Launching a local dance company without an established choreographer at the helm, or experienced dancers in the ranks, may be an impossible dream. But to Al Germani, it's one worth pursuing.
"I know how hard it is to start from nothing, and I don't know where the company is going," Germani said recently from his rehearsal studio. "But I gotta do what I gotta do. I wanted to try choreography. I wanted to be an artist. And my philosophy is, just do it!
"You can't choreograph without dancers. It's not like being a painter or a composer, where all you need is a canvas or a piano," he said. "I needed a vehicle. You need a dance company, unless you want to make solos and choreograph on your own body."
Germani has no illusions about the obstacles in his path, but he is determined to conquer them all.
"There's always going to be drawbacks. We have no money. But there are a lot of opportunities here that you can't get in New York," he said. "It's hard to rent space in New York, but here we got a residency (at Anne Laddon's Balance Ballet Studio). We've come a long way in the past few months."
Germani, 37, and the dance company he created in his own image have been testing the waters in local venues since last summer. This weekend, the small band of dancers, known as Al Germani Dance Company, will take the plunge and perform a pair of full-blown concerts at City College Theater.
"We did a concert at Westminster Church a few months ago, and we sold out both nights," he said. "It kind of freaks me out how well people responded. But we're still insecure."
As the fledgling dance maker acknowledged, he never even saw a dance concert until he was nearly 30, and his evolution as a choreographer is anything but ordinary.
"I started backward from most choreographers. Usually, you start dancing with other people and then you do your own work," he said. "I didn't even take any dance classes until 1981, and with my short, pudgy body, I wasn't really a great dancer.
"Some people think it's pretentious of me to be doing this," Germani acknowledged. "I know I started late, and I don't have the background, but I'm growing. I watch tapes (of other dance makers) and I go to dance concerts."
What is the driving force behind Germani's passion to make dances?
"I'm just trying to find my talent," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm not an artist yet, but I'm getting my master's degree (in dance) at SDSU, and I think we have the potential."
He works feverishly at night to build up his scant repertory. By day, he wears quite another hat.
"I'm a psychotherapist in private practice, and the dancers all have other jobs. I have to pay for the company out of my own pocket. That's why I'm at the office all day," he said.
This weekend's concerts at City College, at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, will feature six works--Germani's only repertory to date. Most are revisions of dances premiered in the past few months. "Pas de Blues," a contemporary duet for Tina Buerkle and Marni Respicio, is brand-new but bears much in common with the rest.
"I like it when the dances are emotionally and physically demanding," Germani said. "I want people to make a connection. If the dance touches them in some way, that's fine--whether they like it or not. I've always been impressed with the physical as well as the emotional, and after 14 years as a therapist, I'm really concerned about (psychological) themes. I want people to get some sense of a reflection of society."
Germani's oeuvre is a mix of classic modern, ballet and jazz, "with all the stuff from rolling around on the floor to doing pirouettes." But so far, none of the work pleases its maker.
"I think it stinks," he snapped. "I'm just starting out, and it's kind of that drive that makes people go on--not being satisfied yet. It's one of those things that just keeps growing."
Buerkle, an eight-month veteran of the group, has another assessment of Germani's creative output.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think he was really good ," she said. "I love dancing. I started with it as a form of release. But Al's stuff is very exciting, and I get a lot out of it. It's very strong and very demanding, very intense. You really have to let go."
Buerkle is convinced that Germani and his company are destined for the big time, and his lead dancer intends to be there when the troupe takes off.
"I have a full-time job as a chemical engineer," she said. "But I definitely want to be around when the company gets there. I want to tour with them."
Germani sees full professional status on the horizon. But for now, his goals are much more basic.
"My definition of success is if I can just get better at choreographing, and if the dancers can continue to improve. I'm planning to do three or four concerts a year, and maybe some touring. Right now, I have nonprofit status, but I don't believe I can go to someone and ask for money until I have choreography to show them.
"I'm just thankful the dancers want to work with me and that my private practice makes enough money to pay for it. There are so many obstacles, but it's already exciting. And I'd like to keep the dream going."