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Examining decades of Bay Area dance. (News).

The San Francisco Bay Area may not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks about important dance hotspots of the last 100 years. And yet it is where Isadora Duncan was born, the first U.S. ballet company was founded, Martha Graham met Merce Cunningham, and where West Coast dancers spent summers studying with the modern dance pioneers. Dance, it turns out, has flourished in the Bay Area since the beginning of the twentieth century, and the area has been the site for many notable moments in the art form's history.

This month, historian Joanna Harris intends to bring that past to life when she launches Bay Area Dancing: Documenting a Living Legacy, a project to culminate in 2004 or 2005 with a publication and a DVD that will include dance reconstructions and archival film footage.

In what Harris calls phase one of the multi-year project, Bay Area Dancing opens on April 27 with a daylong seminar in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library that will focus on the early years. Events include conversations with dancers who were part of the San Francisco scene from as early as the 1930s. The moderated panel discussions will also include showings of archival slides and videotape.

On the following evening, ODC Theater will host a showcase of dance revivals and reconstructions, including the 1937 piece Rich and Poor by the late Lenore Peters Job, founder of the ninety-year-old Peters Wright Creative Dance school.

"I wanted to capture the stories of the people in the community before they're gone," Harris explained. "Their stories constitute a living legacy, and this history has never been compiled before. There's little documentation of Bay Area dance history other than the fifty-year anniversary book on the San Francisco Ballet, the twenty-five-year one on Oakland Ballet, and a documentary called Dancers in Exile that, for the most part, focuses on modern dancers who came to the Bay Area after 1970." (The makers of Dancers in Exile will be documenting the April events, too.)

According to Harris, Bay Area dance has a unique dimension that is shaped by the region's residents, who come from, and are often interested in, a wide variety of cultures. "Dance here has always intermingled with the recreation world," she said citing a variety of troupes dedicated to the folk dance traditions of other cultures. "That dance world crossed over to the performing arts world through such venues as the Ethnic Dance Festival," she said. The performing arts world, in its turn, made ample use of some of those same folk forms.

But multicultural influences have also had their effect on the ballet scene, as when the Russian emigre community requested in the mid-1940s that San Francisco Ballet mount the first American Nutcracker rather than a production of Hansel and Gretel. They wanted to have a facsimile of the Ivanov Nutcracker they had seen at home, and, with the assistance of Balanchine and Danilova as they passed through town, Willam Christensen gave it to them.

And of course, "the Isadora influence was also very big here," said Harris, noting all the archival photos of young women decked out in draped garments and Grecian tunics, caught in gamboling poses. It's no wonder. In the Bay Area you can dance on the grass almost all year round.
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Title Annotation:San Francisco hosts historic documentary
Author:Murphy, Ann
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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