Troupes take different steps toward dance

Next week's return of Celebrate Dance to the Alex Theatre in Glendale will bring several themes to the stage — healing through dance, the importance of family and maintaining individuality — while gathering eight gifted dance companies from across the Greater Los Angeles area.

Among the five companies making their Celebrate Dance debuts March 9 will be Nickerson-Rossi Dance, performing the Los Angeles premiere of “Enkindled.” The piece was born out of company artistic director Michael Nickerson-Rossi's desire to tell the story of how dance influenced and helped him, and his introduction into the community of dance.

“It is my take and my view of being inspired by the art of dance,” Nickerson-Rossi said in a phone interview. “It's kind of my story, me trying to find a community and bringing it together, but also having my stylistic way of moving in a community.”

Nickerson-Rossi first discovered dance after losing his parents when he was a teenager. While psychotherapy wasn't helping — “They [the doctors] just wanted to put me on antidepressants, but I wasn't depressed. I was grieving” — dance spoke to him.

During a school project, Nickerson-Rossi saw the opening scene of the dance piece “The Women of Kosovo,” and he immediately connected to the movements onstage. The piece was directed by Kim T. Davis, who remains one of Nickerson-Rossi's mentors.

“It was really about women being oppressed, not being able to express themselves. That's how I felt with the loss of my parents,” Nickerson-Rossi said. “I was so introverted and grief-filled, when I saw these movements, I related [to them] ... it was exactly how I was feeling in a different form.

“Dance was my medicine. That's where I live from in my work. It is very enriched with personal stories and beautiful layers of movement.”

Nickerson-Rossi has since created his dance company and developed the outreach project, the uNdeRstanD Program, which offers people an avenue to express painful memories through movement. A cast of eight, selected from students and those who work with Nickerson-Rossi in uNdeRstanD, will perform “Enkindled.”

In the Los Angeles premiere of “Walk West,” the SoleVita Dance Company explores the theme of brotherhood and of the pioneers' experience. The four-movement piece is based on the “idea of what it was like for the pioneers to move west, to walk west, to risk everything,” said Joelle Martinec, artistic director and founder of the company.

The fourth movement includes a piece that has been performed before, she said, and explores the relationship among four brothers, and how family is important during times of hardship and crisis.

Martinec, who has a long and successful career as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director working onstage and in film and television, also works with the outreach programs, Genesis Sarajevo in Bosnia and New Possibilities Children's Foundation in India. The two nonprofits work with war-traumatized and disadvantaged children from those countries.

Francisco Gella, founder and artistic director of the NUEVO School of Contemporary Dance in Chino, desires to help children and teens learn integrity, responsibility and important life lessons through dance education.

“I think for us, through movement, you can learn how to be a better person,” Gella said. “In dance, there is physical work and discipline, and you have to do the work; you can't cheat. There is no way to look it up on a computer.”

The choreographer and dance educator has taught at such schools as SUNY Binghamton Summer Dance Institute, the California Ballet Conservatory, and the Lula Washington Dance Company and School, among others.

His newly formed Colaba Youth Dance Collective will perform the piece “Concentric Harmonies” at Celebrate Dance. Gella, who choreographed the piece, was inspired by Max Richter's haunting composition, “Infra.”

“I was taken aback by the dissonance and the harmony's deep emotional feeling that it instilled and triggered in me,” Gella said. “I wasn't sure what to do yet, but kept developing the vocabulary [of the dance].”

Gella, who works instinctively with the dancers, ended up taking the initials of those who would perform, and, using the idea of cursive writing, based the movements on their names.

“It plays on the individual,” Gella said. “They dance movements created by their names, but they have to dance together; keeping their individuality, but also conforming to a group situation.”

Colaba was formed this year after Jamie Nichols, founder and executive director of Celebrate Dance, invited Gella to take part in the show. “It's an honor for us,” Gella said. “We decided it was an amazing opportunity, not only to present [a piece] but to create and unveil the dance collective.”

Also premiering at Celebrate Dance are JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble, under the artistic direction of Pat Taylor, and the Lux Aeterna Dance Company, under Artistic Director Jacob Lyons.

The three returning companies from last year's show are: Lydia Zimmer + Dancers, Invertigo Dance Theatre with Artistic Director Laura Karlin , and the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company, directed by Kate Hutter. Eileen Cooley is the production manager and lighting director.

LAURA TATE is a frequent contributor to Marquee.


What: Celebrate Dance 2013

When: Saturday, March 9, 8 p.m.

Where: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

Tickets: $16 to $36; children $12.

More info: (818) 243-2539,,

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