DANCE / EILEEN SONDAK : Pupils Get In Their Kicks Instead of Errant Spitballs

Three’s Company, but two will do for the San Diego Institute for Arts Education’s school performance program. And, as director Elizabeth Bergmann noted, the “2 from 3’s Company” concerts, featuring Betzi Roe and Patrick Nollet, are an integral part of the institute’s curriculum.

“Every year, we select performances that we can create units of study around. It’s very difficult to get schoolchildren into theaters, although we’ve been doing that too,” she said. “But we need to get the artists into the schools. In the theater, it’s all spectacle and beauty, but in the schools it’s blood, sweat and tears. The kids see up close what it’s really like for the artists.”

The modern dance duo will tour nine schools around the county this spring, performing a program designed for schoolchildren from kindergarten through high school. But, as Bergmann pointed out, the young audiences are not passive dance watchers. The program prepares them to be active participants in the creative process.

“We send a guest artist into the school even before the kids see the performances. The children explore the same things the artists will be doing, so they can experience what it’s like for the artist,” said Bergmann. “When we bring in dancers, the children work on choreographing pieces themselves. They learn something specific--like dealing with the space issue--and that helps them understand the art in general.


“Since the kids are prepared, they have more of an understanding of what they’re watching--and they don’t throw spitballs at the dancers. It’s really great for the performers too,” she said. “They love having a knowledgeable audience.”

Roe has been part of the program since the institute opened in 1986. Nollet is a newcomer to the roster, but the veteran dancer brings something unique to the project.

“The kids never see men dancing, except on television, so it’s really important to have Patrick,” she said. “The boys see him and they have a role model. They say, ‘Why not me?’ ”

It’s too soon to tell if the project will build audiences for the arts, but Bergmann is encouraged by the enthusiastic response from both teachers and students, and the tell-tale signs of success down the road.


Bergmann said that children who have been exposed to the program are “more informed about the arts when they get to high school than the others, and they’re ready to go much farther. We won’t see whether they become ticket buyers for another 5 to 10 years, but we’re hoping to make a big impact in all the arts.”

The five-piece program in this season’s educational tour includes Roe’s “Side Track,” a solo inspired by subway sounds, Nollet’s comic “Rhapsody in Ripstop,” and a duet designed by Judith Marcuse.

Grants for independent dance artists are as about as rare as winning Lotto numbers. But, thanks to the San Diego Area Dance Alliance’s latest project, four $500 awards will be up for grabs for the first time this year.

“We hope these grants will get the ball rolling. They’re intended to foster and assist independent dance artists, both new and emerging ones, in producing performances for the public,” said alliance executive director Tom Corcoran, adding that $500 “is not enough to cover production expenses, but it should give them some encouragement and help their credibility with other funding sources.

“Independent artists represent 80% of our membership and an even larger portion of the field at large,” Corcoran noted. “Yet they have limited access to any funding. Next year, we hope to apply private contributions to this grant, and the new arts council is going to do a program for independent artists as well.”

The grant program dovetails well with the alliance’s PAL project, which offers free performance space for local artists, Corcoran said.

“PAL gives them professional opportunities. This will give them some of the funds to make it happen. We can only help four people, but we’re hoping the grants will have a ripple effect on others.”

Grant applications are due March 31, and you need not be an alliance member to qualify. Call 692-4350 for more information.


Choreographer/teacher Wendy Ellen Cochran began publishing “On the Pointe” as a newsletter for potential students, but it grew by leaps and bounds. The spring issue, now under preparation, will be a 16-page magazine--the first of its kind in San Diego--and it is slated to reach 8,000 homes. The purpose, according to its creator, is to promote local dance.

One of three athletes featured in “To the Limit,” the new IMAX/OMNIMAX film at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, is Bolshoi ballerina Nina Ananiashvili. The 26-year-old dancer, chosen for her effortless ability to leap through space, lends artistic balance to the film. But, as producer/director Greg MacGillivray noted in an interview at the science center, it was the astounding physical prowess of Baryshnikov that prompted the film maker to include a dancer among the outstanding physical specimens in “To the Limit.” Fortunately, the ballerina’s striking artistry is just as obvious as her breathtaking physical appearance in this look at the human form.

Kevin Brass’ media column will resume April 3.