On Wednesday, March 27, 2024, Backhausdance will return to the Irvine Barclay Theatre with a powerful program featuring works by four choreographers with very different creative styles. This promises to be an exciting and diverse program performed by some of Southern California’s finest dance artists. The evening includes a reimagining of an audience favorite, Love and Other Impossibilities (2006), choreographed by artistic director Jennifer Backhaus, alone with a new work, I Am Dangerous and Blooming, by associate artistic director Amanda Kay White. Rounding out the evening are two works created by distinguished guest choreographers award-winning multi-faceted movement artist Peter Chu, and Alice Klock and Florian Lochner of FLOCK, a co-choreography German/American dance company. Tickets are on sale now HERE.

Peter Chu has stated that he has been thinking a lot about Artificial Intelligence (AI) lately which inspired him to create Portals of Being for Backhausdance. FLOCK wrote that their new work The Barest Echo “explores the physical and metaphorical power of breath.”

Backhausdance. Photo by Jack Hartin.

Backhausdance. Photo by Jack Hartin.

The Orange County based Backhausdance is a professionally, contemporary dance company now in the middle of its 21st season. The company has toured nationally and international and is  the recipient of 10 Lester Horton Awards from Dance Resource Center of Los Angeles for achievements in choreography, design, and performance. Backhausdance is also the resident company at Temecula Presents, which produces performances and programs at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater.

Backhausdance’s 2023-2024 season began in Temecula last November and continued with a performance in February at L.A. Dance Project, and following the March 27th appearance at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, the company will be offering free performances for the community at Santa Ana College in May.

Backhausdance is very proud of its educational and community outreach programs. I caught up with Jennifer Backhaus via her cell phone as she drove home from her company having just wrapped up two performances at elementary schools in Coachella this morning and a show for six classrooms in Mecca, California. They were all part of a nine school tour that is part of the company’s program called Dance for Kindness.

Jennifer Backhaus - Photo by Jack Hartin

Jennifer Backhaus – Photo by Jack Hartin

I think it’s really important. I think it’s really important that we expose kids and the general community to dance as an art form,” she said. “That’s really important and we’re doing something good. We’re doing workshops and giving kids an opportunity to explore creativity through dance and we hit a lot of the social emotional learning skills. I know we are making better kids. We’re helping kids thrive in elementary school.” Backhausdance has also been working with many high schools this season.

These programs also help the dancers in the company. Each performance is followed by a question and answer session and Backhaus believes that there is something powerful about the dancers talking to the students. When the young students ask why they dance and what is important to them,  it reminds the company members why they chose to become and continue to be professional dancers.

As a young girl, Backhaus studied gymnastics before expanding her training in ballet and jazz. While attending Arcadia High School, she studied jazz with Jamie Nichols and was first introduced to modern dance with Susan Rose at California State University, Riverside. But it was when she attended Chapman University that Backhaus met her most influential choreography teacher and mentor, Nancy Dixon Lewis. “She was a big inspiration and has been my whole career,” Backhaus said. “She stayed a part of my life until she passed away a few years ago.” Other choreographers who she admired and learned from were Jerome Robbin, Jiří Kylián, and Twyla Tharp.

After college Backhaus danced with the Los Angeles based Donna Sternberg & Dancers for 8 years. It was there that she learned how to be in a company, how it works, and more about the choreographic process. “She (Sternberg) is a really great woman and inspired me a lot too,” she said. The two women continue to stay in touch. “I so respect her, her work and the way she runs her company.”

Backhausdance in Jennifer Backhaus' One Continuous Line - Photo: Jerry Li

Backhausdance in Jennifer Backhaus’ “One Continuous Line” – Photo: Jerry Li

When Backhaus founded her company she was the sole choreographer. Approximately 7 years ago, however, she began bringing in other choreographers to create works for her dancers. I asked her how that transition was for the company members. She explained how it has been a gradual shift over time: “To be honest in the beginning it was harder because they really trained in one kind of style,” she added. “ But now because we challenge them and do so in many different ways, there’s this expectation that you need to be very versatile in your approach to moving. It’s a little easier now, but it still is very challenging because every new person comes in with their own aesthetic and their own initiation for how it comes out of their body. So dancers have gotten really pliable and they are into and love digging into the differences in the work. And so it’s become a fun process for them to try and live in all of these different worlds and for them to inhabit physically very different ideas kinesthetically.”

Backhaus explained that it takes paying real attention to the details of the ideas and visions that each choreographer brings with them into the process and to be able to articulate them for the dancers and to notate them for future reference so that the works do not get watered down and similar. Because she and Amanda Kay White do the majority of teaching that “it feels almost like our wheelhouse, you know, we drop into our homeland when we do a work of mine,” she said.

Backhausdance - "Portals of Being" by Peter Chu - Photo by Shawna Sarowski.

Backhausdance – “Portals of Being” by Peter Chu – Photo by Shawna Sarowski.

While on tour a professional dancer becomes used to adjusting to performing on different stages. On March 27th Backhaus will be faced with this after dancing at L.A. Dance Project Studio and then on high school auditorium stages. I asked Backhaus what she foresaw in regards to the adjustments her dancers will have to make at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

The stage is much bigger,” she said right away. “So any of the big, big moving sections in any of the pieces are going to be challenging for them because they have got to hit the afterburners a little bit because they have more space to cover.” Having just seen these dancers perform in Los Angeles, I think that they are ready for and up to the task.

I asked how the residency at Temecula was going for her company and Backhaus said that it was going very well indeed. She said that everyone there has been very welcoming and nice to the dancers, something that is not always true when one is with a dance company. Backhaus also explained that having that space to premiere a new work each year allows her to schedule the other choreographers time with the company in a way that makes sense. “If you have an anchor performance, it’s hard,” she explained. The residence allows Backhaus the time and space to have that structure.

Backhausdance in "Love and Other Impossibilities" choreographed by Jennifer Backhaus - Photo by Shawna Sarnowski.

Backhausdance in “Love and Other Impossibilities” choreographed by Jennifer Backhaus – Photo by Shawna Sarnowski.

Besides having an annual performance booked at the Temecula theater, Backhaus has the title of Scholar in Residence which means that she gives the pre-show talks before other dance company performances. Temecula Presents generally presents three other dance companies each season. The company has done several open classes and workshops there and hopes to do more in the future.

While discussing the problem that many dance companies in Los Angeles and elsewhere are having of locating an affordable theater, Backhaus mentioned that the Irvine Barclay Theatre is a wonderful venue for dance. The theater seats approximately 700 people, but even if they close off the balcony, the orchestra seats about 500 and if a company fills most of those seats, it feels like a great show. After renting the theater for a few performances, the Irvine Barclay Theatre began presenting the company each year.

Backhaus admitted that it is because of the Barclay Theatre’s commitment to dance and seeing all the great works of choreographers presented there, that it has helped make her into the choreographer she is today. “Had I not been able to see those shows live, I would not be doing what I am doing,” she stressed. “That is how important The Barclay is.” Backhausdance’s record at the Barclay Theatre is that they came close to selling out each time they performed there.

Backhausdance - "The Barest Echo" by FLOCK: Alice Klock & Florian Lochner - Photo by Shawna Sarnowski.

Backhausdance – “The Barest Echo” by FLOCK: Alice Klock & Florian Lochner – Photo by Shawna Sarnowski.

With Backhausdance being one of the very few major contemporary dance companies in Orange County, it seems reasonable for the Barclay Theatre to invite them to be their company in residence.

My last question for Backhaus was after seeing her company perform, what she wanted the audience at the Irvine Barclay Theatre to take home with them.

I hope they take away a sense of hope,” she said. “I think it’s hopeful, even Peter Chu’s piece which has a somewhat obscure ending. I think you know a little sense of hope and connectedness and humanity and that we go through good times and bad times and you can still survive it.”

Backhausdance is proof that there is high caliber art being created in Orange County and if you have the opportunity, I know that you will be pleased with the very diverse themes on the Backhausdance program at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. I have seen this show and highly recommend that you attend.

Again, the choreographers whose works will appear on the program are Jennifer Backhaus, Amanda Kay White, Peter Chu, and Alice Klock and Florian Lochner of FLOCK.


For more information about the Irvine Barclay Theatre and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.

To learn more about Backhausdance, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Backhausedance – Photo by Jerry Li