Backhausdance ranks as one of Orange County’s biggest dance success stories — touring to Europe, performing at The Joyce Theatre in New York City, and earning several coveted dance awards for choreography by artistic director Jennifer Backhaus.
On May 22nd, having recently completed their 15th anniversary season as a company, Backhausdance will round out The Irvine Barclay Theatre’s 2018-2019 Contemporary Dance series. The dancers will perform a three-piece mixed repertory program featuring two world premieres and a work by Italian choreographer Walter Matteini.
What Backhausdance has achieved is nothing short of impressive — especially considering the history, or lack thereof, of professional dance companies in Orange County — and if Backhaus has anything to say about it, these first 15 years were just the warm-up for what is to come.
“In some ways, it feels like it hasn’t been that long,” said company founder Backhaus. “I don’t yet feel the totality of it. I’m looking forward more than I am looking back, but I really appreciate the fact that we’re still here.”
Being the woman who has brought Orange County to the forefront of Southern California contemporary dance, it seems Backhaus is on her way to cracking the code for cultivating a supportive local audience.
Lately, Backhausdance has been partnering with more local organizations as a way to foster a natural association and awareness between her company and Orange County. In February, for example, the dancers performed an original, site-specific work called “Keeping” at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA).
“Sometimes you just have to be bold and ask a question,” said Backhaus about how she got connected with OCMA. “I knew they were moving to a new location and I’ve had this desire to get Backhausdance outside the proscenium theater, so together we made it happen.”
In addition to working with OCMA, Backhausdance has collaborated in education and performance with The Wooden Floor in Santa Ana, Orange County School of the Arts, Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Segerstrom Center’s Arts Teach program.
“Dance brings a different point of view to art, to education, everything. I want our work to be in dialogue with as many people as possible,” said Backhaus.
Diversifying Movement & Repertoire
Backhaus said that has been one of the most significant changes in the company since it was formed in 2003. Not only has Backhausdance moved from being a single-choreographer company to a repertory-driven company that works with more and different movement styles, but the dancers have graced the stage across the globe, from Los Angeles to New York to Italy and Poland.
Onstage next week, Orange County dance audiences will see three diverse pieces by Backhaus, Matteini and Dwight Rhoden, who’s the founding artistic director and resident choreographer of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. It will be an evening of large dances, said Backhaus, showcasing the nine company members as well as select apprentices.
Backhaus’ “One Continuous Line,” a piece for 10 women, is an abstract exploration of momentum. In a way, Backhaus feels this theme is a representation of her company.
“I like this idea of handing something from one person to the next. It’s about how we connect and how we move forward,” said Backhaus. “Every action is about holding history and holding each other.”
To close the program, Rhoden’s “Scene Unseen” dives into a picture of tangled love and relationships. In his first repertory work for Backhausdance, Rhoden introduced a new movement language to the dancers that is both highly physical and extremely technical. The 26-minute piece came to fruition quickly and intensely with several eight-hour rehearsals and a totally new way of working.
“I want to be a company that people want to come create work on,” said Backhaus. “It’s exciting, it’s a little overwhelming, but we’re always going to show up.”
Kaitlin Wright is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.