Gerald Casel brings his vision of a united dance community to National Dance Week Santa Cruz
Everywhere he’s been, Gerald Casel has found divisions in the dance community—highbrow vs. lowbrow, uptown vs. downtown, experimental vs. classical. As a renowned choreographer who has worked across the country and around the world, it is something that no longer surprises or disappoints him. But that doesn’t mean he’s willing to accept it.
“It’s important to share movement as a language with people you don’t know,” explains Casel. “Especially in dance, where we can get tunnel vision about what we should be doing and how it should look. I’m very open to seeing what people are doing and showing them what I know — rather than telling them what they should be doing.”
Casel has only been in Santa Cruz since last summer, but he hasn’t wasted any time building his dance network locally. On any given day, he can be found teaching on the UCSC campus or downtown, collaborating with local choreographers, or participating in dance events. His knack for forging relationships with the talent around him reflects the theme behind an upcoming Santa Cruz tradition: National Dance Week Santa Cruz (NDWSC).
Running April 24 through May 3, this is NDWSC’s seventh year of bringing together members of the Santa Cruz dance scene. The event showcases an impressive range of styles between the many dance studios, instructors, choreographers, and hundreds of performers that participate. For the entire week, the public is treated to performances, public exhibitions, and free classes.
For his first NDWSC, Casel will be premiering “Visiter,” an evening-length piece running May 2-3 at Motion Pacific. He will also be a participating choreographer in the latest addition to the NDWSC event lineup: a walking tour of dance in downtown Santa Cruz. This is not to be confused with the “Dance in Unlikely Places” events that feature dancers performing in coffee shops, on street corners, in cross walks, and anywhere imaginable. The events kick off with “Dancing in the Streets,” where more than 30 groups will perform on three outdoor stages.
“When I started dance week in its current incarnation 7 years ago, the objective was to increase awareness of dance, its contribution to the larger community, and to support collaborations between local dancers,” explains Abra Allen, founder and director of Motion Pacific Dance and the main organizer behind NDWSC. “It’s kind of funny that Gerald embodies why we do dance week, because he’s only been here since July, and this will be his first dance week experience.”
In his short time here, Casel has become a bridge between UCSC, downtown, and the professional dance communities that make up the Santa Cruz scene. A Professor of Dance and Choreography on the UCSC campus, Casel also teaches somatic-based modern dance at Motion Pacific. Earlier this month, he choreographed a piece for the annual Looking Left dance festival. If that wasn’t enough, he is also one of four Participatory Performing Artists in Residence at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. As a member of many diverse dance communities, Casel is always encouraging cross-pollination between performers and choreographers.
“An important part of being an artist is interacting with other artists and expanding your perspective,” says Damara Ganley, a local dancer and student of Casel’s. “The experiences that Gerald has as a national and international performer and a choreographer are important elements of what he offers to [NDWSC] and this whole community. He has a breadth of experience that a smaller town doesn’t always have access to.”
Organizers like Allen hope that Casel’s desire to connect the smaller sections of the dance community will serve as an example for the rest of the scene. In her years of experience, Allen says it is natural for dancers studying different forms to stick closely to other performers in their field.
“If you are a ballet dancer committed to that form, and that’s what you want to do with your life, there is nothing wrong with that,” says Allen. “But do I think there is opportunity for collaboration outside of that circle? Absolutely. My drive to bring people together is to give them a forum to inspire each other, and some really amazing relationships and collaborations have come out of [NDWSC].”
Casel hasn’t even attended NDWSC, and he is already flush with ideas for what comes after the weeklong festival. Expanding and increasing the number of local dance festivals is at the top of his to-do list. He also has visions of inviting choreographers from the national and international communities to Santa Cruz for residencies, where they can teach and share their creative processes with locals.
“I believe in sharing resources. Together, we can better showcase our talents and collectively bring larger ideas to life,” says Casel. “Dancing is community. I can’t stay in my classroom and expect the community to come to me — I have to go to them.”
National Dance Week Santa Cruz administrators are located at C/O Motion Pacific Dance, 131 Front St., Suite E, Santa Cruz, 457-1838. For more information, visit scdanceweek.com. For more information on Gerald Casel, and his show “Visiter”, go to motionpacific.com.