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Backhausdance Presents Immersive, Site-Specific Work at Bowers Museum

This weekend, the Orange County dance company will make the museum courtyard its stage with the premiere of a new work created for the outdoor space.

Backhausdance rehearses at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC

Orange County, with its mild climate, natural beauty, urban dynamics and rich cultural history, serves as a compelling spot for site-specific dance, or dance made in relation to a particular place.

In site-specific dance, the choreography is influenced by the environment in which it takes place and in most cases would not be the same if it was removed from that environment.

For example, in Backhausdance's new work "Glow/Brillo," which will premiere during a free event at the Bowers Museum on Sunday, June 9, dancers lean over balcony railings, perch on walls, travel up and down a staircase and dance around trees.

The work was created during a five-week residency at the Bowers Museum and was made possible by a grant from the city of Santa Ana Arts & Culture Office.

Backhausdance founder and artistic director Jennifer Backhaus is no stranger to this method of presenting dance, having created several works in the company's 21 seasons that were performed outside of a traditional proscenium theater.

The company has performed several site-specific works at Sherman Library and Gardens and the Orange County Museum of Art, all of which were created on-site and witnessed by an audience of passersby in the true spirit of site-specific choreography. The final creations often involve the audience to create a truly immersive experience.

"The dance in some ways starts making itself," Backhaus said. "It is so fun and a whole different way of looking at space when you start imagining how a dancer can activate certain areas."

In addition to the premiere of "Glow/Brillo," audiences are invited to enjoy a movement workshop for all ages and abilities, meet the Backhausdance dancers and join in for a dance party.

"There is a joy and ease when we work in this way," Backhaus said. "It is more about shaping the entire experience than doing everything perfectly and we can let it unhinge itself and get the audience to be a part it."

Chihiro Sano of Backhausdance is lifted during rehearsal at Bowers Museum. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
Backhausdance company members rehearse a section of choreography that utilizes the staircase, including the wall, to support some movement. Moments like this cannot be easily rehearsed in a studio because it depends heavily on the environment. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
Bowers Museum first opened its doors in 1936 as a city-run museum devoted primarily to the history of Orange County. Since then the museum has presented over 150 special exhibitions from around the world and opened six permanent galleries. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
Dancers Chihiro Sano, left, Katie Natwick, center, and Anne Elise Garrison, right, rehearse a section of "Glow / Brillo" in the courtyard. Dancers wear tennis shoes, sunglasses, hats and lots of sunscreen during hours-long rehearsals outside. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
From left, dancers Samantha Waugh, Marco Vega, Kaitlin Regan, Kaitwan Jackson, Samuel DeAngelo and Kyle Schrader rehearse choreography that utilizes the wall of an accessibility ramp. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
The dance piece, which runs approximately 35 minutes, begins on the second-floor balcony of the museum. Adrien Padilla, right, rehearses the choreography. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
Founder and artistic director Jennifer Backhaus explains a movement concept to the dancers. Most of the piece is created in collaboration with the dancers. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
Kyle Schrader rehearses in the Key Courtyard at Bowers Museum. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC
Twelve dancers will perform in "Glow / Brillo" on Sunday. Viewers of the performance will be allowed to sit, stand and wander around the space as the dancers perform. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC

Dancers Kira Bartoli, left, Anne Elise Garrison, center, and Katie Natwick, right, rehearse a section of "Glow / Brillo" in the courtyard. The choreography is set to songs that include Spanish and Japanese guitars, relating to both the architecture and the exhibits in the Bowers Museum. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Culture OC


Where: Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana

When: Noon-3 p.m. June 9

Admission: Free




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