Having just been named the resident dance company for Temecula Presents, Backhausdance will celebrate the beginning of its 20th Anniversary on Saturday, November 19, 2022 at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater. The program will include a work created in 2019 by Founder and Artistic Director Jennifer Backhaus, and three World Premieres by Associate Artistic director Amanda Kay White, and guest choreographers Ching Ching Wong and Tommie-Waheed Evans. Jennifer Backhaus will also be teaching a free Master Class on Sunday, November 20, 2022. The Temecula Theater is located at 42051 Main Street, Temecula, CA 92590 and tickets are on sale HERE.
Backhaus and I met on Zoom just prior to her going into rehearsal to discuss the new residency for Temecula Presents, the concert and what is on the program, the guest choreographers, how it feels to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Backhausdance, and the hurdles the company has faced throughout the years.
The company will be performing Backhaus’s One Continuous Line, set to music by Christopher Cerrone and Robert Honstein. The work which is dedicated to the memory of dancer, choreographer and teacher Nancy Dickson-Lewis, had its premiere at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in 2019. She explained that this work is a love letter to all the women that have performed with Backhausdance over the years; some of them 5, 10, or like Amanda Kay White, for 20 years. “They have dedicated so much of their time and their dance life with the company,” Backhaus said. She added that she did not feel that the work was finished in 2019, so now had time to re-do it. “It’s a homage to the women,” she added. “Basically, the idea one line of energy coming through multiple people, spreading out and coming back together, and how that happened.” To hear Backhaus speak about One Continuous Line, please click HERE.
This will be Amanda Kay White’s first full proscenium work for Backhausdance titled The Emergent Self (World Premiere) to a score that White has compiled including music by Rival Consoles. “It’s about finding out who you are in the world and letting that come out,” Backhaus explain. “The movement is fun and a little bit quirky just like she is.” To hear White speak about her dance, click HERE.
The two guests are Ching Ching Wong and Tommie-Waheed Evans, both who have had a working relationship with Backhausdance before. “The interesting thing about them,” Backhaus said, “is that both of them grew up in Southern California. Ching Ching went to UCI. Tommie danced with Lula Washington.” Both artists left the area, Evans working with Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Philadanco. He now runs his own Philadelphia-based company waheedworks. Ching Ching went on to work with Northwest Dance Project, as and répétiteur for Swiss based choreographer Ihsan Rustem, and now one of the repeteurs and rehearsal directors for Ballet Jazz Montreal.
She described Wong’s work, Fate and Fantasy (World Premiere), as dance theater with characterizations. It is about Wong remembering her life in the early 1990s growing up in Orange County with her grandmother. “The idea of immigration and how immigrants look at the world a little differently than people who live here. It is very stylized 1991 and the backdrop is the Wheel of Fortune,” Backhaus said. Fate and Fantasy is set to Sound Design by Noelle Kayser with music by Tomaso Albinoni, soundscape samples from Wheel of Fortune, advertisements, and Santee Alley Market. “The way Ching Ching talks about her piece is very poetic. How as immigrants we always keep the idea of fate and the idea of fantasy of what we want the world to be like and why we came here so close to us all the time,” Backhaus added. “The world we hope it is, the world we think it’s going to be, and how the world really is.”
To listen to Wong speak about Fate and Fantasy, please click HERE.
Evans new work, Everywhere, But Here (World Premiere), is more introspective and about his love life set to music by various songwriters including The Flamingos and Anne Müller. While describing Evans’s work, Backhaus said that “it keeps going into this dreamland, this dreamscape where you keep going into loops in a really big movement sort of way. It’s fun. There is a diverse approach to moving in a nice container of athletic dancing. Some things are very abstracted and some are postmodern.”
To listen to Evans talking about Everywhere, But Here please click HERE.
I asked her to explain what led up to Backhausdance becoming the resident company at Temecula Presents.
“We had been booked to do a performance before the pandemic through our agent Rachel Cohen with Cadence Arts Network. Then the pandemic happened and we were in conversation about how to get it back online.” Backhausdance had performed there before but the person in charge of booking the theater is no longer there so, they had to rebuild the relationship with the new person Chariss Turner and the company was invited to perform there. “They were really receptive to the work and receptive to us as a company, and our professionalism.”
Prior to the pandemic there had been a dance scholar and a small dance company in residence that not only performed but who did a lot of community outreach and audience development work which included talks, teaching workshops and master classes. It was Turner who wanted to restore this program and asked Backhaus if she would be interested in Backhausdance taking over the position of company in residence. Backhaus said yes.
“To be honest, one of the things that has been a struggle in Orange County,” Backhaus said, “is a place to perform consistently.” Her company has tried partnering with a couple of theaters, one of them being the Musco Theatre in Orange, California and the Irvine Barclay Theatre but their management teams have changed since Covid hit and are going in a different direction. “One of the things that we have been trying to do over the past 20 years – especially the last 5 years – is bring in guest choreographers. It is very hard to book guests without a consistent season.”
As I have heard from several dance artists, self-producing their companies in theaters both in Orange and Los Angeles Counties is often cost prohibitive. As Backhaus confirmed, “Extremely rough!” The residency with Temecula Presents help to solve those problems. The company will be helping with dance curation, arranging talks with the companies performing there and audience building, all of which Backhaus says that she truly enjoys. In exchange, Backhausdance will have an annual concert on the same day every year. “And” she said with excitement, “time in the theater to tech and to create new work! As you know that time to develop something that’s great is so cost prohibitive if you’re going into a theater that costs you an arm and a leg to be there.” Founding and maintaining a dance company is difficult no matter who one is or where one is located, but I was interested to hear how Backhaus had kept an Orange County-based company going for 20 years.
“I think that the biggest thing is that we tend to skew with the big ballet companies that come into Segerstrom (The Segerstrom Center for the Arts). Like name recognition is everything,” Backhaus said. “A little more classical and a little less experimental. I think that it’s changing a little bit.” She also thinks that people have too many choices in Orange County. Too much to do and so many options, and because her company tends to have only a one night performance that it is hard to maintain an audience. “I know that there is an audience,” she continued. “I know who they are. The big challenge for us is to replicate a season over and over again where people know where to find us.”
Backhaus said that this is because her company is so nomadic. They don’t have a dance school. Dancers in Backhausdance teach at schools like Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), South Coast Conservatory, Orange County Music and Dance, and Impact Dance Center, as well as in university dance departments such as Chapman University. These dancers are running some of those places but the company does not have its own central hub. In spite of this the company has managed to perform at the Joyce Theatre in New York, a European tour, performing in Italy and Poland, as well as cities in the state of Wyoming and in Canada.
Right now her focus is on performing regionally. Performing in Los Angeles venues like L.A. Dance Project Studio or Stomping Ground L.A., the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater in Long Beach, and in San Diego.
“I’m very grateful that we have lasted 20 years and to the audience that we have and who have supported us, to the people that come to see us and for the people who it really matters that we’re making the new work,” Backhaus said at the end of our interview. “I think that I’m proud that there’s a company in Orange County that is making work in Orange County with Orange County artists. It has been 20 years and I’m very proud of that.”
Backhausdance has made an enormous contribution to dance and to the culture of Orange County. I hope that if you are in the area of the Old Town Temecula Community Theater on Saturday, November 19, 2022 that you go see this beautiful company.
For more information on Backhausdance, please visit their website.
For more information on Temecula Presents and the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Backhausdance in “Scene Unseen” choreography by Jennifer Backhaus – Photo by Shawna Sarnowski