Bravura: Artistry, Brilliance and Dance Evolution

By Adam Mankoski of anewscafe.com

This weekend, the Redding City Ballet joins forces with the Redding Musical Theater Company, Foothill High School's Club Cougar, bellydance troupe Modern Gypsy, Belariz Ballet, Chico's Full Force Dance, Mt. Shasta City Dance and the Artesan Dance Company, for "Bravura", the ultimate dance collaboration. The dance extravaganza, presented and produced by Cindy Michaels and Diana Christensen, comes to life with music from a full pit orchestra, directed by Carlo Fazio.

Fans of musical revue-style performances will be thrilled by the Redding Musical Theater Company's energetic renditions of classics from "Grease" and the "Sound of Music."  The show will also appeal to fans of classical ballet, tap and jazz.  But for those who lean toward the avante garde, Artesan Dance Company will present three pieces from its repertoire of ballet-meets-modern-meets-ethnic-meets-breakdancing.

I had a chance to chat with Summer Odell, artistic director of the Artesan Dance Company about the company, the show and exciting adventures.

Tell me about the evolution of Artesan.

My friend Natasha Morken, a classically trained ballerina, and I dreamed of Artesen for years before acting on our dream in the summer of 2008. I began working on some concepts for new works but only had 3 dancers. I continued to work as though I had the dancers that I needed.

In the North State, there is a shortage of male dancers. But in the fall of 2008, Ernst Stølen came to the studio and asked me if he could use the space for practice with his break-dancing buddies. At first I turned him down, but as he was walking away I thought, "I wonder if these are the guys that I have been waiting for?" I told him that if he took one hour of modern and one hour of ballet with me each week, I would give him one hour to work on whatever he wanted. The next week, 5 guys showed up at the studio to take their first ballet class.

I asked the guys to join us for our debut performance of "Fusion," our first show at the Cascade Theatre in May 2009.

In June, I met Bryanna Cross, a student at the School of San Francisco Ballet. She fell in love with the concept of Artesan and moved to Redding to be a dancer in the company. In March of 2010 Artesan became a company in residence at The Redding City Ballet.

What appeals to you about a blend of dance styles? How do modern and ballet, for instance, complement one another?

The company consists of dancers trained in ballet, modern, ethnic, urban and break dance/b-boying. When we are in class it is our goal to be as skilled as possible in those individual techniques, honoring all the rules. However, when we are creating new choreography, the lines and the rules between the styles are erased and instead become the foundation for creating new things. We experiment a lot and create things that inspire us, hoping that it will do the same for our audience. The rules are no longer the thing that contain us but rather the thing that helps us to achieve something new and exciting. We approach things without thinking about our limitations but instead challenge those things.

The idea of dancers using their bodies as their artistic voice is a tough concept. How have North State audiences received you?

Almost 60 percent of communication is body language. Knowing this, you can begin to see how much potential dance has to communicate. I am fascinated by the incredible design of the body, all the ways that it can move and bend, it's strength, vulnerability, and beauty. We create moving art. North State audiences have responded well to us.

Tell us about your upcoming performance in Paris. How did that come to be?

In August of 2009, I traveled to Spain. Before I left, Kelly Dailey contacted me. She heard about our show "Fusion" at the Cascade. When she heard that I was going to be in Europe she asked if I would come to Paris to teach a few dance workshops in her studio, Dailey Method. In January, after the earthquake in Haiti, Kelly asked if we would consider coming to Paris to be a part of a benefit performance to raise funds for an education center in the Dominican Republic. We will be perform a full-length show at the Casino de Paris on June 15 to raise funds for this project.

I think the concept of Bravura is interesting. What drew you to be involved with this collaboration?

It is such a great honor for us to be apart of Bravura. We love Cindy's vision for it. We are a very collaborative company and love to celebrate other artists' work. We are thrilled to work alongside so many other North State artists, dancers, and musicians. It's a great celebration.

What is Artesan performing for Bravura?

We will perform, "Daraijin," an excerpt from "Fusion," and two experimental works, "Terrycloth Trososphere" and "Halving the Compass," an excerpt from our show "Parellels."