DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: Catching Up with Brenda Way and ODC Dance In Season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: Catching Up with Brenda Way and ODC Dance In Season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Stacey Menchel Kussell

By Stacey Menchel Kussell
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Published on March 28, 2024
Josie G. Sadan's "Dead Reckoning." Photo: Andrew Weeks

Dance Downtown Is on Now through March 31, 2024!

For tickets to ODC's Dance Downtown's performances: Click here

On a bright afternoon in San Francisco’s Mission District, sunlight poured into the offices of the Oberlin Dance Collective (ODC) studios. Across from me sat Brenda Way, the radiant founder and artistic director of the ODC/Dance company. Her optimism energized the room. “Do you feel the buzz in the air?” she asked, clad in a chic flowy, black kimono-style jacket. “Dance is back. After the slowdown and the uncertainty of everything that was COVID, people are now hungry for it, and they can’t get enough.”

With an upcoming new season of world premieres and the announcement of a groundbreaking architectural addition, ODC embodies this fresh, vibrant buzz.

brenda way with a breezy smile leans against a barre in her dance studio...
Brenda Way. Photo: Vincent Gotti

Dance Downtown is on now running from March 27-31 at the Forum and Blue Shield Theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and features three world premieres. According to Way’s description A History of Up and Down is “a dancerly lesson in the evolution of contemporary dance.” Way focuses on the development of dance as a language and as an academic experience.

Inkwell, created by co-artistic director Kimi Okada, pays homage to the 1920s cartoons of Max Fleischer, who is best known as the creator of Betty Boop. The playful piece vacillates from moments of extreme comedy to tragedy.

Guest artist Sonya Delwaide premieres her goutte par goutte, a new work that is inspired by her study of ancient Greek philosophy, and one that invites the audience to raise questions about resilience, permanence, and letting go.

Allie Heal leaping with (L to R )Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Jaime Garcia Castilla and Brandon Private Freeman in Brenda Way's Collision Collapse and a Coda. Photo: Robbie Sweeny

ODC has a long history of innovation. Founded in 1971, the troupe has long embraced cutting edge choreography with a focus on community engagement. It was the first contemporary dance company to purchase its own home studio, a multi-floored complex that houses its education center (ODC School) and its own state-of-the-art theater (ODC Theater). The recently re-equipped theater was part of an earlier expansion of the ODC Commons which now features a café, rehearsal studios, a dance clinic, and an art gallery. For the last few years, the space has been hosting live performances intertwined with film screenings, showcasing several new video dance films created during the pandemic.

ODC recently announced a new large architectural addition with the team of Perkins and Will. The building project will significantly expand the size of its Mission District campus and will allow the organization to create additional studio space and offerings not only to its company of dancers and its school, but also to other emerging dancers and choreographers in the Bay Area.

Executive Director, Carma Zisman explained the ideal timing of the new building project. “People are realizing the necessity of an arts eco-system and are seeing that not everything is centered in New York and Europe. There needs to be a larger focus on the Bay Area as an important area in the dance world, and an understanding that this community is inviting a dialogue through new choreography.”

2024 started with a burst of activity for ODC. Way herself was inducted into the California Hall of Fame and was invited to be part of the prestigious Dance Oral History Project at the New York Public Library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division. She expressed joy about the ongoing projects and especially the new architectural expansion of the ODC campus.

Cora Cliburn and Brandon Private Freeman in Brenda Way's  Collision, Collapse and a Coda. Photo: Robbie Sweeny

“Rehearsal space really engages the artists, and this has always been my approach to the atmosphere for creation. I try to make each dance studio unique with a varied energy. When you are creating, that is when you should feel most at home.”

The Dance Enthusiast’s DAY IN THE LIFE covers the stories behind dance/performance and creates conversation. For more behind-the-scenes stories from NYC and beyond, click here.

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