C Is for Contemporary

Company C Ballet brings an ecumenical sensibility to its fifth annual Oakland Dance Festival.

In his effort to prove that Company C Contemporary Ballet performances are not comprised solely of swans, lakes, and well-sculpted sugarplum fairies in fluffy tutus, the company’s artistic director Charles Anderson points to an e-mail he received from a typical, ballet-dissing guy who attended a recent performance at his wife’s behest. The man came in with a lot of trepidation, as he wrote in the e-mail (subject line: “It was stunning!”): “I had no idea how I was to ‘endure’ the fluffy prancing and fanciful depictions of emotions I barely contend with on real life basis. There are no lakes or swans anywhere in my life.” But after watching Company C renditions of Twyla Tharp’s “Armenia” — which Anderson characterizes as an “athletic” dance performed over Armenian folk music — and David Grenke’s creepy work “Vespers” — a piece about resurrecting a dead lover, performed over Tom Waits’ growly version of the Australian ballad “Waltzing Matilda” — he had a dramatic change of heart: “I don’t know, but there I was fighting every urge in my belly scratching, car fixing, torn jeans empire of bearded manhood to not blubber.”

It’s the kind of reaction that a ballet director like Anderson — who has soaked up Balanchine technique, but would never be caught throwing a blow-out production of Giselle or The Nutcracker — is always waiting to hear. “In Europe the word ‘contemporary’ means modern; it doesn’t necessarily mean that in the United States,” Anderson explained. “In fact we’re not a modern company; we’re closer to a ballet company…. But we’re using icons of the modern world like Twyla Tharp,” he said. “You’re never gonna see us in tutus.”

Fittingly, Company C’s fifth annual Oakland Dance Festival — held this weekend, June 20-22, at Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts (1428 Alice St., Oakland) — will open with an ecumenical performance, in which various Bay Area dance groups mount five- to ten-minute works in styles ranging from Butoh (a flowy Japanese dance that resembles mime) to stilt-walking to straight-on ballet. By trading high-end production values for a more “community”-based performance that emphasizes the protean quality of genre, Anderson hopes to bring a more diverse crowd into the show. He’s kept the opening night ticket price low ($10 a pop) and offered audience members the opportunity to judge which company they like best at the end of the night, with a $1,000 prize at stake. He’ll also hand out half-price vouchers for the following night’s show, at which A-List dancers from Company C and ODC/Dance will perform David Parson’s humorous piece “The Envelope,” which calls for dark shades and hoodies. (“It’s very downtown cool,” Anderson assured.) The director hopes for a few more converts by the time the curtain goes down. Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., $10-$25. CompanyCBallet.org

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