Four up-and-coming choreographers will debut new works Saturday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre as part of the National Choreographers Initiative, now in its ninth year.
The project allows audiences to get in on the ground floor to see the works of up-and-coming choreographers, which are developed over the course of three weeks in a supportive environment in which they can feel free to experiment, Artistic Director Molly Lynch said.
As is the case each year, four choreographers were selected to debut new works in this year's showcase: Wendy Seyb, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Thang Dao and Melissa Barak.
"They all have quite different backgrounds, in terms of their experiences and the work that they've done," Lynch said. "Wendy comes from a more sort of Broadway theater background, so her work tends to be about storytelling. There's also a sense of dance comedy to her work.
"Darrell has done a lot of theater work and Broadway, but his work is, I would say, very physical and contemporary in style, and I think that he works from images, and he's very, very specific about the way that he works with the dancers.
"Thang Dao has got a modern dance background and a classical dance background, and I think they combine in his work. He is inspired by a topic or an image. [In Saturday's piece] he is looking at the word 'cell,' and the idea of being in a prison cell versus the idea of body cells. I would say his work is pretty contemporary.
"Melissa Barak comes from a strong ballet background, with the New York Ballet. She has a bit of a neoclassical influence."
Barak is among a small group of choreographers who have been invited back to participate for a second time, but repeat participants are neither encouraged nor forbidden as part of the formula for the selection process. The four choreographers selected each year rise to the top of a variety of applicants.
"I had about 40 choreographers apply to participate, and out of that I watch all of their videotapes and narrow it down usually to about 10," Lynch said. "Then, out of the 10, I choose the final four; it's sort of only in the very end part of the process that I consider their different styles and how they might work together."
Seed of a dream
Lynch said the project has served to carry on dance in Orange County, particularly since the sudden dissolution five years ago of its top professional ballet company, Ballet Pacifica.
"I started a similar kind of project when I was artistic director of Ballet Pacifica," Lynch said. "When I left, a community of people who enjoyed it asked me about doing it independently, and helped me organize and raise money for it. We got a partnership for studios through UCI, and also began a partnership with the Barclay.
"It originally started with the idea that South Coast Repertory does a NewSCRipts reading where they do informal play readings, and I kept wondering, 'Why can't we do this in dance somehow?'"
Compared to the NewSCRipts series, the very nature of dance requires that more would need to take place than a group of actors sitting around a table reading; a workshop setting with actual dancers needed to be devised. But like NewSCRipts, the project also culminates in an informal showing in front of an audience.
"The choreographers are in sort of a laboratory of research," Lynch said, which allows them to modify their new creations or take them elsewhere.
"That the one thing that I think is kind of the bonus is that 20 of the pieces have gone on to be performed or premiered with other companies in the U.S. and abroad," Lynch said. "That wasn't necessarily the goal of it, but I think that that's a pretty high number of works that have actually gone on to be produced or premiered in other places.
"We are producing dance here; we are not presenting. And I think that's important. We have to keep the art form alive by producing new work."
If You Go
What: NCI Discovery 2012 dance showcase
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre
Cost: $30 ($20 students)