Where else can one see three days of dance without spending a penny, but the Celebrate Dance Festival (CDF) in San Diego. Every August for the last 14 years, Eveoke Dance Theatre has been pulling off this major feat in Balboa Park. This year, August 27 - 29 is the designated weekend for the masses to come experience everything dance.
Over the duration of the event, more than 50 local and regional dance artists, organizations, and collectives will perform on two stages. The celebration commences on Friday night in the Casa del Prado Theatre where a collection of seasoned dance artists from San Diego, Long Beach, and Orange County will perform during a three hour program. Eight different groups will present different works that showcase everything from dance theatre to flamenco.
On Saturday, starting at noon, the real marathon begins. For ten straight hours on Saturday, dozens of dance troupes and independent artists, both professional and pre-professional, will perform in 15-20 minute intervals at the Casa Del Prado Theatre and the outdoor Fountain Stage.
Then on Sunday, the cycle continues with nine more solid hours of dance. All ages are welcome and spectators can come and go as they please. Anyone who has it in them to stay for all 22 hours, is certainly welcome. That's a tall order for most, but Eveoke Dance Theatre, the host dance company, has the stamina. After producing these festivals for so many years, they're well accustomed to being there all weekend long.
Producing an event of such mass proportion is a year round process — and a daunting one at that. Thanks to the help of a host of loyal volunteers, Eveoke Dance Theatre is able to pull off a miracle each year. Among the many loyals is Production Manager David Atchison. Without he and his three member production crew, the dancers would be literally dancing in the dark. They each deserve an applause for all of their hard work.
Eveoke Dance Theatre's Executive Director, Nikki Dunnan, says, "We ask the participants to serve as co-producers of the festival….the groups involved really understand the nature of the event as a community collaboration…if we don't all pitch in, then accessible, audience building events like this just can't happen."
The PGK Project, a 17 year professional contemporary dance company from San Diego, has been performing at the CDF for the last three years. This year, in addition to performing, Executive/Artistic Director Peter Kalivas has volunteered his services as the festival's Associate Producer.
Bi-annually, The PGK Project hosts its own dance festival called, "San Diego Dances." The event is much smaller than the CDF, but it has a strong impact on the community and provides a wonderful opportunity for local and regional professional dance companies to gain further exposure.
Since The PGK Project also has a strong international presence, the company is able to perform year-round. Kalivas shares, "We have performed at festivals throughout the world including: The Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, The International Dance Festival in NYC, Dances Taiwan, The Stamping Ground Dance Festival in Australia, Le Festival D'Avignon in France, La Festival de Cerventino in Mexico, among many others."
Though San Diego has many dance companies, few receive a sufficient amount of media attention. The repercussions have a trickle down affect. When local companies go virtually unnoticed in the community, general interest in the art form becomes stagnant, patronage dwindles, performances become less frequent, and fewer dancers remain employed. The benefits of participating in the festival are many and those that do on a consistent basis, understand its value. Since the CDF is regarded as one of the largest regional dance festivals, fortunately the event has been able to generate a fair amount of press.
Kalivas says, "In general, the public doesn't realize, I think, how much dance happens in San Diego. We have an enormously diverse range of styles and I think people get even more surprised that we have professional dance companies like ours; one that employs dancers eleven months of the year and produces comprehensive programming recognized by the city Commission for Arts & Culture, the California Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts."
The PGK Project has had the good fortune of attracting new audiences by performing in the CDF. This is an ultimate achievement for most companies, as attracting new audiences is the hardest accomplishment any company in any field can achieve. Success stories as this exemplify what's possible when companies unify and bring their art directly to the people.
"…The Celebrate Dance Festival is great for those who are not familiar or comfortable with dance to try it out… If you see a particular company or artist you like, make the effort to go to the lobby of the Casa del Prado Theater, get information about them, and join their mailing list so that you can see and support them again soon," says Kalivas.
The PGK Project will perform on Friday, August 27 within the 7 o'clock hour time slot. Kalivas says, "My company is performing two pieces: 'Still Running,' a new duet featuring myself and Justin Viernes. Then my core company members: Megan Jenkins, Justin Viernes, Viviana Alcazar, and Cecil Pratt will perform an audience favorite — 'Concrete Jungle,' featuring fantastic fun music by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble."
Kristina Cobarrubia, director of the local company Flamenco Arana, has been performing in the CDF for the last five years. After more than 20 years of professional dance experience, Cobarrubia is one of San Diego's most prominent dance figures in the local Flamenco scene.
Having studied ballet extensively in her youth, by the time she discovered Flamenco in her teens, she was prepared for the technical challenges of Flamenco. She began her study of Flamenco in San Diego and continued her study in Los Angeles, Madrid, and cities in other western states.
In 2009, Cobarrubia was commissioned as Assistant Choreographer for the San Diego Opera production of "Don Quixote". And in 2010, she was invited once more to choreograph "La Traviata". Cobarrubia performs regularly at various local events and San Diego's popular Spanish restaurant Costa Brava. She also teaches beginning to advanced Flamenco at Dance Connection and California Ballet with live guitar accompaniment.
When Cobarrubia first learned about the CDF, she says, "…My longtime Flamenco friend and dancer, Martha Senturia, knew about Eveoke's programs and reputation and encouraged our then director, Sara Olivar, to join the festival. Martha has also danced in each of our appearances."
Since Cobarrubia started participating in the event, she has generated new dance students and established many relationships with dance artists throughout the region. She says, "The best part is being able to see all these companies, some you've never even heard of before, perform some of their best works side by side. It's like the best buffet of dance you can get! It's important that we come together as a dance community, to support each other so we can all continue to grow, expand, and share. Dance won't survive anywhere on its own. Eveoke does the dance community a great service by producing the CDF."
On opening night, Friday, August 27 within the 7 o'clock hour, Cobarrubia's dance troupe Flamenco Arana will perform "La Caña, pasado y presente" — one of Flamenco's oldest palos (rhythms). This powerful piece tells the story of a tormented people crying out for salvation from the persecution they suffer. Live authentic Spanish and gypsy style music will be performed while dancers showcase this rare piece featuring the famous bata de cola, "skirt with a tail."
Cobarrubia emphatically shares, "The CDF is the best possible bang for the buck. These are top-rated companies, performing for the public for free. You can't beat that. And you have every type of dance together in one place. There's drama, humor, thoughtfulness, technique, modern, classic, ethnic — throughout three days to fit anyone's schedule. This is a no brainer. Just come. Whether you like dance or not!"
In 2002, Director/Choreographer Prince Graham established the non-profit, hip hop dance company Alpha Omega. Having known the founder of Eveoke Dance Theatre and the CDF, Gina Angelique, Graham was encouraged to bring his company on board to participate in the festival. Since 2004, Alpha Omega has been making there presence known at the CDF.
Graham is a former dancer with San Diego's hip hop dance company Culture Shock Dance Troupe. Under the direction of Culture Shock founder Angie Bunch, Graham began his dance teaching career.
Today, Graham is also a respected choreographer in the hip hop dance scene. He was hired as the first non-professional athlete whose moves were used in motion capture for the Game Day 2000 video game. He is also the choreographer of the "The Wiz" production now playing at the Lyceum Theatre in downtown San Diego.
When Graham started Alpha Omega, he established a mission to inspire youth through dance. He encourages healthy lifestyles and engagement in positive activities. Graham also offers mentoring and professional instruction in multiple dance styles along with proper dance etiquette. Students with aspirations to dance professionally also receive special guidance to prepare them for auditions.
Graham has a distinct method of teaching. Every class is spontaneously taught. Nothing is preconceived. And he allows his students to address their youth issues by expressing their emotions through movement. In doing so, every piece conveys a message. Graham shares, "I'm very intuitive." Right away, Graham will capture the vibe and teach a style that suits everyone's mood that day. He'll ask, "How do you want to move today? Do you want to be playful? Do you want to be sexy? Do you want to be sassy?" The students love this approach.
As an individual with an extraordinary amount of energy and conviction, Graham teaches his students at an accelerated pace. Graham explains, "They're trained to catch on quickly. This takes away their ability to loose focus. I teach simple, but fast to challenge them. But I never leave my class in the dust."
Graham devotes much of his time toward his summer youth program which just concluded. Now Graham will begin preparations for a Winter Performance Workshop and start arranging dance lesson workshops with local K-12 public schools.
Alpha Omega focuses on making dance accessible for everyone no matter what their economic situation. Graham says, "We do a lot for the community. We're a true non-profit. We're not just about generating grants."
Currently Graham teaches regularly at UCSD and SDSU and he also rents studio space from the Actors Alliance at Dance Place San Diego.
On Sunday, August 29 at the CDF, Prince will be conducting a mini-workshop where anyone can join in. One of Graham's students, an aspiring professional dancer, will also perform a solo. This performance opportunity represents a significant milestone for this young dancer. Graham says, "We're about making dreams happen."
It's true that wonderful things can and do happen at the festival. "The whole dance community should be involved. When they participate, they feel that they can accomplish more. Companies become empowered. It's a win, win," says Graham.
Each year, Eveoke Dance Theatre reaches out to the dance community to invite dancers to participate in the festival via email, social media, and word of mouth. And there's always room for more dance forms to be represented. Among them: native and regional dance forms, Butoh, salsa, street, rhythm tap, and step dancing. By mid-February 2011, artists will be able to send in their audition tapes and applications to participate in the 15th Annual CDF next August.
Nikki Dunnan of Eveoke says, "Accessible arts experiences are incredibly valuable and should be fostered and cultivated. Collaboration and community involvement ensure that community assets (events, organizations, and even individual artists) remain solvent in times of economic struggle."
Eveoke Dance Theatre will be performing at the CDF on opening night Friday, August 27 and closing day on Sunday, August 29.
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The Celebrate Dance Festival in San Diego's Balboa Park is Free to the public.
Friday, August 27 starting at 7pm
Saturday, August 28 from 12pm-10pm
Sunday, August 29 from 12pm-9pmhttp://www.eveoke.org/http://thepgkproject.com/Home.htmlhttp://www.flamencoarana.com/http://www.alphaomegadance.net/index.html
Peter Kalivas of PGK Project performing "Of Its Own"
Photo © & courtesy of Keith Weng
Kristina Cobarrubia of Flamenco Arana
Photo © & courtesy of Catherine Yavorsky