Dim Sum Sums It Up : 'Creativity Through Collaboration' Guides Motion and Emotion in Modern Dance Quartet


For Dhana Bradford, dancing is a labor of love. And mileage.

Bradford is the founder of Dim Sum, a modern dance company based in Orange County whose four members--all of whom work or attend college full time--volunteer their time.

Beyond that, Bradford lives in Palm Springs and drives 240 miles round-trip for rehearsals. On Sunday mornings, no less, and sometimes twice a week.

"Now that's love," she said with a wry chuckle recently.

The 5-year-old, tightly knit quartet of thirtysomething women will present a new work Friday at Cal State Los Angeles in the fifth annual "Dance Kaleidoscope," a showcase of Southern California dance. (The piece received its premiere Sunday at the festival, which encompasses four evening-length programs. Most programs are repeated once.)

Sharing the program with seven other troupes and soloists, Dim Sum will perform "Floorplay," a propulsive, fast-paced romp based on square-dance motifs choreographed by troupe member Karen J. Woo, with help from the other members.


Woo, a Fountain Valley resident who is working toward a master's degree in dance at Cal State Long Beach, danced for six years with the late Gloria Newman, who led a county-based company for 31 years.

There were a couple of reasons behind the choice of the troupe's name.

In Mandarin Chinese, dim sum refers to hors d'oeuvres often eaten for brunch, Woo said during a recent pre-rehearsal interview in the gym at Irvine's Marden Center of Educational Therapy, a school for the learning disabled where Dim Sum dancer Deirdre Murphy teaches.

The moniker, Woo explained, reflects the fact that the group has no single artistic director and that each dancer contributes to the creation of each dance, just as a variety of tidbits might make up a whole Chinese meal.

In Cantonese, dim sum essentially means "a touch of heart," which represents another of the cohesive troupe's guiding principles, Wilson said.

"Heart, or emotion, is an important aspect of what we do," she said. "It's not just about technique or structure; what we feel as a group is what we try to portray to our audiences."

"Our motto," Woo said, "is 'Creativity through collaboration.' "

For "Floorplay," Woo devised two fundamental movement phrases that each dancer then elaborated on. She asked Bradford to "take it into the air," told Lori Doss Wilson to focus on "circular, sweeping movements" and had Murphy "go to the floor."

"I wouldn't have been able to do this without them," said Woo, who chose an energetic composition by Philip Glass based upon a melodic theme by sitar master Ravi Shankar to accompany the dance.


Dim Sum seeks out small, unconventional performance sites, partly because it has no budget to speak of and can't afford to rent large halls.

The troupe has danced at Club Postnuclear in Laguna Beach and made its debut in the Cleveland National Forest, where dancers, a few musicians and audience members hiked in for a show.

"I had been hiking there," founder Bradford said, "and I saw this beautiful, huge oak tree. It was kind of drizzly and so theatrical; I thought it would be so wonderful to have a performance here."

Each of the company's members has studied several dance forms under a variety of teachers--including Newman and Linda Sohl-Donnell, who teaches modern dance and heads the L.A. Rhapsody in Taps troupe.

Thus its choreography is eclectic. Conceptual strains of "myth and ritual" undergird most works, however, whether that means movements looks "primitive," or dancers assume archetypal persona, Woo said.

Performing only one or two major concerts a year can be advantageous, she said.

"So often today dancers don't have the luxury of time to polish a work. We didn't have any of those time constraints" with "Floorplay."


The troupe would like to expand its scope by performing more often, adding members or dancing in larger sites.

All of that will take more money, of course. The dancers are applying for nonprofit status, in order to qualify for grants, and putting together a board of trustees.

Still, they are wary of moving too quickly.

"I don't want to see us become commercial," Wilson said. "Its not so important how many performances we do if it means losing the intimate collaborative creative process of the group."

* Dim Sum will perform "Floorplay" at 8 p.m. on Friday during "Dance Kaleidoscope," at Cal State Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles. $7 to $15. (213) 343-4118.

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