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San Diego Dance Companies Reach Milestones Post-Recession

April 2, 2013 1:12 p.m.


John Malashock, Founder Artistic Director Malashock Dance Company

Jean Isaacs, Artistic Director San Diego Dance Theater

Related Story: San Diego Dance Companies Reach Milestones Post-Recession


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: San Diego is home to more than one cutting-edge dance company. And we are fortunate to have two of the leaders of the two most successful dance companies in San Diego. Some way they are still alive and vibrant here in San Diego. Jean Isaacs has been dancing for more than 20 years, and the Malashock dance companying is celebrating its 25th this year.

ISAACS: My pleasure.

MALASHOCK: Delighted to be here.

ST. JOHN: Let's start with you, Jean. You came to San Diego in the mid-70s when modern dance was in its infancy. How have you seen it change?

ISAACS: Well, there was not a whole lot here. But the San Diego dance company was in its infancy, and struggling along, and just over those 40 odd years, to be honest, I think I helped a lot to build some of that infrastructure just because I had come from the east coast and seen what it takes to have a real dance community. And it's not only really about your own work, but if there's not an infrastructure there, it's not going to happen. So I did a lot of producing, for instance, and brought other dance companies to town they wanted to see. Did a low-tech series for 13 years. I founded the San Diego dance alliance in the early years so there was a support structure for that, and all of the ways and kinds of institutions that you need to build up to have an audience, and also collegial activities. So yeah, I takes some of that credit, sure.

ST. JOHN: Definitely. Now, John, when you started your dance company, did you picture the success you've accomplished?

MALASHOCK: Well, I think one of the things in dance is you don't tend to think too far in the future. And after coming back here from New York and dancing with Twyla Tharp's company in New York, I brought a certain technique and a lot of relationships with me as I started the company. And I think in our case, building those relationships, whether it was organizational with The Old Globe Theatre, that was our home theatre for a while, and we've done a lot of artistic collaborations with almost every art company in town has helped it given a different credibility to dance in this community.

ST. JOHN: You both really achieved a great deal of success in this community. But speaking personally, how do you country success?

ISAACS: Well, I think just being here, still standing, I think that we've learned to expand and contract with the financial situation. And I have not had to put any of our programs on the cutting block. And continue to actually offer an Asian creative program, and an after-school program. But to somehow make it available to the community, and I think that's probably the thing we've done the best is just access to our programs.

ST. JOHN: Well, you're the one that started the trolley dances.

ISAACS: Absolutely.

ST. JOHN: Which is one of the ones that most people know where you get on and off the trolleys -- or the dancers?

ISAACS: The dancers stay on-site, and the audiences get on and off the trolley. And we have a brand-new one this year, we're going to the San Diego public library, we're going to the new monarch school, we're going down to that new open market in Barrio Logan. So this is really exciting this year. And I think the relationships we've created with MTS, and all the new partnerships through the years, those have been super helpful to keep us afloat.

ST. JOHN: So beyond survival, which in itself is a major accomplishment for a dance company in this environment, what would you say is success for you?

MALASHOCK: I'd like to be remembered for a little bit more than just surviving. If you ask on a personal level, it's still when I create a work that I feel really excited about. That for me is sort of the heart of success. Because I know when you make work that really feels satisfying to you, that's when it's got the best chance of really connecting with other people. So that's still my measuring point. But there's other things like helping conceive the formation of Dance Place San Diego which is really a home to the dance community. It's where Jean and I both have our companies based.

ST. JOHN: And Jean is nodding here. And I just wanted you to go into a little bit more about what you mean when you say something that is really satisfying to you. What kind of thing makes a dance really satisfying?

MALASHOCK: I did a work just recently for our 25th anniversary, a collaboration with the pianist Gustavo Romero, and my group of dancers I really, really like the configuration of them right now. And it was just a work where I felt like on an emotional level, I struck paydirt. And it was really satisfying for me. I got tremendous feedback from the audience. And that's what you strive for.

ST. JOHN: Yes, yes. So you talked about your company and the people in it. How do you build a company? Is it something where the people tend to stay for a long time? Or is there a lot of turnover in San Diego?

ISAACS: My particular company right now, I also feel very happy with. We have used the same seven dancers for the past four seasons. One of the fellas is now dancing with ballet trucka Derro, so he's on the road and just does a few spots for us. But that's a really helpful thing. Because there's a chemistry between the dancers, if it's not there, it doesn't matter how good they are. And I think both of our companies are really 2579 right now.

MALASHOCK: Yeah, there tended to be quite a bit of turnover in town, and part of the intention with forming dance company and creating more opportunity is we've seen more people stay and develop their careers here rather than getting to a certain point and splitting town.

ST. JOHN: At some point, San Diego was partly due to you two, seen as a hub of creative innovative dance. Would you say that the changes in the media where the UT, for example, doesn't -- I mean, they used to have dance critics who really wrote a lot about your work. Has that made a difference to how easy it is for you to reach the public?

ISAACS: Ah! I'm afraid we're right in the middle of the question that's on everybody's plate right now is where we are positioned right now between the Internet and the paper. I think it's made a difference not to have something writing intelligently about dance. Not to have anybody writing at all about dance, really! Anything is helpful.

ST. JOHN: Because you're taking the dance out into the community. But if there's nobody writing about it in the media that people read, how do they even know what you're doing?

ISAACS: Right.

MALASHOCK: It forces you to be pretty adaptable. I think we're all using social media a lot more to let people know about what we're doing. We're looking for other outlets to just inform the community rather than the conventional ways.

ST. JOHN: And aren't you patterning with schools for some kind of a program?

MALASHOCK: Oh, yeah, we have a lot of outreach programs. We have a full program of academics in motion where it's really tying academic standards to dance movement.

ST. JOHN: How interesting! How do you do that?

MALASHOCK: It really helps set in concepts for students who may be don't learn -- always learn in a conventional way. Learning about angles, you know, obtuse and acute angles by having them form them with their bodies really, really enforces the ideas.

ST. JOHN: So do you have about partnerships like, with schools or --

ISAACS: Oh, completely. We have -- we work high-tech high in that whole community is right down the street from us, so we work with the students from there and other high schools as well four days a week after school. We call that program dance fierce. And we also host an intercession with high-tech last one a year. I think all of the dance companies have this opportunity to did this. And I'm sitting with a card in front of me for my live arts fest coming up next week, and we're just talking about how do you -- I didn't mail this card to anybody. It's a handout card. And there are 13 different dance companies, and each of them is expected to use their social media to tell folks about what's going on in our new white box.

ST. JOHN: This is down at the NTC.

ISAACS: It is. There's a 2-year lease on a 2,500-square foot space. It's really a beautiful space, and that's taking off with this live arts festival. And it's got Jerry haguer mime, it's really a diverse group of artists who are willing to help promote their own evening, and it's all through social media.

ST. JOHN: So April 5th through the 21st what. Kind of things can people expect to see?

ISAACS: We're doing one evening of water lilies with live music.

ST. JOHN: What does that mean?

ISAACS: Well, it was inspired by Monet's water lilies. We were in Paris last summer and saw that particular exhibit and the audio guide had impressionist music on it, and my husband and I came out and said why haven't we done this before? It's just beautiful. So I actually created in the style of an impressionist parent, which I usually come in with every step and every count in that controlled way, I just swept the space in a completely different way of creating. It was just really fun. And we're continued to be inspired at this point in our careers. Late career artists?

MALASHOCK: I've got to hold on for a little while.

MALASHOCK: Jean has been remarkable at building community around dance and offering a wider range of artists to present their work here.

ST. JOHN: Are you part of the event at the white box?

MALASHOCK: Not directly.

ISAACS: He's going to be in there with his summer workshop.

MALASHOCK: Yeah. We'll be utilizing the space. Jean and I both have summer workshops where we mainly -- high school and college age dancers who really aspire to be professional dancers.

ST. JOHN: Is it very competitive to get in?

MALASHOCK: Yes. The atmosphere of it is competitive. It's very intense sort of dance till you drop three weeks.

ISAACS: And back to the white box, we were just talking in the green room that art power at UCSD which is where I taught for 25 years and then retired, they're going to do a white box dance series this year, a side series to their regular series. So we're really excited about that. And we're going to pick those artists this afternoon. We're going to curate it.

ST. JOHN: Oh, interesting. Now, is the white box a new concept?

ISAACS: Well, we call black box what we do in theatre. And John and I have both worked in a black box. It's neutral, there's nothing in there, every single decision that you make makes its mark on the black box. But this, everything is white colored. So it's kind of a spoof in a certain way or tongue in cheek, but everything is white rather than black.

ST. JOHN: And the space down there with the windows around the room, it's such a nice space. Do you have to deal with the airplane noise?

ISAACS: Actually we're so surprise today doesn't bother us. As soon as we amplify our music, you don't hear the airplanes.

ST. JOHN: How is NTC working out for you?

MALASHOCK: I think it's been tremendously successful. It's where people know that dance is going on, whereas it used to be scattered around town. I think we've really created an identity for dance there. Our hope long-term is that the building right next to Dance Place will get renovated where they'll have a theatre it would be kind of a home theatre to most of the dance companies.

ST. JOHN: And this is your 25th anniversary. Will are you doing anything particular to celebrate it?

MALASHOCK: Well, we just did a big celebration at the Birch Northpark theatre. So that went quite well.

ST. JOHN: Anything you have that's coming up?

MALASHOCK: Yes, I'm working on a major collaboration. It's a dance musical based on the life of marc shagal, the artist. The La Jolla playhouse is helping nurture the project along, and we'll be doing that in June.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Just want to remind people that there is this arts fest running from April 5th to the 21st in the white box at NTC at liberty station. Thank you both so much for coming in. San Diego is lucky to have you. Jean Isaacs.

ISAACS: Thank you, Alison.

ST. JOHN: And John Malashock.

MALASHOCK: Thanks so much.