Laguna Beach Dance Festival

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Setting The Stage

This September’s Laguna Beach Dance Festival puts the spotlight on world-class performances and classes.-By Carly Layne

Is Laguna Beach the next dance mecca? That’s what Laguna resident, world-class dancer, choreographer, educator, and founder and artistic director of the Laguna Beach Dance Festival, Jodie Gates, envisions. “Within the next 10 years I’d like to be a pioneer in helping to facilitate this mission for Laguna,” Jodie says. “The community has been amazingly supportive. … There is no doubt in my mind that this dance festival is not only currently recognized as a gem for the performing art of dance, but it will continue to grow to be a major force on the West Coast over the next decade.”

Laguna Beach Mayor Jane Egly considers the dance festival to be one the stars of Laguna’s performing arts scene: “The dance festival adds so much joy to living in Laguna Beach. I’m hoping that the community will come out in support of all those who work so hard to make this event possible each year.”

Each year, the festival’s board members roll up their sleeves and with great enthusiasm do everything from transporting dancers to making sure that dancers get their proper nutrition. “It’s special for us to be that close to these big-deal dancers,” says board president Christine Rhoades.

In addition to the performances, the dance festival offers master classes and workshops open to the public. Joy Dittberner, the board’s vice president, says the classes and workshops give people the rare opportunity to train and dance with world-class dancers. “The classes fill up quickly, but this season is sure to bring out even more people,” Joy says.

Jodie believes this year’s festival is the most unique one to date. It’s “a prime example of our extraordinary standard of excellence and innovative programming,” Jodie says. Along with world-famous contemporary dance companies LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Backhausdance, recently recognized as an emerging dance company to watch by Joyce SoHo, will join the list of performers.

Big Names, Big Companies 

In addition to performing at the Laguna Playhouse, both LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) will be in summer residence at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts Dance Department under the auspices of the Laguna Beach Dance Festival. During the UCI residency, LINES Ballet Artistic Director Alonzo King will create a new piece incorporating both LINES Ballet and HSDC dancers, commissioned by UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and the Laguna Beach Dance Festival.

Alonzo King created LINES Ballet in 1982. Among his many awards and honors, the Kennedy Center named him a Master of Choreography in 2005, and his company has been featured at such venues as the Venice Biennale, Maison de la Dance and the Edinburgh Festival. “Alonzo King can be thought of as a rock star in the world of dance,” Christine says. At the festival, LINES Ballet will dance “Migration,” a celestial piece of work created by Alonzo.

“I worked with Jodie while creating a work for the Joffrey Ballet,” Alonzo says. “She has danced countless hours with Glenn, so in a very real sense, this new collaboration is a collection of family, and we are all visionaries.” He explains that most dancers are “genealogically” linked through a teacher, company or school. However, the partnership will take work. “Combining two companies in a premiere and touring is a large task, but immensely interesting and, to my knowledge, unheard of before.”

Glenn began his dancing career at the Joffrey Ballet, where he performed leading roles in the company’s contemporary and classical collection for 11 years. In 2008, Glenn became the artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Now in its 34th year, it’s among the most recognizable names in contemporary dance.

“The Laguna Beach Dance Festival has been amazing over the years,” Glenn says. Echoing Alonzo’s sentiments on how the dance world, he adds, “It’s fun to work with people you know well, with like minds who understand the art of innovation.” For the Laguna Beach Dance Festival, Hubbard Street will perform “Three to Max,” a piece choreographed by the celebrated Ohad Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will perform at the Laguna Playhouse Saturday, Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 9 at 2 p.m. A pre-performance talk with the artistic directors will be open to the public one hour before show time on Sunday.

Premieres and Classics 

Artistic Director Jennifer Backhaus founded Backhausdance in 2003. This year, the award-winning dance company will participate in the festival for the third time. However, this year will be different in that they will not be on mixed bills, but instead will perform an entire evening of their own work. “We are really excited to start off our celebration as part of this festival,” Jennifer says. “We’ll be performing many of our audience favorites and award-winning pieces: ‘Sitting on January,’ ‘Shift’ and ‘Love and Other Impossibilities,’ as well as the premiere of two other expanded works, ‘The Margin’ and ‘Connections.’

“[Jodie and I] both champion exciting, contemporary choreography,” Jennifer says. “The other companies in the festival this year are amazing, and we are very happy to be a part of this great event.”

Backhausdance performs at the Laguna Playhouse on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. with a pre-performance talk at 6 p.m. Festival dancers will do additional free performances at gallery venues during First Thursday Art Walk on Thursday, Sept. 6 starting at 6 p.m. For more information, visit lagunadancefestival.org. LBM

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