Capital Dance Project: Made in Sacramento

by juli boggs

Seven dancers stand at loose attention in a sunlit Midtown studio as their peer and choreographer Karina Hagemeyer experiments with movements in front of the wall-to-wall mirror.

For this piece, dancers will be accompanied by a live taiko drum performance, one of nine planned collaborations for Capital Dance Project’s upcoming show, Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento.

“As angular as it can be. Long attitude,” Hagemeyer prompts as they run through the motions again to a recording of the syncopated drumming.

Early last summer, Sacramento Ballet dancers were left surprised and disappointed when their seasonal summer layoff came earlier than expected due to budget constraints, canceling the popular Beer & Ballet they’d been working on at the time. Left with a program of choreography they’d already created themselves, the dancers chose to reconvene, secure new funding and produce the show on their own, presenting it as Behind the Barre at the Crest Theatre just 21 days later. They called their new, dancer-run collective Capital Dance Project.

“I think that now looking back on it, this was something we had wanted to do for a while—start a summer program to keep dancers in shape and involved and creative,” CDP dancer and organizer Alexandra Cunningham says. “Those events last summer were really just a catalyst.”

Now one year later, CDP is gearing up for its second annual presentation of Behind the Barre, this time with the significant modifier, “Made in Sacramento.” While many of the CDP’s 20 dancers hail from countries around the world, the upcoming performance focuses on the inspiration they all pull from the city they now call home, where a resurgence of innovation has appeared in the wake of increased attention and expectations.

One can hardly talk about the state of Sacramento arts without mentioning Art Hotel. When the multi-artist undertaking debuted in February, Sacramentans seemed caught off guard by the strength of work they hadn’t thought the local art scene could provide. Art Hotel garnered widespread praise and recognition for both the participating artists as well as the larger Sacramento arts community. CDP was one such organization inspired by the impactful sum of its parts, seeing how interdisciplinary collaboration could result in a meaningful project that would have been impossible without a large, collective effort.

“Collaboration is an amazing experience,” Cunningham says. “With dance in particular, where there are no words and we just have body language and music to guide us, it’s always interesting to get different perspectives on how to convey a scene or message.”

To help interpret the upcoming program, CDP paired multiple choreographers with six visual artists previously of Art Hotel, including Shaun Burner, Trent Dean, Raphael Delgado, Franceska Gamez, Waylon Horner and Kevin Zee. The program will also feature live music components by electronic dance music producer Elijah Jenkins, Sacramento Taiko Dan and a classical trio—composer and violinist Andy Tan, cellist Alison Sharkey and pianist I-Hui Chen—performing an original composition created specifically for Behind the Barre.

“As a choreographer collaborating with a visual artist, there is another layer of consideration when making a piece,” CDP dancer and choreographer Stefan Calka says. “You want to leave space for them in the choreography … because it’s not only the dance that is there for the audience to consider, you want to make sure the viewer is seeing everything the piece has to offer.”

Cunningham adds that the challenge of collaboration helps them grow as artists and performers, no matter what their discipline.

“That’s what we’re most excited about, to pick a scene or idea and go in so many different directions that you might not have thought of individually as an artist yourself,” she says.

Though CDP began out of necessity to help dancers make ends meet between seasons, it has already evolved into a creative opportunity for company members to develop their professional skills, connect with the community and present the world of dance to audiences that the Sacramento Ballet has not had much overlap with in the past.

Just this month, the group was chosen as a recipient of Sacramento Republic FC’s Glory Glory Sacramento fund, granting CDP $15,000 to develop its outreach program for at-risk and underserved youth who lack access to the arts.

“As dancers, we’ve felt a real-life transformation through the arts—how it develops imagination and creativity and confidence, teaches you how to work with people and express your voice,” Cunningham says. “[We] want to make sure kids in Sacramento can experience that too.”

So far, CDP has opened its studio to local student groups for two Behind the Barre rehearsals and has reached out to 15 local youth organizations, such as 916 Ink and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Sacramento, in the effort to get 100 kids in seats for each of its upcoming performances.

As its opening night approaches, Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento is breaking the traditional mold of dance by incorporating an interdisciplinary element: Dancers are choreographers and event planners, painters are participants in performance and musicians present both their music as well as themselves, challenging the notion of art as a rigid and solitary pursuit. By including these elements, CDP dancers are strengthening their own creative and professional repertoire as well as those of their collaborators from within the Sacramento arts community.

“Our artists may have come from all over the world, [but] we’ve all spent time in Sacramento and we consider this our home,” Cunningham says. “We’re excited to reinforce that homegrown feel and celebrate the artists who love and want to be here.”

Behind The Barre: Made in Sacramento at 6:30 p.m. Friday, August 26, or Saturday, August 27, at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street. Tickets cost $25. Learn more at www.capitaldanceproject.org.

*As run in SN&R 8-25-16