So You Think You Can Choreograph

Each audience member gets a vote to help decide winners of the San Diego Young Choreographers Showcase and Prize, taking place Saturday night (Feb. 15). Judges will look for innovation, contrasts, and how the dances communicate ideas. They’ll consider the execution and clarity of performances from emerging dance makers as they compete for prizes and prestige.

Now in its fourth year, the competition is so popular that its sponsor, San Diego Dance Theater, moved it to the Coronado Performing Arts Center, which has more than 500 seats.

Ten dance makers ranging in age from 18 to 35 were selected to present new work. They’ll compete in four new prize categories including: Most Original Choreography, Most Compelling Performance by a Single Dancer, and Best Performance by a Group (3 or more dancers).

Zaquia Mahler Salinas presents and dances with Caitlin Franco. Photo: Derek Gardner

Zaquia Mahler Salinas presents and dances with Caitlin Franco. Photo: Derek Gardner

In total, $5,000 will be awarded. While cash is a motivator, dance makers I spoke with are thrilled to have a big supportive audience.

Paul Anthony Mota

“I love to make my own work and show it,” Mota says, “and to see others perform it because it’s not exactly how I do it. I’m happy to see their power and styles.”

Mota pushed himself to enter the competition after seeing the show last year. Melissa Adao and Kathy Myer, his instructors at Grossmont Community College, gave him an extra shove.

“They inspired me to go for it, he says. “My style is inspired by Martha Graham. I love that heavy base and try to tell a story that is organic, flowing, and I add the heavy inspiration of Butoh.”

Moto chose eerie instrumental music.

“It puts people on edge. I heard it while watching The Exorcist. I want my work to get noticed. I’m an underdog, and others are more established. I have no history. If I win any money, I’ll use it for more dance classes.”

Ami Apapo & Caryn Glass

“We moved to San Diego from New York two years ago,” the women said almost in unison, “and applied for the competition last year, but it was for a site specific piece. This time we were inspired by a spoken word piece, a disjointed poem.”

Their work titled “S P A C E S” speaks to broken down spaces and extends to living spaces and various inhabitants.

“We took 34 milk crates and it’s been a giant game of tetrus,” says Ipapo, referring to the puzzle video game. “We tie them together like a strange mathematical, geometry project, in addition to working with the dance movement.”

Glass and Ipapo are excited about the buzz of the competition, but say the cash prize is on the back burner.

“Everyone is super excited to have our work out there, that exposure,” Glass says. “There are 10 choreographers all coming from different networks, and this is a great way to reach a larger demographic. We like to create work for the masses, something the average guy can enjoy. We’re not making work that is mundane, but we want it to be relatable.”

Glass and Ipapo’s dance collective, [the] movement initiative, is company in residence at APA Studios in La Mesa. They’ve made many friends in the dance community.

“Our piece for the competition has eight dancers,” says Ipapo. “Caryn [Glass] is performing in it, I direct. We are thrilled to meet so many great people through this event. Our next project is part of the San Diego Fringe Festival.”

 Zaquia Mahler Salinas & Caitlin Franco

“This year, Caitlin Franco and I collaborate on a piece,” says Salinas. “The duet, “Distance Travelled/ Distance Remaining,” portrays how our friendship has been strengthened through shared experience. The dance, audio, and video are based on the effects long-distance relationships.”

Dancer Caitlin Franco rehearses “Proprioceptive Rhythm” by Zaquia Mahler Salinas. Photo credit: Manuel Rotenberg

Dancer Caitlin Franco
rehearses “Proprioceptive Rhythm” by Zaquia Mahler Salinas in Showcase 2013. Photo credit: Manuel Rotenberg

Salinas refers to two long-distance relationships, one between her and a sister, and Franco and her fiancé.

“Creating the work has been an amazing bonding opportunity for Caitlin and me, as we explore the universal experiences of distance and closeness.”

[Salinas won a prize last year.  See my feature: Top Choreographers Win Prize Money and Prestige from 2013.]

Heather Glabe

“I’m presenting and performing a quirky piece with Jeremy Hahn,” explains Glabe, “a very physical parody on old romantic comedies. The music includes Bach’s ‘Air on a G String’ and is all over the place.”

Heather Glabe and Jeremy Hahn in “Whitewashed Deathscapes Vol III.” Photo credit: Peter X. Huynh

Heather Glabe and Jeremy Hahn in “Whitewashed Deathscapes Vol III.” Photo credit: Peter X. Huynh

Glabe and Hahn created “Whitewashed Deathscapes Vol. III” while they were students at CSU Long Beach.

“Jeremy and I went to grad school together and want to perform more,” says Glabe. “I’m in Encinitas now, and if we’re lucky to win on Saturday, we’d love to buy props to make our dance a full-length show, and start a dance company.”

In addition to her dance, Glabe performs in a trio by dance maker Rebecca Wilson.

Rebecca Wilson

“Heather [Glabe], Cara Steen, and I dance to an electronic score that really drives the dance,” says Wilson. “The first section is twinkly sounding and light – my cousin composed it – and I like the darker shift. It has a punch.”

Wilson earned her undergrad at Sonoma State and MFA at Mills College in Oakland. She lives east of San Diego, in Descanso.

Dance maker Rebecca Wilson performs and presents “A Seemingly Lost Art of Tinkering.” Photo credit: Anny To

Dance maker Rebecca Wilson performs and presents “A Seemingly Lost Art of Tinkering.” Photo credit: Anny To

“I’ve always been inspired by the old objects at my grandparent’s property out there,” she says. “The rusted out wheelbarrows and tires, tools and broken things. My dance is ‘A Seemingly Lost Art of Tinkering’ and that sense of rusty and falling apart inspires the movement.”

Wilson’s grandfather died in September. She views his property as a museum.

“I’m inspired by him and his belongings. I sit and inspect the shapes and forms and drive the tractor. And with my cousin’s music, that underlying family connection informs my dance,” Wilson says.

VIDEO of Rebecca Wilson’s rehearsal

The showcase also includes choreography by: Stephanie Smith, Jaime Nixon, Minaqua McPherson, Myriam Lucas, and Katey Konderik.
The Judges are: Katherine Ewalt, PAARTS Dance & Sports Therapy; Patricia Sandback, Dance Faculty, San Diego State University; Tony Caligagan, Salsa and Latin Dance Expert/Faculty, UC San Diego; Mitzi Yates Lizarraga, Principal, San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts.

San Diego Young Choreographers Showcase and Prize takes place for one night only at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15 at Coronado Performing Arts Center (650 D Ave., Coronado). Tickets are $25 and include a post show reception and awards ceremony. For more information, visit San Diego Dance Theater’s website.

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