. Although, I wish Washington’s choreography utilized the dancers’ fine-tuned physical instruments in more inventive ways and relied less on pantomime and theatrics.
While I may not have been impressed by her choreography, I am brought to my knees by Washington’s teaching. Her greatness comes not only from her contributing great dancers to the world, but also from her contributions to the world itself. Her Los Angeles-based dance school’s motto is, “I do dance, not drugs.” Most of the stunning dance gods in the Chico show were kids in her neighborhood, whom she chiseled into glorious dancers. In addition to the evening concert, Laxson also hosted a master class for Chico State dancers and a field-trip performance in which the visiting troupe taught elementary-school students about black history, from slavery through the civil-rights movement.
Chico Performances understands that dance has the power to educate, communicate and inspire, and works hard to make it available through workshops and field trips in conjunction with concerts by these world-famous performers. The university also gives regional talent a chance to shine at the annual Keeping Dance Alive! concert, featuring local dancers and choreographers showcasing ballet, jazz, belly dance, musical theater, modern and contemporary dance. It provides a great opportunity for a beginner dance fan to sample a wide range of styles all in one program, and over the years the show has secured its position as a Chico staple.
For the 2011-12 season, our studio was aflutter over Pilobolus, and this year the buzz is all about Paul Taylor. Seeing a Taylor-choreographed program is like seeing a Rolling Stones concert. He is a legend. He’s been doing choreography for 60 years, and is one of the last living members of the second generation of dance legends, sharing ranks with the likes of Cunningham, Ailey and Graham. His work is witty, somewhat abstract, esoteric and varied. Attendees may see anything from a moving piece inspired by Walt Whitman to a comedic take on waiting in line to an intellectual investigation of human emotion.
Though Taylor’s works are considered high art, his dances are watchable, digestible and enjoyable. Our community is fortunate to be host to such a master.