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Preview: American Dance & Music Gets ‘Up Close & Cultural’ with Free Performance

American Dance & Music was founded in 2005 by artistic director Carrie Diamond. Originally called Ballet Santa Barbara, the organization has expanded beyond ballet and now includes a performance company, adult dance classes, and an in-school education program for elementary school children called Moving to Learn.

Up Close
From bottom left, E. Bonnie Lewis, Carrie Diamond, Eric Valinsky and Mari Sandoval are the principals behind American Dance & Music's "Dance: Up Close & Cultural," a free performance set for Sunday. (David Bazemore photo)

At 2 p.m. this Sunday, June 8, the community is invited to the Carrillo Recreation Center for AD&M’s fourth annual "Dance: Up Close & Cultural," a free, family-friendly performance. There will be guest artists, audience participation and time for Q&A. Afterward, stay for a reception, with refreshments and a chance to chat informally with the artists.

The afternoon will include works from three choreographers. Diamond will debut her new work, "Pastorale," set to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, during which Eric Valinsky, music director and her partner in art and life, will perform live.

Local theater company DramaDogs has collaborated with AD&M to create a new version of its "Cardinal Sin," a 2001 work by co-artistic directors E. Bonnie Lewis and Ken Gilbert. Developed as a challenge to create a theater piece out of a recipe, it evolved into a whimsical homage to Julia Child and her passion for life and fine food.

Diamond will dance a solo by guest artist and L.A. choreographer Mari Sandoval titled "Turkish By Matisse," with music by Igor Stravinsky. Sandoval’s company will premiere "La Vida Breve," a classical Spanish work, and will also dance a rousing Sevillanas.

Children and adults alike will be invited to join Diamond and Lewis on stage at the close of the show to take part in a brief movement class.

Diamond and Valinsky share their thoughts on the upcoming event.

Justine Sutton: So this is the fourth annual "Dance: Up Close & Cultural." Where did the original inspiration come from for this event?

Carrie Diamond: We understood at the start, as we do now, that sharing diverse dance genres with the community informally, and including families into the audience mix, is something a nonprofit organization like ours should do in order to be a true asset to the community. When the kids have their turn to get on the stage, it's so clear — we are all meant to dance. It's something that humans do to experience happiness and greater connection to themselves and the world around them. It's fundamental to a well-functioning society.

There is an educational element that has guided us as well. I like when members of the audience share their thoughts and responses to the work we present, which we intend to be not only entertaining, but to provoke deeper ideas and feelings.

The original inspiration for "Dance: Up Close & Cultural" was to engage the community in this way. To do this for free requires a coming-together of the community on many different levels. "Dance: Up Close & Cultural" has always been free, and this year so many people have stepped up to make it happen.

JS: What was it like working with DramaDogs?

CD: Really exciting. Their process of creation combines movement exercises, warm-ups and improvisations with speaking and vocalizing. We began focusing on the scripted words after two weeks of working from the body. For DramaDogs, the body comes first, and we had a blast improvising together and getting warm and loosened up and getting to know one another.

The Julia Child recipe is brilliantly written and lends itself to dance perfectly. The choreography sprang from the improvisations we all did, with the cast contributing significantly to the piece. Everyone speaks, and everyone dances. While dancers and actors are equals here, the AD&M dancers emphasize their movement strengths just as the DramaDog actors shine a little brighter when they speak.

There are some seriously funny things going on in "Cardinal Sin." We laughed a lot throughout the process. It's a fabulous cast, and I'd say the collaboration was a success!

Eric Valinsky: Bonnie danced at the studio in Santa Monica where I accompanied classes and composed for the Storie-Crawford Dance Theatre Ensemble — and where I eventually met Carrie. We all met again 30 years later in Santa Barbara, and Carrie and I attended several DramaDogs productions. I was taken with Defying Gravity (produced at Center Stage Theater in October 2013) and was thrilled when Bonnie and Ken Gilbert asked me to do music for the production.

Working with DramaDogs was an experience that was both enjoyable and uplifting. I felt that I was able to work at my most creative level. There wasn’t one down moment, and my experience with them suggested to Carrie and me that we could have an extremely productive and fun collaboration, which has turned out to be the case. Much of the work on the program is serious, and this piece is downright silly.

JS: What are the particular challenges and joys of putting an event like this together?

CD: My biggest challenge is the fact that I wear several different hats, as both artistic and executive director, instructor and now as dancer, spreading me a little too thin. Constantly vacillating between right and left brain activities is crazy-making! The joy is having the best group of dancers ever this year.

Our particular dynamics in the studio have been wonderful. The level of commitment of these dancers has made this "Up Close" particularly special. Mari Sandoval's choreography and rehearsing with her for "Turkish By Matisse" has brought me profound joy. Getting to know Bonnie, my new BFF, was unexpected and we've been kind of inseparable.

JS: What do you want your audience to come away with from the event?

CD: I want them to feel good about the fact that AD&M Performance Group is here for them in SB, and to want to come back to see us again. I want them to come away having been delighted, moved and engrossed by something they saw or heard and with a sense of hope or some new perspective. I hope they feel like the event was exciting and are struck by the work we present and the eloquence and beauty of the dancers, choreography and the music.

For more information, click here or call 805.450.7535.

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

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