JumpBrush Dance Festival Forges Connections in San Luis Obispo

Jessica Swanson and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello in 'The Rambler,' photo by RJ Muna.
Joe Goode Performance Group members Jessica Swanson and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello perform "The Rambler." Photo: RJ Muna.

Even in a culture-savvy community like San Luis Obispo, choreographer Theresa Slobodnik admitted, the life of a dancer can feel pretty isolated.

Rigorous rehearsal and performance schedules, coupled with teaching and training, leave dancers with little time to step outside their own studios. "There's a lot that goes into dancing," said Slobodnik, founder and artistic director of Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo. "It's a big investment of your time. It's a big investment of your soul."

JumpBrush: Pacific Coast Dance Convergence, which runs Aug. 8 through 11 at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo, seeks to restore that missing sense of connection. Established in 2010, the fledgling dance festival features three days and four nights of classes, workshops and performances by the likes of San Francisco's acclaimed Joe Goode Performance Group - all aimed at bringing together skilled performers and exposing audiences to the Central Coast dance scene.

"For such a small community, (San Luis Obispo County) is so rich in dance," said choreographer Lisa Deyo, who heads the San Luis Obispo performance group Deyo Dances. "It's already a living, breathing, successful thing here, and we just want people to know it."

Jane Selna dances with the Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo | Photo: Barry Goyette.
Jane Selna dances with the Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo | Photo: Barry Goyette.

Deyo and her fellow choreographers credit PAC managing director Ron Regier as the catalyst for creating JumpBrush. When the performing arts venue celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2006, the PAC invited a number of community dance companies to showcase their work, culminating in a finale that found many performers dancing together for the first time ever.

"The collaborative process inspired everybody," Regier said, including Deyo, Slobodnik and Drew Silvaggio, artistic director of Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo. They began meeting in 2008 to discuss the possibility of creating a dance festival that would bring the area's dancers together to share, learn and grow. Diana Stanton, who founded San Luis Obispo's Variable Velocity Dance Group with Jude Clark Warnisher, joined the conversation a year later.

Drawing inspiration from established festivals including Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts and the American Dance Festival in North Carolina, the choreographers sought to craft an event that stressed diversity and professional development, Deyo said. "We wanted something that would feel welcoming, nurturing, inspiring - not just for dancers but for audiences," she added.

Highlights from that first festival, held in August 2010, included a performance by ODC Dance/San Francisco. "There was an incredible level of enthusiasm and enjoyment and joy coming out of that festival," Regier said, adding that the organizers behind this year's JumpBrush hope to capture that same sense of elation.

Isabel Deyo, daughter of Deyo Dances choreographer Lisa Deyo, in rehearsal | Photo: Barry Goyette.
Isabel Deyo, daughter of Deyo Dances choreographer Lisa Deyo, in rehearsal | Photo: Barry Goyette.

On opening night, Aug. 8, Central Coast dance companies will present original works for critique by Joe Goode Performance Group Artistic Director Joe Goode. "It's a great opportunity for people to be able to study with someone who has a national profile," Stanton sad.

The next three days bring a bevy of classes and workshops for intermediate and advanced dancers ages 12 and up, focusing on everything from musical theater to postmodern improvisation. (Younger dancers can participate in HopBrush, a new program that will feature two classes and a tour of the PAC facilities.)

"A ballet dancer who takes classes in modern or jazz or tap or African is just a better dancer, period," explained Leslie Baumberger, co-owner of CORE Dance Company in San Luis Obispo, who joined JumpBrush as an organizer earlier this year.

Visiting faculty members include choreographers Chad Michael Hall and Damon Rago, who both teach dance at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. They'll join Angela Banchero-Kelleher, an associate professor of modern dance at Utah Valley University who is returning from 2010, and several local instructors.

Also in store for participants is a new "reverse residency" program that finds Stanton and Silvaggio collaborating with members of the Joe Goode Performance Group. Meanwhile, Goode will create a new work using selected Central Coast dancers. "It's an interesting little twist that really enriches the whole program," said Cal Poly Arts Director Steve Lerian, whose organization is orchestrating the 2012 JumpBrush.

Although observers are welcome to attend any event, including the opening night showcase, two JumpBrush performances are intended primarily for audiences.

On Aug. 9, the Joe Goode Performance Group will present "The Rambler," an original work that taps into "the phenomenon of the American spirit.""We're so hooked on these ideas of rugged individualism and marching off into the sunset, not really recognizing the beauty of continuity and community," Goode said, adding that the pieces centers on the romantic "cowboy-type character that's so intrinsic to the American identity."

The festival concludes Aug. 11 with the all-inclusive "JumpBrush in Concert." Whereas the 2010 version of the festival finale featured the collaborative, improvisational "Convergence," Slobodnik described the concert's centerpiece this year as a "musical map" with dancers accompanied live by Cal Poly organist Paul Woodring on the massive Forbes Pipe Organ.

Organizers hope the biennial JumpBrush will break down some of the barriers between studios, while introducing fans of all stripes to new and exciting forms of dance.

"In the past ... people have been afraid to share their audiences for fear the dollars would go elsewhere," Deyo said, but that's a fallacy. "The more people you get involved in dance, the more fans you make (and) the easier it is to sell seats."

"It's about making the Central Coast a dance destination," Slobodnik added. "There's so much talent here. There are so many strong voices in dance."


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