Every Sunday afternoon, Festival of Arts patrons briefly journey to far countries and cultures, from India to Mexico, Hawaii to Santa Ana.
Recently, flamenco dancer Claudia de la Cruz and Catch Me Bird Dance Theater captivated audiences during Art in Motion: From Hip-Hop to Tango, the newest addition to a kaleidoscope of entertainment at the city’s most prominent art festival.
Susan Davis, the festival’s event organizer of the last nine years, was not altogether convinced dance acts would entice a new crowd to the festival grounds. So far her willingness to experiment has paid off.
The recent performance by C. Derrick Jones and Nehara Kalev filled the festival green, eager to sample one of many genres in the art form that audiences can expect during the festival’s run, through Aug. 31.
The dance program replaces blues acts of last year, though jazz performers still entertain midday on Saturday and Thursday evenings along with a Beatle tribute on Sunday night. This Sunday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m., passion replaces art works in the spotlight with tango dancer Marcelo Rivero.
Other local performing arts presenters welcome efforts to introduce audiences to new art forms. “It’s not a competition,” said Cindy Prewitt, president of Laguna Beach Live, which produces jazz and chamber music concerts. “We are working to make Laguna a city of all the arts. It’s a college town and a music town; it should be an arts town all around,” she said.
“It’s been hard at times to get people interested in dance, in comparison with say watching a play,” said Nancy Meyers, secretary of the Laguna Beach Dance Festival founded by former Joffrey Ballet principal Jody Gates. Gates herself performed at the Festival five years ago.
“If the Festival of Arts is bringing a wide variety of dance to the community, I wholeheartedly applaud,” Meyers said.
And audiences did just that and more for Catch Me Bird. The Los Angeles couple’s repertoire focuses on modern dance, and their choreography of gymnastic and acrobatic moves often portray amusing or poignant vicissitudes of committed relationships.
Even their marriage ceremony was a ticketed event, incorporated into a dance and aerial performance in Los Angeles in 2004 titled “Wedding Journey: Vows in Mid-Air.” The newly weds took a literal leap of faith by jumping off a high platform into a suggested void. It was also their debut as Catch Me Bird, Kalev said after her local performance.
Since then, they have choreographed and performed material based on their succeeding anniversaries such as “paper” for the first and “iron” for the sixth. Now approaching their seventh, they are working on a new performance titled “conception,” a paean to a hoped-for child.
At the Festival, they offered excerpts from works centered on domestic scenes, including a lively discussion at the dinner table where the lithe pair slithered around and under the table and used napkins as comedic props.
A few flirtatious and erotically tinged numbers mirrored the couple’s personal harmony. When Kalev and Jones climbed atop a large set of stylized wedding rings and, after a series of acrobatic moves, joined them into the symbolic shape of the universe, everyone got their point that love is a balancing act.
While Kalev received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in dance, Jones received his undergraduate degree in psychology training that he finds useful in negotiating a complex, creative relationship. “We have some lively discussion since Nehara is a meticulous planner and I am more of a dreamer,” said Jones, who likens dance to a form of therapy.
The couple first met while performing with the Diavolo Dance Theater and have showcased their skills at the LA Opera and, as Adam and Eve, in the Crystal Cathedral’s production of “The Creation,” among many other gigs.