'Fusion' brings together break dancing and ballet

By Joshua Corbelli of The Record Searchlight

With the sounds of African- and Asian-influenced percussion thumping in the background, ballet and break dancers shared the stage Tuesday night at the Cascade Theatre as the Artesan Dance Company rehearsed for its upcoming debut performance, "Fusion."

Taking place this weekend, the performance will be just as the name suggests - a fusion of ballet and break dancing. The styles vary greatly, and performances that integrate both styles are seldom, if ever, seen in Redding. But artistic director Summer Odell is confident her company can pull it off.

"It's been really interesting working with different styles. Our goal is to bring together and celebrate different dance styles," Odell said during Tuesday's rehearsal.

She added that she's a bit nervous but feels the performance is something most people have never seen, and along with its innovative approach, O'Dell hopes audiences will enjoy what they see.

"A lot of people won't know what they're gonna get. You have to see it in order to understand what it is and how it works," she said.

Some people might draw a comparison to the movie "Save the Last Dance," but Odell said audiences will see a much different performance.

O'Dell, 30, started the dance program nine years ago at Bethel Christian School in Redding, where she teaches. The program started with 40 students from the elementary and middle schools. Program enrollment has since grown to more than 100 students. Coming up with the idea a few years ago, Odell started Artesan Dance Company in January.

"It just felt like this was the time to do it. It's time to start showing the students what dance can really be like," she said.

Dancers range in age from 16 to 32 years old with most being in their mid-20s. Some members are friends of Odell; others are students at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

In the company's early days, break dancing wasn't in the picture. Artesan's studio, located on College View Drive, opened with the goal of teaching ballet. But one day, 25-year-old Eero Taina walked into the studio and asked Odell to use the studio an hour a week to teach break dancing to his friends. Odell agreed, with the contingency that Taina and his crew also take one hour each of ballet and modern dance. They agreed and have joined Artesan for this weekend's eclectic performance.

"I've done some other styles in the past, but I've never had a lot of training. It's challenging when it's not your style, but when there's music and dancing together, the different styles help support each other," Taina said. "People have different backgrounds, different amounts of experience. We try to bring the best out of each other."

Originally from Finland, Taina spent the past five years in Norway and, more recently, Redding. He's been break dancing for a decade and has toured with various break-dancing groups. He said ballet has helped improve his balance and flexibility.

"Fusion" is broken into three pieces: "Genesis," a mix of contemporary and classical ballet; "fusion," ballet and break dancing set to African- and Asian-influenced percussion; and "love story," a classic love story the company created featuring break and ballet dancing.

"It's awesome bringing in different giftings, trying to see the bigger picture. It's out of the box; we bring so much to each other. Each area is so well done that it's not a competition between each style, but an appreciation of seeing that contrast complement each other," said ballet master Natasha Morken.

Morken began dancing when she was 6 years old. Today, at 32, she spends most of her time teaching dance (though she will perform in "Fusion").