Renewing the dance
Keeping Dance Alive begins preparation for this year’s repertory dance concert
Just as the Earth, pirouetting through space, warms her face in the sun and begins blossoming with early flowers foreshadowing the full, fecund rush of spring, the human race has always met the seasonal turning with exuberant celebrations. And just as spring gardens must be planted and nurtured through the winter, so the celebrations of spring must be planned and renewed with each coming year.
In Chico, the annual Keeping Dance Alive repertory dance concert is one of the best-tended gardens of human effort and joyfulness, a chance for the dance community to gather and present to the public the celebration of its discipline and cooperation. Just as flowers represent the stored energy of their sources in the earth and the sunlight, a dance concert represents the release of accumulated months of rehearsal that in turn are based on years of study, practice and teaching.
This year I was privileged to attend the first audition for Keeping Dance Alive’s April concert, and sitting on the sidelines of the large rehearsal studio watching the 86 auditioners put through their paces by the half-dozen or so choreographers over the course of four hours, I was repeatedly struck by the sheer amount of accumulated talent, experience and effort in the room. Ranging from early teens to late 20s (or so) and predominantly female, the dancers represented, if not every age group, every body type, and demonstrated that given time, inclination, patience and training all types are capable of expressing graceful movement.
Event organizer Sheree Henning informed me that most of the auditioners had attained at least intermediate levels of formal training in dance. Watching as the large group responded immediately to sometimes very complicated instructions for choreographed moves, usually demonstrated only a time or two by the choreographers, I was repeatedly impressed by the efficiency of the physical language of dance instruction, which, to this untrained eye and ear, consisted mainly of assigning spoken numbers to a sequence of demonstrated motions and not much actual vocalization of the technical terms for the movements of formal dance.
Choreographer Joe Garrow, who will be presenting a piece combining tap and hip-hop dancing, told me that the audition process allows the choreographers to observe how quickly dancers can absorb instruction and follow timing. His collaborator at the audition, Genevieve Pena, gave a graphic demonstration of the demands of hip-hop moves involving body “popping"—basically rhythmically graceful but abrupt snapping of the body into position and movement with physical “attitude"—expressing confidence and power in dance.
Other choreographers repeatedly reminded the dancers that concentration on the moves is good and necessary, but projecting joy and other emotions to the audience is equally important. All criticism was expressed in terms of encouragement and support, and the dancers applauded each other’s efforts with genuine enthusiasm. I never got the impression I was watching a competition, even though the dancers were well aware that only about 80 percent of them would make the cut.
Over the course of the long afternoon I was impressed by the variety of personalities represented and the cooperation and mutual support shown by all. I saw no rolling eyes or disdainful giggling, and I realized that just as formal dance is the refined expression of human physical grace interacting with the rhythms of the world, the discipline of learning to express that grace can have a complementary affect on the personality of the dancer.
When this year’s Keeping Dance Alive concert blossoms on the Laxson stage, the celebration of renewal and regeneration that pulses in the April air will be charged with the discipline, effort and joy that resonate through the continuum of dance year-round.