Berkeley Dance Project 2019 Celebrates UC’s Modern Dance Legacy

The UC Theater Dance and Performance Studies program turns 50, and Berkeley Dance Project, the department’s performing ensemble, offers a program of new works to honor 50 years.


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Berkeley Dance Project performs new work to honor a long dance legacy.

Photo by Natalia Perez

Like jazz, modern dance is one of the arts for which America can take credit. It took a while for both to be accepted by for, lack of a better term, “mainstream society.” Women gym teachers in high schools and colleges all over the country pioneered modern dance as both healthy exercise and creative expression. For many years, UC Berkeley had an extracurricular dance group, Orchesis, through Berkeley’s Department of Physical Education for Women. The group performed publicly and brought guest teachers to the campus.

But it was only in 1968 when David and Marni Wood, renowned members of the Martha Graham Company, joined UC, creating a degree program in dance that still thrives as part of the Theater Dance and Performance Studies program.

Situated in the Bay Area, one of the country’s preeminent homes for the widest variety of dance, the UC program is taking full advantage of what is available. Joe Goode, a pioneer of dance theater, remembers with gratitude being the first guest teacher invited by the Woods. He has been followed by a long list of (primarily) local artists, exposing the students to dance as it thrives off-campus. The guest teachers include choreographers as different as James Graham and LaTanya Tiger and Katie Faulkner and Amara Tabor-Smith. By hiring locally, Goode explains, “we also want to be good community members.” Supporting independent artists is a way to bridge the “town-gown” rift.

Celebrating the department’s 50th anniversary will be department’s performing ensemble Berkeley Dance Project in new work by Goode, Tigner, First Nation choreographer Rulan Tangen, a yet to be determined student, and choreography alumna Cherie Hill. TDPS dance program co-founder and professor emerita Marni Wood will be here for a short residency, including a discussion as part of the TDPS Speaker Series on Feb. 21. 

Berkeley Dance Project 2019, Feb. 21-March 2, Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m., Zellerbach Playhouse, Berkeley, $13-$20, at the door and www.TDPSBoxOffice@berkeley.edu.

This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.

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