Dance Bistro 2013: A Little Taste of Every Dance Style

Watson Dance by Da Xu

Watson Dance at a Dance Bistro rehearsal. Photo by Da Xu.

The dancers of Luminario Ballet hang from aerial silk as they wrap their bodies around each other. Watson Dance troupe spills out into the aisles and interacts with the audience. LA Follies kick line taps to ’40s tunes. CONTRA-TIEMPO mixes salsa, Afro-Cuban, urban and contemporary styles.

These are just four of the 13 dance companies performing at the second annual Dance Bistro, a two-day festival coming to Carpenter Performing Arts Center at California State Long Beach this weekend.

Now in its second year, Dance Bistro has grown tremendously. Last year, it featured only six companies. This year, it accepted submissions online, received 60 and picked 13 participants. Two high schools, L.A.’s Renaissance Arts Academy and Cortines High School Dance Company, have been included, one performing each night. And Thursday and Friday at the Carpenter Center–as part of the festival’s Education Outreach program–1,800 students and teachers will be bused in to watch dress rehearsals, which will also be live streaming for free from 11AM to 1PM on dancebistro.com. Jackie Lopez, co-founder of Versa-Style Dance Company, will be the emcee and moderate the Q&A sessions with the artists after each run-through.

The two defining features of Dance Bistro 2013 are that it’s multigenre and accessible. Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company takes the stage on Saturday night with BODYTRAFFIC, a contemporary repertory company that made Dance Magazine’s 2013 25 to Watch list, and the Chinese company Happy Dance Ensemble, which mixes old and new. This year’s theme is integration, which means other artistic elements, like live music or video projection, will accompany the movement. Each show costs only $5.

Cortines High School Dance Company by Nguyen Nguyen

Cortines High School Dance Company. Photo by Nguyen Nguyen.

“There are a lot of layers to what we do,” says Joyce Huang, production coordinator for Dance Bistro. “Beyond being a platform for all the dancers and choreographers to present their work, we really want to open [the festival] up to the community. A lot of people don’t get the regular access to come watch a live performance, and so that is part of our mission.”

The idea for Dance Bistro sprang from a question. “How can dance be more accessible to the community?” The TuTu Foundation had been mulling over this predicament when they met Mandarin Wu, the artistic director of Mandarin Orange Performing Arts.

Wu attended L.A. Country High School for the Arts, graduated from UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and received a MFA at NYU for Choreography and Dance. When Wu met with the arts education advocates running the TuTu Foundation, their mission became clear: to produce a multigenre dance festival that was accessible to everybody. Planning for the inaugural festival began in July 2010.

“Dance is starting to go mainstream,” says Huang. “But there are a lot of neglected dance styles beyond commercial work, especially in California. There are so many schools: UC Irvine, UCLA, CAL State Fullerton, Chapman University. All these schools have great arts programs, but there’s not that much of a venue for them to present themselves. So we’re trying to fill that void and to become that platform for these artists to come together to show off what they’ve learned and what they’re passionate about.”

Luminario Ballet by Nguyen Nguyen

Luminario Ballet. Photo by Nguyen Nguyen

Chapman University graduate Elke Calvert ’11 is one such emerging choreographer who has the opportunity to showcase her work. Her company will be performing “Framed,” for which she won the Grand Prize Award at the 2012 Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival in Palm Desert. Former Los Angeles Ballet dancer Kelly Ann Sloan’s newly formed company ChoreoLive presents “Live at the Jazz Barre.” Wu herself choreographed “Shift • Flow,” Happy Dance Ensemble’s contemporary Chinese fan piece, for this weekend’s performance.

Cal State Long Beach graduate Roxanne Gonzalez-Onofre ’09 returns to the Carpenter Center as a member of Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company. Performing on this stage first as a senior in college and now as a co-choreographer of Grandeza Mexicana’s upcoming piece, “The Legend of Sac-Nicte,” she sees her dance career coming full circle.

The TuTu Foundation and Wu have big plans for Dance Bistro. This year’s installment is just the second in a string of festivals dedicated to representing the diversity of Los Angeles dance on stage.

“We’re celebrating all the different dance styles,” says Huang. “You’re getting a little taste of every style. A lot of the events are usually just one genre based. Here, we try to give everybody as much as they can see in one night.”

Dance Bistro performs two shows, Friday, May 24 at 8PM and Saturday, May 25 at 8PM at Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach. Tickets are $5. Veterans and active military can attend for free. To read more about the companies performing at Dance Bistro 2013, go to dancebistro.com.

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