Palm Desert Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival 2001
By Rebecca Redshaw
If the popularity of “Survivor” is any indication of the public’s desire for challenges, both physical and emotional, than Saturday night’s event at the McCallum Theatre could prove an entertaining and interesting evening.
Of course, the fourth annual Palm Desert Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival will raise the bar far more artistically than the contrived outback adventurers when professional dance companies vie for the top prize in the competition.
Festival founder and director Shea New, herself a choreographer and dancer, says the event has grown in popularity requiring the amateur and professional divisions to be performed on separate weekends.
“Last year, we had sixty entries and it was unmanageable. This year we’re in transition.”
The transition should be appealing to dance companies as well as audience members. A distinguished selection committee viewed forty-five video submissions in the professional category and from those entries eighteen finalists were selected to perform this Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. Also, on the program will be the winners from last weekend’s amateur division of the Festival and a special acknowledgement for lifetime achievement in choreography. A surprise dance tribute has been created for this year’s honoree, Joe Tremaine, the renowned jazz choreographer.
This festival is unique in that the emphasis is on the choreographer, someone who frequently gets lost in the creative shuffle. Even mildly educated film goers recognize the influence a director has on an actor. Because dance is such an immediate medium the relationship between a choreographer and dancer is even more special.
Virginia Waring, Honorary Chairwoman of the Festival, has been supportive of the event since its inception and states the case for honoring choreographers succinctly. “Without choreographers, dancers don’t have anything to do!”
New elaborates, “Choreographers are unsung heroes. Their art form is very difficult. You can look at paintings over a period of time but with dancers art is in the moment and harder to pull together.”
But pull together they will. Selections are made on the level of creativity and execution rather than dance style. Throughout the course of the evening it’s quite possible to see a solo artist followed by a company of twenty, followed by a trio of dancers all performing in different styles; ballet, jazz, modern, or hip hop. Each company has no more than fifteen minutes to perform.
Waring recalls. “One year a company sent twenty-five young people who performed a charming Gershwin piece and then the next group was a modern duet. The variety is part of the appeal of the evening.”
New has been involved teaching in the desert communities for years and is dedicated to bringing the joy of movement and dance to everyone. This year tickets are available starting at $7.00, less than the cost of a movie, so that families can share a new, artistic experience.
“When you talk to young people about theater,” New states, “they immediately relate to films. We want to keep this avenue open so they can experience the joy of live performance.”
Even the cost of a dance company’s entry is kept at a minimum with a registration fee of only fifty dollars. Housing is provided by supporters of dance in the community if the traveling distance requires an overnight stay.
Most of the troupes drive into town arriving in time for a one o’clock festival meeting and then rehearsals begin. The logistics of so many different companies each with different music, costumes, and lighting cues adds to the unpredictability and excitement of the live performance. Just imagine the chaos backstage of sharing dressing room space.
Word of the prestige of Dance Under the Stars continues to spread throughout the international dance community and has drawn inquiries from as far away as Rhode Island, New York, North Carolina and England. Newly formed companies frequently struggle financially before being eligible for various grants. This venue offers the opportunity for media attention, audience exposure, and, most importantly, a creative platform to express their art.
New is looking towards the future. “This festival has created a buzz in Los Angeles and the west coast dance community. What we need now is for the excitement of dance to catch on with the general public.”