Arts & Culture

Collaborative festival of movement

Visiting dancer-choreographer Jennita Russo has worked with Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil.
Visiting dancer-choreographer Jennita Russo has worked with Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil.

Last month, local dancers and choreographers met on the polished stage of the Cohan Center for an evening of unfettered artistic expression.

Matching their movements with live music by Cal Poly organist Paul Woodring, they rehearsed an improvised piece called “Convergence.”

“It was fantastic,” dancer Tanya Tolmasoff said. “These people have never been onstage together (but) at the end of rehearsal they were hugging and laughing.”

The dancers unite once more this weekend for Jumpbrush: Pacific Coast Dance Convergence, a three-day dance extravaganza featuring classes, workshops and performances.

“There’s never been a dance festival like this on the Central Coast,” said Tolmasoff, who’s coordinating Jumpbrush. “It’s (about) bringing dancers together as well as inviting community members to see what dancers go through before the curtain rises.”

The festival will bring representatives of Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo, Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo, Deyo Dances, and Variable Velocity Performance Group together onstage for the first time. Tolmasoff calls them “the Big Four.”

“All of us know each other. We have dancers who dance in all our companies,” explained Variable Velocity co-founder Diana Stanton. “But we never get to work with each other because we’re so friggin’ busy.”

According to PAC managing director Ron Regier, plans for a Central Coast dance festival date back at least a decade.

During his annual meetings with local dance companies, Regier said, “We always spent a few minutes talking about how it would be so great to have a summer dance festival.”

Packed performance and rehearsal schedules made such an event impossible for years. But about two years ago, choreographer Lisa Deyo met with Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo founder Theresa Slobodnick and Civic Ballet Artistic Director Drew Silvaggio to discuss bringing the groups together.

Stanton joined the conversation a year ago and the four professionals have been meeting regularly since.

“(Jumpbrush) has been my goal forever,” Deyo said, citing Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts as one inspiration. “It’s been a simmering pot that finally came to full boil.”

Jumpbrush kicks off tonight with a performance by ODC Dance/San Francisco at the Cohan Center.

“They’re the perfect people to be involved with this,” Tolmasoff said of the dance company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. “They’re known for being a creative mecca in the Bay Area.”

On Friday and Saturday, dancers age 13 and up can participate in classes on ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary dance, as well as yoga, physical conditioning and contact improvisation. Participants must be at an intermediate level or higher; members of the public are welcome to observe.

Visiting faculty members include Celine Dion dancer Jennita Russo, Cirque du Soleil choreographer Mark Swanhart and Angela Banchero-Kelleher, who teaches modern dance at Utah Valley University. Two members of ODC Dance—Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson and dancer Daniel Santos—will also lead classes.

On Friday evening, Stanton and partner Jude Clark Warnisher will lead an interactive, improvisational workshop known as a “moving mural.” Dancers and instructors alike will create a series of tableaux as they move around the exterior of the Performing Arts Center.

“It’s really fun because the dancers are sculptures,” Stanton said. “I want them to become pieces of art even though they don’t know exactly what they’re doing.”

Jumpbrush concludes Saturday night with a closing concert featuring all four dance groups.

Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo will perform an excerpt from the original ballet “Robin Hood,” which premiered last year. Variable Velocity will present two pieces, Stanton said, the lavish, intricate “Daedal” and the athletic “Viscera.”

Deyo, meanwhile, is teaming up with Silvaggio, Russo and Helene Dinsmore for the debut of “Love, not love love.” The piece examines the support and affection shared by lifelong friends.

The evening ends with the world premiere of “Convergence” and a post-concert dance party.

“My hope is that people will walk away with the knowledge they’ve had this incredible experience,” Tolmasoff said, “and that they grow within themselves both in technique and artistry.”

Organizers hope to hold Jumpbrush on a biennial basis, much like the California International Choral Festival and Competition.

“Now that we have made this connection, we are all really excited about continuing this interchange, this convergence,” Deyo said. “This is a seed that has been planted. It will not stop growing.”

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.

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