Coach Inspires Motion in Young Dancers at Seminar

Amerigo Anderson, a 16-year-old aspiring dancer from the High School of Performing Arts, has a fierce determination to make it in the competitive arena of modern dance.

Joan Keif has no such ambitions. She’s just a typical working girl indulging a passion for dance.

Jo Reed, a North County art professor, finds inspiration for her paintings in the ebb and flow of supple bodies in space.

Others, like Palomar College student, Peter Czerner, hone their terpsichorean skills to further their dream of becoming triple-threats in musical theater.


What brings them all together at Sushi’s downtown studio?

Their common interest in modern movement.

All week long, a group of enthusiasts have been soaking up modern dance technique and repertory during intense workshop classes taught by Murray Louis Dance Company’s dance captain Betsy Fisher. Their efforts will culminate in a pair of weekend performances (8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Sushi).

During her successful tour in San Diego with the Louis troupe in November, Fisher taught a master class for the Dancer’s Workshop of San Diego, and the local reception was “astounding,” according to Wendy Ellen Cochran, who arranged the visit.

Fisher, a Juilliard-trained dancer/choreographer, teaches many such sessions around the country. But this workshop is destined to be the most challenging because of the limited time constraints.

“I just have a week to choreograph a piece for the workshop students to dance in a performance. That’s not much time to create a score and have the whole thing come together,” she explained, “but I’m glad to have the opportunity to do a workshop and a performance together.”

Though Fisher admits to being “profoundly influenced” by Louis’ brand of modern dance, this veteran dancer-choreographer has roots in “a myriad of styles.” Fisher earned a master’s degree in cultural anthropology, studying Butoh, a Japanese art form that wends its way into her dance designs along with the more popular Western forms of dance.

Nevertheless, when she works with a class, Fisher can free herself from all the technical baggage she totes and work patiently with the material she has on hand.


During the first day of class, Fisher said, “I don’t care about shape. I don’t want you to worry about looking nice. I just want you to deal with the motion.”

Class members responded to her urgings by hurling themselves through space with total abandon, pounding out the violent rhythms of her choreography with vigor--if not always with polish and technical assurance. As if Fisher couldn’t muster up enough electricity to fire up the group by herself, she has enlisted the aid of her husband, musician-composer-arranger Ernest Provencher, to maintain the beat from the sidelines. Provencher plays four different instruments during the course of a session to create the proper aural ambiance, “making up the music as I go.”

When Fisher finished teaching her first class, there was a roar of applause from the exhausted participants before they dropped to the floor for a brief, midday break.

Then it was back to the studio for a jam session on the new choreography.


“We’re going to do a piece that is not classically step-oriented,” said Fisher, describing the work her San Diego students will be dancing on this weekend’s program. “I have very clear ideas of the images I want to create, but I’m going to rely on the dancers themselves to (flesh them out), because there just isn’t enough time. They’ll have a big input in the choreographic design.”

Both the dance and the music are evolving together during these sessions at Sushi. As Fisher explained, “the way we usually work, is I get an idea and he’ll put it together. We don’t usually have the space to work together. But here, he’ll come and improvise, and if I think it will work, I’ll try it choreographically. Hopefully, it will all come together simultaneously.”

Working with dancers of varying levels of ability and formal training creates difficulties for Fisher the choreographer and the teacher. However, this dance maker thrives on dancers with no preconceived notions about the art form.

“I like that raw quality I find in untrained bodies. My husband is not a dancer, yet we’re doing a duet on the program. I believe everyone can dance,” said Fisher, “and whatever I have to work with, I work with.”


Along with the student dance (a group work that deals with dividing masses), this weekend’s program will feature an eclectic mix of solos and collaborative efforts for Fisher and Provencher.

Packaged under the broad umbrella, “Positively Dance and Music,” the concert includes “Boots,” a lightweight dance work set to traditional yodeling (manipulated and arranged by Provencher); “Tribe,” an Alwin Nikolais piece that dates back to 1967; “Aperitif,” a lyrical Murray Louis creation designed as a showcase for the women of his company; “Pastiche,” a Fisher/Provencher collaboration (with artwork by Sam Schoenbaum) that owes its impetus to Butoh images; and “Betty and the Book,” a comic send-up of a TV evangelist. Provencher will steal center stage for one musical selection on his bass guitar.

The workshop students are understandably delighted about sharing the stage with a seasoned professional, but Fisher is no less enthusiastic about working with the group.

“It’s exciting,” she noted. “Maybe we can come up with something unusual.”