So you know they can dance
20th anniversary of Chico Performances and Chico Community Ballet’s dance celebration
More than 18 million Americans tuned in to last season’s Dancing with the Stars finale to watch Jennifer Grey—best known for her role in a 25-year-old movie about dancing—take the season’s top honors with a Paso Doble, but you’d be hard pressed to find 18 Americans who can tell you what a Paso Doble is. While dance as a diversion is embraced, dance as an art form is widely overlooked and under-appreciated.
This is the impetus behind Keeping Dance Alive!, an annual community showcase designed to entertain and educate the local public about dance. This year marks KDA’s 20th anniversary, and features 85 North State dancers in nine performances and includes numerous local dance organizations.
“The concert is organized with an open call for entries for local choreographers of all styles of dance,” explained Catherine Sulllivan, associate director of Chico Community Ballet, and one of the event’s organizers. “They audition their work to select a balanced and innovative concert. Special guest choreographers are commissioned by Chico Community Ballet for specific works for the ballet company dancers.”
Sullivan has been involved with KDA since its inception: “I began KDA after the university closed their dance department as this type of concert was regularly produced by the university,” she said. “We gave this dance forum a more community feel in opening it up to local and regional dancers, choreographers and performers.” (In 2002, the university did add a Musical-Theatre Dance minor to the theater program.)
Sullivan said organizers have been preparing for the event for nearly an entire year.
Chico Community Ballet is responsible for two of this year’s installations, both of which include live music. The first—“Somewhere” from West Side Story—is choreographed by Camille deGanon, a professional dancer whose 35 years of experience include numerous Broadway productions. Dancers will be accompanied by singers and musicians (including harp, cello, keyboard and piano) from the Children’s Choir of Chico.
The other CCB piece, titled “Sweet Sound,” is a contemporary ballet choreographed by Cassie Johnston and featuring live accompaniment by local sister folk trio The Railflowers.
“The inclusion of live music is part of a proposal made by a choreographer as a suitable complement to the overall content of the dance,” Sullivan said. “These are more complicated as the performers often need special attention on stage for sound quality and for some instruction in stage etiquette. Often these works are rehearsed to prerecorded sound, and bringing them together requires additional specific rehearsals. … It is an inclusion that educates the dancers on how to work with live musicians, and musicians learn the musical skills of accompaniment.”
Other featured performances include an Egyptian belly dance from Origin Tribal Bellydance, a hip-hop piece by C-Force, two jazz routines and tap, flamenco and Irish dance numbers.
Sullivan said she’s looking forward to each performance. “I never have a favorite until I see them in final form on the stage,” she said. “Even if one piece is not my favorite, I look to see the quality of invention, personal expression, level of technique and overall impression to appreciate it.
“Each dance has a specific intent, and the audience can best appreciate this forum by being engaged in watching with an open mind,” she added.
“Dance never goes away,” Sullivan said when asked how dance is doing in Chico. “KDA does give some developing groups and under-recognized groups a place to have their work shown in a full concert setting that the professionalism of dance deserves.”
Though dance might not be the most popular art form, Sullivan encourages everyone to give it a shot, even if you don’t think you will like it.
“Contemporary dance draws from a vast pool of style, technique and content, so it is likely some will please you and others will challenge you,” she said. “All the choreographers have put serious time into the formation of their work and want it to be respected and appreciated as well as entertain you.”