Under the guidance of director and producer Nannette Brodie, the 8th So-Cal Dance Invitational will be presented at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater in Long Beach on March 23, 2019 at 8 PM. Presented annually by the South Coast Dance Arts Alliance, this year’s program will feature approximately 50 performers in works by 12 choreographers from the Los Angeles and Orange County areas.

Brodie is the Artistic Director and Principle Choreographer for the Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre, founded in 1986. She has long enjoyed presenting dance invitationals, but several years ago decided to create the So-Cal Dance Invitational focusing solely on southern California dance artists. The first several years the performances were presented at Golden West College where Brodie was Chair of the Dance Department, and one year at the Robert B. Moore Theater at Orange Coast College. Then, in 2013 and 2014, Brodie branched out to present the festival at the John Anson Ford Theaters in Los Angeles, calling it the LA So-Cal Dance Invitational.

For the productions at the Ford, Brodie presented just 5 companies and had to be more selective with whom she invited. The Ford Amphitheatre seats approximately 1200 people, so the companies needed to come with their own audience following for the concert to at least break even financially. The event drew a good size audience and it was considered a success.

Last year Brodie put the invitational on hold because she was busy organizing the 30th Anniversary season for Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre, and this will be the first time the invitational has been presented at the California State University, Long Beach Dance Center’s Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater. Over the years, Brodie has worked with dance artists from several different states who continue to ask her if she was going to change the invitational’s policy of inviting only southern California artists. “I told them no.”  Brodie said, “I feel a dedication to that policy and to making it part of our mission.” Since its inception, the invitational has included dance artists from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Ventura. It is an excellent representation of southern California choreographers and companies.

Evan Rosenblatt – Photo by Steve Shea

Brodie considers this experience to be an investment for the companies involved and holds production meetings to aid the groups actually being part of the organizational end of things. The Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater has a beautiful and large stage that is fully equipped technically, but the house only holds approximately 236. She is hoping that each group will bring its own following and that there will be a body in every one of those seats. It is a wonderful opportunity for some of the younger and more emerging groups.

The So-Cal Dance Invitational is highly respected by Brodie’s colleagues and she wants to maintain that reputation. “I don’t want them to simply show up and perform.” She said, referring to the artists. “I say to them, ‘You are a good company and you’re going to be produced really well!’”

The choreographers have been instructed to present works that are under 12 minutes in length. The names of those choreographers are Stephanie Maxim, Nannette Brodie, Erica Villalpando, Christine Baltes, Hyoin Jun, Kindra Windish, Michelle Shear, Patrick Donald, Deborah Brockus, Chelsea Johnson, Evan Rosenblatt, and the historic leaders of modern dance, Lester Horton and Bella Lewitzky. Many were familiar to me, but others were not.

Maxim, Brodie and Villalpando work together in the Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre. Maxim is presenting a “delightful, colorful new work with 9 dancers” based on Flamingos that will close the concert. Brodie has long been involved with the military and veteran communities in Long Beach and will present a work that she, Maxim and Villalpando worked on together titled Every Soldier Has A Story.  The work was Brodie’s vision but each of the three artists choreographed various sections.

Originally from Chicago, Christine Baltes studied with jazz dancer/choreographer Gus Giordano who is considered one of the fathers of American Jazz Dance.  Before moving to California, Baltes performed in stage productions, television and industrials around the country and was the founder and served for many years as Artistic Director for Jazz Spectrum Dance Company. Sadly, Baltes passed away a few months ago and in her honor, Janell Burgess will perform Baltes’ solo titled Samba Pa Ti.

Photo by Steve Shea

Photo by Steve Shea

Several of the choreographers on the program were unfamiliar to Brodie who selected the works after watching and studying many video tapes that were submitted for consideration. “Hyoin Jun is a very lovely and fluid mover.” Brodie said of Jun’s dancing and the work (a trio) she found to be “close, intricate and very clean”. Kindra Windish is a Long Beach Based choreographer who is presenting a work involving different age groups. Michelle Shear graduated from Mills College and is currently on faculty at Mt. San Antonio College. Shear is also presenting a trio. Patrick Donald choreographs and teaches for the San Pedro City Ballet and teaches art classes in the area. His work for the invitational is a contemporary ballet piece titled Before the Fall that was inspired by 9/11 and choreographed to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Deborah Brockus is a very familiar and highly respected LA choreographer. She is the artistic director of BrockusRED and the producer of several dance festivals including the Los Angeles Dance Fest and the Fringe dance festival. The work that Brockus will present on this concert involves huge pieces of fabric and three figures high in the air entwined amongst the fabric. Brockus has titled the work Dunes. Chelsea Johnson is based in Long Beach and is part of a group called The Seventh Street Dance Company. Her work is a contemporary piece for six dancers titled Rude Awakenings. Evan Rosenblatt is a dancer, choreographer, educator, a native of Los Angeles and currently on faculty at CalArts School of Dance and CSU, Northridge.

A first for the So-Cal Dance Invitational is the inclusion of a historical work, one that was choreographed in 1948 by legendary pioneer of modern dance, Lester Horton (1906 – 1953). The work being presented is a duet Horton co-choreographed with Bella Lewitzky titled The Beloved. Lewitzky taught the version presented here to John Pennington, who is also one of the performers in the duet. Pennington is a former Lewitzky company member, and artistic director of Pennington Dance Group.  He is currently an Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance, and Coordinator of Dance at Pomona College.

Brodie wants the readers of this article to know that “the richness of the tapestry of dance that we have in the Los Angeles/Orange County area” is barely being tapped upon by her work with the So-Cal Dance Invitational. “I would like to see more of this kind of thing.” She said. Brodie was one of the first to offer such a festival and she is proud that this one will offer such excellent lighting and production elements. “We have this wonderful tapestry of dance here in southern California and we need to serve each other more” Brodie said, fully aware of the other dance festivals that occur in Los Angeles.

So-Cal Dance Invitational – Photo courtesy of Nannette Brodie

Brodie considers the So-Cal Dance Invitational to be comparable to a festival that ran for 10 years at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. It was a wonderful event and beautifully produced by Jamie Nichols, and an amazing showcase for local Los Angeles choreographers and companies. It would be great if audiences from all over southern California would come out in support of their local artists performing in this invitational in Long Beach.

The So-Cal Dance Invitational takes place on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at 8:00 PM at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater located on the California State University, Long Beach campus. The theater is located at one end of the Department of Dance Center, on the opposite side from the Carpenter Center, and just across from the university’s blue pyramid on Atherton Street. Parking is located in front of the Carpenter Center.

Tickets are $25 General Admission; $20 for Students, Children, Military, Veterans, and DRC Members. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets: Click here.

For more information about the So-Cal Dance Invitational, click here.

For information about the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater, click here.

Featured photo by Liz Thompson