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ODC/Dance to Strike Up Conversation
Sunday, March 24, 2019


Brenda Way works in a world that walks the tightrope between the classical beauty of traditional ballet and modern dance that speaks precisely to the dilemmas of the modern age.

And she allows both to play out in ODC/Dance, or Oberlin Dance Company—the premier contemporary dance company on the West Coast.

ODC doesn’t just respond to the questions of the day in dance. It makes the conversation with dance performances like its 2014 “Boulder and Bones,” which was based on the work of award-winning British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, who is known for work that transforms nature.

That same piece utilized the talents of avante cellist Zoe Keating, who uses live looping in her play.

Similarly, its recent “News of the World” performance preceded the #MeToo conversation, drawing the battle lines as single lines of spoken dialogue, such as “You look nice,” elicited outrage in women dressed in red and perplexity in men dressed in dark suits and ties.

”We’re deeply skilled in classical and contemporary techniques so we can be experimental and take on challenging technical work,” she said.

Sun Valley audiences will get to see what Brenda Way and her troupe conjure when ODC performs two long-form contemporary pieces at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum. The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30. Tickets start at $30, available at

One, a 30-minute piece titled “What We Carry What We Keep” was inspired by an article Way read in the New York Times about a museum show featuring thousands of items artists kept in their homes over years.

“I got to thinking: how do we define ourselves –not just by the materials we keep but the relationships we keep, as well,” said Way. artistic director and founder of Oberlin Dance Company

The resulting piece, first staged in 2017, features dancers engaging one another in inventive series of encounters as they define how we value one another and what should be retained.

The second piece, “Triangulating Euclid,” was inspired by the geometry of the Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, whose “elements” served as the main textbook for teaching mathematics from its publication in third century BC until the early 20th century.

Way choreographed it in collaboration with K.T. Nelson and Kate Weare, taking viewers from a lone dancer evoking the definition of a point mathematically to a series of dancers evoking angles, lines and other geometric shapes.

“How numbers work is formal but also very human,” said Way. “Having two humans side by side is unison. Two dancing together is a relationship. We start out with lines and circles and make it into relationships.”

Way, a post-modern choreographer who grew up in Greenwich, Conn., trained under the famed George Balanchine at the School of American Ballet in New York City.

She founded ODC 47 years ago, building the seats for her first performance on the sand dunes outside Martha’s Vineyard where her troupe lived in tents and cooked on a stove rescued from the dump.

She moved ODC/Dance to the mission district of San Francisco in 1976 where it performs in its own facility, which includes a school, theater and gallery and a budget exceeding $5 million.

ODC/Dance performs for more than 50,000 people a year. And it presents programs of national and international dance performers and companies other than its own.

“I come from a background where they preferred dancers to look alike. But I prefer to embrace all types—tall, short, different races,” she said.

Her dancers are known for their athleticism, passion and intellectual depth. This was especially borne out in a tour of Thailand and other southeastern Asian countries that ODC made on behalf of U.S. Department of State.

“People in Thailand and China have notable appreciation for dancers,” Way said. “They were very receptive about our dancers’ athleticism, which they said was emblematic of the American spirit. And they were very receptive about the role of woman being just as expansive as men—it’s different in their country.”

Way and ODC have presented numerous groundbreaking collaborations.

They performed “Miracles,” for instance, against the backdrop of British composer Joby Talbot’s 70-minute a cappella work describing the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across northern Spain. Fittingly, they performed it at Grace Cathedral with the pews removed.

“Inspiration is a funny thing,” said Way. “I’m a very big reader so I get a lot of ideas that way. I also go to a lot of museums. Right now, for instance, I’m in Santa Fe so I’m going to the galleries there. I have four children so I do a lot of relationship watching during which I notice such things as the wonder of childhood.”

Current events often present themselves as inspiration, but not necessarily in a beautiful way.

“How people treat each other is not necessarily uplifting. But I tend to look on the optimistic side, hoping I can make the world better,” she said.

“Any kind of art can be beautiful and inspiring. And part of that is because it encourages reflection, lifting us out of dark. Dance doesn’t tell you how to feel. But it invites you to reflect and often that’s the beginning of change.”





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