Thursday, September 6, 2007
NOBODY QUITE DOES DANCE like Fran Spector Atkins. From rock ballet to political pieces about agriculture and immigration, her performances typically begin with a socially-conscious theme – say, nature and the environment, censorship, violence among teens. She choreographs subtle movement, often using only a handful of dancers, and then layers the dance with text, video imagery, music and spoken word. The result is a complex, multi-media work that often evolves and grows over the course of several years.
In 1996, while teaching at CSUMB, she founded her dance company, SpectorDance, and five years ago, boldly invested in building an ambitious creative complex as her dance studio/performance space in Marina, installing high-tech sound and light equipment with scrims for video. Every year Spector Atkins brings top-notch, cutting-edge talent to Marina as part of Monterey Dance Fest and her Emerging Choreographers Showcase.
“We have the opportunity in this county to be a thriving center for the arts that isn’t just representative of the past,” she says, “but something that really does step out and aim to be representative of what’s going on today.” But many of her ambitions are on hold.
Recently, Spector Atkins visited indigenous villages in Ecuador, researching her new piece, The Myth Project, a work she plans to stage with live rock music. One ancient myth about how fire comes into the world tells a story in which animals and man change shapes. “There’s also the magic drum,” Atkins continues, “a myth about the male and female energy joining. The drum is the symbol of time and timelessness; it’s also about how destruction and creation are part of the same cycle.”
Mythology about corn led Spector Atkins to Ecuador. “We went with videographers and filmed and interviewed indigenous people about the rituals, legends and practices around corn that show ancient knowledge of sustainable practices.
“Myth bring poetry to science, and science bring credibility to myth.”
But The Myth Project is in a holding pattern: There are no funds to produce the concert. Spector Atkins says she hopes local donors will support her vision – and dance in Monterey County.
“There is wealth here, and education, but is there a will to support the arts?”
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While Spector Atkins’ continues to be a beacon for innovation, perhaps the other richest source of dance in the county is the extraordinarily breadth of public participation in various forms of ethnic dance.
“Dance pulls people together, from all walks of life, because it’s at the core of our being,” says local bellydancer instructor and performer Janette Brenner. Most dancers I interviewed used similar language, regardless of the form they practiced.
Locals participate in Argentinean tango, folkdance, salsa, samba, flamenco, bellydance, Irish dance, ballet folklórico, ballroom, West Coast swing and almost endless others here – with the key word being participate. Dance schools and ballrooms host weekly dance parties where everyone is invited to show up and swing or waltz or tango.
Several dancers credit the community’s international influence and schools for this diversity. The International School of Monterey, Defense Language Institute and Monterey Institute of International Studies bring people of all ages and ethnicities to the area, along with their music and dance.
“There’s a sort of intellectual curiosity and willingness to try new things,” says tango teacher Claire Piper. “A lot of these people are away from their home country. People in our class are Jordan, Africa, Russia, Turkey. We have men dancing with men, and women dancing with women, and the age thing doesn’t come into play. You’re not thinking about that as you’re dancing. You’re concentrating on something deeper, broader.”
While local dancers share Spector Atkins’ desire to see more local support for dance, they see signs of promising change. For example, Lisa Eisemann, director of both Salinas School of Dance and Spirit of Salinas Irish Dance Company, has been asked to sit on Salinas’ newly-formed Arts Council. “The mayor, Dennis Donohue, believes that bringing the arts into the community perspective will help kids out of gangs,” she says, “and be a positive thing for our town. He wants to make the arts more accessible.”
“There’s a movement to support your local shops and local produce,” says Jamaica, who teaches and performs bellydance. “Support your local talent as well.”