On June 6, 2013, PTDT surprised visitors to the opening day of the West Sacramento Farmers Market with a dance. After welcoming remarks for city leaders and words of thanks from artists who lead the community in the creation of a mandala, the sound system resumed playing music and the people sitting on hay bales around the mandala began to dance. Visitors were treated to a medley of contemporary dance, ballet folklorico performed by Didion School’s dancers, and an improvisation that the crowd could join in.
Dancing in public takes careful planning, and the ability to be flexible about plans and choreography. That’s not easy to do.
The dance first piece of music was choreographed to celebrate the mandala, a circular design comprised of natural materials. Some dancers moved across the hay bales that were placed to protect the art while others danced on the ground surrounding the hay bales. Dancers practiced the piece inside a studio with consistent wood floors. There wasn’t an opportunity to practice at the site ahead of time, and there were no hay bales in the studio. Upon getting to the site, the dancers had to quickly make some changes to the plans made in the studio. The hay bales were not in a circle as they though, but in a square pattern. Also, the irregular shape of the sides of the hay bales made a hole between each bale, so dancers needed to be especially careful to not step in that space. Dancers who danced next to the hay bales also had to watch their footing because the ground was made of several different materials – dirt, grass, concrete, and tree roots.
Dancers from the Didion Elementary School in Sacramento performed the second piece – a ballet folklorico dance from Mexico performed in traditional costumes. They learned the choreography in an after school dance program taught by PTDT dancer Evelia Fernandez. These young dancers also had to make adjustments for the outdoor venue. The biggest challenge for them was probably that some spectators were standing in the space they planned to dance. They moved right into place, however, and the audience made room.
The final piece was a structured improvisation; dancers and audience members alike joined in. Dancers took turns posing next to one another to form a human wall. When everyone was in place, the first dancer then moved to the end of the line, followed by the next, and the next,… until the end of the music. This piece was not without its challenges. Dancers had to be careful to choose a position that they could hold for several minutes, and some discovered that the asphalt on the street had become very hot in the spring sunshine so low-level poses with skin touching the ground had to be modified very quickly. The simple structure was powerful for the audience members. Many had tears in their eyes and several viewers told dancers at the end of the performance that the dancing was moving because it symbolized joy and unity for them.
Dancing in public is important for PTDT. It gives us an opportunity to share our love of dance with people who might not come to a show in the theater and it lets us use our art to help celebrate important community events.