The John Anson Ford outdoor amphitheater was first built in 1920 as a venue for The Pilgrimage Play, written by Christine Wetherill Stevenson. Stevenson partnered with Mrs. Chauncey D. Clark to purchase the land along with the land that the Hollywood Bowl now occupies. The theater was wooden and Stevenson’s play performed there from 1920 until the structure was destroyed by fire in October of 1929. Once it was rebuilt in 1931, the Pilgrimage Play resumed its performances until the onset of World War II.  The land was turned over to the County of Los Angeles and in 1976 renamed the John Anson Ford Theatre in honor of the county’s Supervisor who was a great supporter of the arts. If you have visited the Ford Theater within the past year, you know that it has experienced a major renovation at the cost of $80 million.

The Pilgrimage Play, 1937 - From the web

The Pilgrimage Play, 1937

The Ford has not escaped the effects of the pandemic, however, and recently announced the launching of an online virtual season with multidisciplinary programs that “explore the intersection of music, art, dance, and social justice in Native, Black, Latinx, and Diasporic communities”. – Ford Theater Press Release, August 24, 2020. The season will include four new digital series hosted on, Facebook Premiere, YouTube, Instagram, and Zoom.  All of the events are free.

This season marks the first year of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s operation and programming of the Ford Theater during a summer that would have marked the theater’s centennial year. That celebrations is now scheduled for the summer of 2021.

“While it was heartbreaking to see the venue go dark this summer, we knew that there was a way to fulfill The Ford’s mission in the digital space,” Director of The Ford Cynthia Fuentes said. “Moving online enables us to continue to support the region’s artistic communities, make their work widely accessible, honor the expansive cultural work past and present, and foster the intercultural dialogue that gets at the heart of issues impacting Los Angeles.”

“Even as all of us face unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19, we still need to thrill and be comforted by the power of the arts. That’s why I’m happy to see the LA Phil and The Ford finding ways to bring regional artists and innovative programming to expanded audiences,” said LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose district includes The Ford.

The Ford will be offering its season through four separate series to include Ford Digital Festival, LA Soundscapes, State of LA! And From The Ford. The Ford Digital Festival will focus on the wellness in communities of color to contemporary Native artistry. Festivals will be hosted on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Zoom. LA Soundscapes will combine lecture/demonstrations, performances and crafting workshops that are family oriented. State of LA! Celebrates the diverse culture of Los Angeles through in-depth conversations and performances. The fourth series From The Ford will feature archival performance footage that includes music, dance, poetry and foodways of the region, along with recent insights from featured artists.

John Anson Ford Theatres

John Anson Ford Theatres

Several Los Angeles based dance companies are included on this year’s virtual season and several are preceded by a pre-concert workshop. These companies include: Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Versa-Style Dance Company, Viver Brasil, Syncopated Ladies, Pacifico Dance Company, and Blue13 Dance Company.

On September 12, 2020,  The Ford will present a favorite of Ford audiences Versa-Style Dance Company in its Origins of Hip Hop: An Educational Journey Through the Cultural History of American Streetdance. This work follows the evolution of Hip Hop dance from its roots in African and Latinx Diasporic communities through the art forms many different styles such as Locking, Whacking, Popping, and Freestyle. Pre-concert craft workshop: Social Justice Stencils with Jay Davis.

Versa-Style Dance Company - Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres.

Versa-Style Dance Company – Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres.

Sept 24 – Lula Washington Dance Theatre: For 40 years, the iconic Lula Washington Dance Theatre has been reflecting on the Black experience through a contemporary dance lens, combining modern, hip-hop, jazz and African movement vocabularies. A Los Angeles institution, the company brought the house down during the 2018 season with a joyous evening of dance, featuring choreography by Lula Washington, Tamica Washington-Miller, Kyle Abraham, David Roussève and Rennie Harris.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in Rennie Harris’ REIGN – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres

On Sept 26, 2020 Viver Brasil will offer selections from it Afro-Brazilian repertoire. These will include the performance of the Orixá Oxum and a Bloco Afro (parade) spectacle, along with a percussion and interactive dance workshop for the whole family. Pre-concert craft workshop: Analogue Collage with Steve Haney.

Viver Brasil Celebrates 20 Years: Agô Ayó Spirits - September 22, 2017 - Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres

Viver Brasil Celebrates 20 Years: Agô Ayó Spirits – September 22, 2017 – Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres

Oct 10 brings the all-female tap band Syncopated Ladies whose videos have been viewed over 50 million times. The group is headed by Debbie Allen protégé Chloe Arnold and promises to bring their modern-day tap style to families for an afternoon of percussive rhythm and dance. Pre-concert craft workshop: Zine Making with Lorenzo Diggins Jr.

Syncopated Ladies. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Syncopated Ladies. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Oct 22 – Pacifico Dance Company, California’s premier baile folklórico company takes you on a colorful journey to Mexico through exhilarating music and dance. This vibrant ensemble of dancers and musicians celebrated its 25th anniversary on The Ford’s stage in 2017 with an evening exploring early Mexican history, myth and folktales through a signature blend of traditional and contemporary dance movements.

Pacifico Dance Company celebrates its 25th Anniversary with the performance "Mexico, De Tierra a Mar" at the Ford Theatres, August 12, 2017 - Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres.

Pacifico Dance Company celebrates its 25th Anniversary with the performance “Mexico, De Tierra a Mar” at the Ford Theatres, August 12, 2017 – Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres.

Blue13 Dance Company will be featured on November 21, 2020. Under the Artistic Directorship of Achinta S. McDaniel, Blue13 combines the art forms of Indian dance and its own contemporary American dance style. Those familiar with Indian classical and folk dance will recognize the company’s performance set to A.R. Rahman’s Bollywood classic “Kehna Hi Kya”. Pre-concert craft workshop: Draw Your Feelings with Nasimeh B.E.

Blue13 Dance Company - May 10, 2019 - Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres.

Blue13 Dance Company – May 10, 2019 – Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres.

The Ford asks everyone to do their part. In the August press release it states: “Due to COVID-19, we are unable to bring music to our stages for the first time ever. We ask you to Play Your Part in helping the LA Phil reach that longed-for moment when we will return to Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and The Ford. Follow this link to see how you can support the LA Phil. Your generosity will directly support our musicians, teachers, students, and staff, ensuring that our community is alive with music, today and always.”

To view the entire four series Ford Online Virtual Season Events Calendar, click Here.

To visit The Ford Theatres website, click HERE.

Written and compiled by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: “Ignite at The Ford” June 8, 2018 – Lula Washington Dance Theatre – Photo courtesy of The Ford Theatres.