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Trolley Dances: A Truly San Diego Adventure

Dancers perform Liv Isaacs-Nollet's "Blue Stillness," one of the six pieces of Trolley Dances 2015, Sept. 26, 2015.
Nina Garin
Dancers perform Liv Isaacs-Nollet's "Blue Stillness," one of the six pieces of Trolley Dances 2015, Sept. 26, 2015.

A look at what it's like to go on a three-hour dance adventure around the city

Trolley Dances, an event that brings dance along San Diego's trolley and bus lines, celebrates its 17th anniversary this month with something new: a visit to Balboa Park.

In its nearly two decades, choreographers have put on site-specific shows in places like supermarkets, libraries, business parks and playgrounds in Logan Heights, downtown San Diego and Chula Vista. But never in Balboa Park.

Trolley Dances 2015

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3 and Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015.

Where: County Administration Building, 1600 Pacific Highway, downtown.

Admission: $15 to $35

Tickets: San Diego Dance Theater

This year, however, in honor of Balboa Park's Centennial celebrations, Trolley Dances makes its first trek to the landmark park, with choreographers drawing inspiration from the park's architecture and atmosphere.


The event, which was created by San Diego Dance Theater founder and choreographer Jean Isaacs, continues for its second weekend on Oct. 3 and 4.

For those who have never experienced Trolley Dances, or who want to revisit the three-hour trek, here's what it's like to spend a day combining dance with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.


Trolley Dances is a journey that requires a sense of adventure and, if you're bringing children, plenty of patience.

There's a lot of walking and waiting in the heat. And there isn't much time allotted for bathroom or snack breaks.

Still, young attendees will get a thrill from riding public transportation. And because the dances clock in at under 10 minutes and the scenery is constantly changing, it's never boring.


Audiences of all ages should wear comfortable shoes, a hat and light layers (for the spots with air conditioning). Bring a bag for sunscreen, water and cash to park in the surrounding lots. It's also a good idea to bring an umbrella for the sun.

Getting started

The event is designed as a guided tour, with works presented in a specific order, which is why it's recommended to purchase tickets. (Though, if timed correctly, it's possible to catch one or two dances for free.)

This year's headquarters are at the County Administration Building by the harbor. Show up a few minutes before any of the guided tour times: 10 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1 p.m. and 1:45 p.m.

You'll be handed a public transportation lanyard and a program, then taken to the first stop, Waterfront Park's North Fountain Reflecting Pool.

Dancers perform Stephan Koplowitz's "Play(as)" from the 2015 Trolley Dances, Sept. 26, 2015.
Jim Carmody
Dancers perform Stephan Koplowitz's "Play(as)" from the 2015 Trolley Dances, Sept. 26, 2015.

Dance 1: Play(as)

Choreographed by Stephan Koplowitz, this performance features dancers silently moving, gliding and jumping inside the water.

It uses ambient sounds from the fountain, the passing traffic and children playing nearby and sets a tone for an afternoon of unique, creative visions ahead.

Dance 2: Blue Stillness

A short walk over to Waterfront Park's playground is Liv Isaacs-Nollet's all-female piece "Blue Stillness," performed atop the climbing structure/slide.

Set to the music of Hozier with Karen Crowley, the piece combines the sloped architecture with athletic dance movement. The audience moves around the structure as the dance progresses, giving it a truly engaging effect.

Dance 3: Become Ocean

The trek to get to Trolley Dance founder Jean Isaacs' thoughtful piece is a long one.

The audience walks from Waterfront Park to the trolley, hops on for one stop and then exits to catch the 215 bus to Balboa Park. The bus brings visitors just outside the San Diego Zoo, where they walk over to the Centennial Walkway near the zoo's entrance.

"Become Ocean" features dancers walking through the dense greenery, as if in a jungle, and explores themes of climate change. Isaac's Trolley Dance piece is a preview of a longer dance to debut in January.

Dancers perform "Back to Front" by Mark Haim, Sept. 26, 2015.
Jim Carmody
Dancers perform "Back to Front" by Mark Haim, Sept. 26, 2015.

Dance 4: Back to Front

A short walk away is Mark Haim's charming vignette inspired by the alleys and architecture of Balboa Park's Spanish Village Art Center.

Dancers shimmy and tango down one of the alleys, mimicking the feeling of a busy Spanish street, complete with dogs and sidewalk cafes.

It lightens the mood after the three more serious dances that precede it, and that joyful feeling continues for the next presentation at the Moreton Bay Fig Tree.

Dance 5: Roots, Soul, and Love!

Suzanne Forbes-Vierling's "Roots, Soul, and Love!" which features African-inspired dance, is a highlight of the event.

A live band playing West African music accompanies the dancers, and the crowd is encouraged to cheer and clap for the jubilant solos.

The piece is inspired by happy memories of Balboa Park's iconic fig tree, which serves as the setting.

"The roots like the continent of Africa endure," Forbes-Vierling said in her artist statement.

Dancers perform Anne Gehman's "Giving Way," Sept. 26, 2015.
Nina Garin
Dancers perform Anne Gehman's "Giving Way," Sept. 26, 2015.

Dance 6: Giving Way

After a crowded walk through Balboa Park, Trolley Dances concludes at the Mingei International Museum with a piece by Anne Gehman.

Staged inside the (air-conditioned) museum, this high-concept dance features a cast of dancers reading from books, reciting dialogue and at times, convulsing. It's a piece, set to music by Nina Simone, that explores themes of love, trust and surrender.

Getting back

At the end of Trolley Dances, you can choose to stay inside the Mingei, where your ticket grants free admission for the day. When you're ready, you can catch the 215 bus back to the County Administration Building (detailed directions are in the program).

Or if you're ready to head home, you can voyage back with the tour guides and the many new friends ready to discuss and reflect on the day of original dance.


Trolley Dances continues Saturday, Oct. 3 and Sunday, Oct. 4. Tickets range from $15 to $35. More information can be found here.