Three-Day Dance Fever Grips Laguna

A sample from a LINES Ballet segment, with performances Sept. 8 and 9 at Laguna Playhouse. The festival begins next Friday, Sept. 7.

Even though the town’s trio of art festivals will pack up for the season shortly, Laguna Beach’s cultural calendar shows no sign of settling into the off-season. For dance lovers, the excitement continues with the Sept. 6-9 Laguna Dance Festival as Jodie Gates, Laguna’s grand dame of dance and festival founder, presents the Alonzo King LINES Ballet of San Francisco,  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Backhausdance, an Orange contemporary dance troupe, all performing at the Laguna Playhouse.

Dance fans are lucky that lightning struck twice this year with the first dance fest celebrated in April and again now. However, beginning next year, they can only count on the fall festival.

To tantalize dance fans, select performers will offer a dance sampler at the Laguna Art Museum at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 6, during the First Thursday Art Walk. This week, local dancers were able to attend workshops with LINES and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago stars at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts.  Glenn Edgerton, Hubbard Street’s artistic director, will also conduct a master class at Laguna High School on Sunday, Sept. 9, beginning at 10 a.m.

The Hubbard Street dancers’ repertoire includes “Three to Max,” by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. Under the artistic direction of Glenn Edgerton, the company has gained acclaim over 34 years as a cutting-edge contemporary dance company.

Its innovative vibe attracted Quinn Wharton, 25, who left the San Francisco Ballet to join the smaller, more intimate company. “The company offers more opportunities for collaborate creativity and brings me closer to my roots in hip-hop and jazz, which I began in when I was 6,” he said. A scholarship to study with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle grounded him in ballet, a genre he found alien at first. He came around to recognize its virtue as a clearer career track and one that could ultimately pave more creative avenues.  “Hip-hop gave me the joy of dancing and ballet taught me how to finesse movement and find my own voice as a dancer,” he said.

Wharton previously performed at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and, while still in San Francisco, danced with Gates. “Dancing in ‘Artifact Suite’ with Jodie was a fantastic experience,” he recalled.

LINES Ballet will showcase King’s “Dust and Light,” moving among squares of light, to Francis Poulenc’s “Agnus Dei” from the Mass in G Major and excerpts from Arcangelo Corelli’s “Concerto Grossi. Classically trained, the company nonetheless has invented its own language based on modern, globally inspired dance movements as delineated by King’s choreographic vision.

Orange County has not been able to claim a dance company as its own since Ballet Pacifica disbanded in 2007, a void that Jennifer Backhaus, who founded Backhausdance in 2003, aims to fill. A full-time dance professor at Orange’s Chapman University, she staffs her young company with students and alumni.

Asked how one becomes a choreographer, she explained that it takes an ability to translate one’s thoughts into the bodies of others, organizational skills, understanding of form and to motivate dancers to create material on their own. “It has to be a perfect storm with a lot coming together,” she said.

She describes the Laguna Dance Festival’s program in glowing terms. Backhouse  particularly appreciates the increasing cross pollination between visual and performing arts, citing the program’s “Sitting on January” and “Push.”

“I am hoping to provide opportunities for dancers who want to move into the profession in Orange County and hone their skills as choreographers,” she said. “It is important for me to create a dance culture here.”



Dance Festival Schedule:

Sept. 6, 6:30 p.m., First Thursday Art Walk, dance sampler at Laguna Art Museum, 325 Cliff Dr. Free

Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m., Backhausdance’s “Push,” and “Sitting on January.” 6:30 p.m. pre-performance talk the founder, Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd. Tickets: $40 general, $25 students.

Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m., Alonzo King & LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Fundraising post-performance reception $75, Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd.

Sept. 9, 10 a.m.-noon, master class with Hubbard artistic director Glenn Edgerton, LBHS Dance Studio, 625 Park Ave. Class $25, audit $10.

Sept. 9, 2 p.m. Alonzo King & LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. 1 p.m. pre-performance talk. 606 Laguna Canyon Rd.

Tickets for Sept. 8 & 9, $50 general, $30 students  949-715-5578

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