Dance in the Park: The Backhaus Company

Backhaus Dance Company

Orange County may not be known for their artistic and inventive dance scene, but surprisingly, now there is a conversation in area arts that is begging for movement. With great dance preparatory schools and professional-level training programs, Orange County has been a great place for dance education and foundations for years; but until recently, dance companies have not been the region's forté. Backhaus Dance is approaching dance with a fresh new perspective and involving more than just movement in their steps.

Founder and leading choreographer Jennifer Backhaus has developed an award-winning dance company that is at the forefront of Orange County's performance revolution. With a well-established roster of dancers, Backhaus is taking movement and dance out of traditional theaters and studios and forging her way through the traditional dance masses, using site specific performance art. Her dances physically involve the world around her, using buildings and doors, beams and pillars, trees and fountains -- as support for her choreographic designs.

Jennifer Backhaus and dancers at O.C. Great Park. | Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Antenore and OC Great Park.

Backhaus is the latest featured creative in the Artist-in-Residence program at the Orange County Great Park, which features many different types of works and artists in their unique residency program. Backhaus brings a new spin to the Great Park and to the larger dance community in Orange County.

The Orange County Great Park (O.C.G.P.) is a strange and fascinating concept in the O.C., and this program is equally as unique. The ex-Marine Base/current park-in-the-making gets a lot of heat for its slow progress, but has really set the bar pretty high for this program. Artists go through a rigorous application and process, and once accepted, the artists get access to their own studio space to develop projects that deal with the O.C.G.P. specifically. There aren't guaranteed exhibits or catalogues, they don't even demand work be complete at the end of their residencies, but instead these artists are asked to explore the space at the OCGP, and find something that inspires them in their practice. They are merely asked to create site-specific art, installations, or performances -- whichever suits their art practice best. Some past artists-in-residence include Andre Woodward, Deborah Ascheim, Kevin Kwan Loucks, and Amy Caterina.

Jennifer Backhaus will be conducting regular dance workshops and mini-performances where people can visit, learn, and interact with her and her dancers. Backhaus deeply desires, she says, to change the stodgy traditions of seasonal theater dance by helping to create inventive and accidental dance encounters. "We want to take dance out of theaters, and put it where people could just happen upon it, or encounter it, " she says, "to have dances and movement where people might happen to already be..." Her dance troupe finds new movement within the park, interacting with the landscape, and not just with each other. The Backhaus troupe will be holding Interactive "Dance Labs" every Thursday at 1:00 p.m., during her residency. Backhaus Dance will also be giving small lectures at the O.C.G.P. on the art of choreography, and are planning on dance studies or mini-performances spread throughout the park up until March, and then prepping for larger site-specific dance performances, including one on February 21.

Jennifer Backhaus and Backhaus Dance Co. | Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Antenore and OC Great Park.

Orange County isn't a barren wasteland for movement-based art -- there are dozens of prestigious schools, programs, and studios that have a tight-knit community of dancers. DeFore Dance Collective, based out of Costa Mesa is a powerful group of dance professionals who train at the DeFore Dance Center and come together to perform works in various performances and venues. The dancers involved represent the equally high caliber of dance at the Center and rotate based on availability and appropriateness to each project. The DeFore Dance Center is a major rehearsal space, and is home to more than six different dance troupes, companies, and groups. The leading choreographer for the DeFore Dance Collective is Leann Alduenda, who has been teaching dance for more than 10 years. Alduenda believes in the family-like dance community in O.C. "We are all really close and supportive of one another in this small dance community," she says.

While Backhaus and her troupe are gearing up for performance-adventures year round, the DeFore Dance sprawl is getting ready for their annual Pulse concert, taking place January 25 and 26, featuring seven different dance companies. Pulse is O.C.'s most community-inspired annual dance extravaganza, and also features select student groups, and award-winning dancers. Many different companies in O.C. share rosters with the same dancers, which only further supports the family-like environment. Companies like BARE Dance Co, Rhetoracle Dance, Fuse Modern Dance, and Jazz Spectrum Dance Co feed off one another's support and energy in this community.

Backhaus Dance is a year-round company. They have gigs non-stop for 12 months, unlike other dance companies who spend one season on, and one season off. The company is well known and supported in this area too, but has also gotten recognition from outside the community for their boundary-pushing dances. Backhaus plays with space and cooperative movement, inferring pushing and pulling through synchronized movements and weight distribution. The dancers in Backhaus company anticipate every possible movement or reaction from their counterparts in the company. The year-round company model makes for a very well-prepared group of professionals. Spending so much time with one another helps them all get to know each other's habits, ticks, favored legs, best moves and worst flaws.

Backhaus Dance Company performing site-specific performances at OCGP. | Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Antenore and OC Great Park.

The visual magnetism of the Backhaus performances is unmatched in another company in Orange County. Viewers can witness the connection between these dancers; the give and take between them is so equal and familiar, it makes their performances almost flawless. And that's how Backhaus wants it. "Working with a collection takes a while to form a comfortable movement vocabulary, or way of working, that we all understand and speak; it helps us develop a unique voice of collaborative dance with a supported atmosphere."

Jennifer Backhaus and dancers at OC Great Park. | Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Antenore and OC Great Park.

Jennifer Backhaus and dancers hosting Dance Lab at OCGP. | Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Antenore and OC Great Park.

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Top Image: Backhaus Dance Company Performance. | Photo: Courtesy of Jack Hartin Photography and OC Great Park.

About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly, Culture Magazine, and Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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