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Hometown Hero Backhausdance Returns to the Irvine Barclay Theatre

The company celebrates 21 years as one of very few professional dance companies in Orange County.


“Love and Other Impossibilities” was created by founder and artistic director Jenny Backhaus in 2006. Photo by Shawna Sarnowski, courtesy of Backhausdance
 

Backhausdance returns to the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Wednesday with a mixed repertory program that features four pieces, including a reimagining of “Love and Other Impossibilities” that Backhaus choreographed in 2006.


The evening will also feature three Orange County premieres by Alice Klock and Florian Lochner of Flock, a German-American dance company, renowned guest choreographer Peter Chu and Backhausdance’s own Amanda Kay White.


Dancers perform “The Barest Echo” by choreographers Alice Klock and Florian Lochner of Flock.

Photo by Shawna Sarnowski, courtesy of Backhausdance

 

There is a notion that success is found in big cities that are a Mecca for certain industries – Los Angeles for film, Paris or Milan for fashion and New York City for concert dance. Dancers often feel compelled to move to cities outside of their hometowns to either go to school, run the audition circuit, or to expand their careers.


But Jennifer Backhaus stands to challenge that idea, encouraging patrons to return to a time when local art wasn’t the exception, it was the reality. She founded her contemporary dance company in Orange County and here it has remained. Backhaus has managed to create a viable and thriving professional dance opportunity in Orange County – one that has continually demonstrated success and staying power with its decades-long history.


“I feel like it’s similar to having a professional home team in sports,” Backhaus said in defense of building her company in Orange County and not the nearby larger city of Los Angeles. “We need to honor that there are artists who want to be here and do work in our community and just because we want to stay here doesn’t mean our artistic ability is any less."


“And Orange County supports other cultural opportunities at a high level. That’s why we have the Pacific Symphony, South Coast Repertory – we need to have a dance equivalent.”


"Portals of Being” by Peter Chu explores the theme of artificial intelligence.

Photo by Shawna Sarowski, courtesy of Backhausdance

 

Backhausdance is currently embarking on its 21st season with a rich legacy of artistic achievement. The company has toured both nationally and internationally, earning acclaim and recognition along the way. With an impressive tally of 10 Lester Horton Awards which are given annually to honor excellence in the field of modern dance, Backhausdance has been lauded for its exceptional contributions to choreography, design and performance. The company was also recently named the resident company at Temecula Presents, a platform that produces and programs performances at Old Town Temecula Community Theater.


Backhausdance’s success is impressive and worthy of recognition for any dance company, but even more so considering the history, or lack thereof, of professional dance companies in Orange County.


“In one way, you look back at it and seems like it all happened in an instant, in another way, I think ‘Gosh, I can’t believe I’m still doing this,’ ” Backhaus said. 


But there were milestones along the way that proved to Backhaus that things were trending in her favor. Milestones like hitting the five-year mark, touring internationally, performing at the Joyce Theater in New York, self-presenting a show at the Irvine Barclay Theatre for the first time and the first time the Irvine Barclay Theatre presented Backhausdance as part of its dance season.


“That was a highlight moment. That was exciting because we started on our own trying to prove ourselves and then we got buy-in from Doug Rankin (the Barclay’s founding president) who was a real dance connoisseur,” Backhaus said. 


The upcoming show contains a diverse selection of pieces that Backhaus described as exploring “choreographic themes such as breath and breathing, artificial intelligence, humanity, and love and relationships.”


Associate artistic director Amanda Kay White choreographed "I Am Dangerous and Blooming.” In PHOTO 2: Dancers Mo Goodfellow, Kira Bartoli, Adrien Padilla, Marco Vega, and Sammi Waugh.

Photo by Shawna Sarnowski, courtesy of Backhausdance

 

White, who was recently named associate artistic director of the company, created the piece “I Am Dangerous Blooming,” as a way to reflect on her career as a dancer and her connection to the art form. This will be the first season since the company’s founding that White is not dancing in the works herself.


“It’s constructed in three parts and looks at what dance and performing feels like, the kinds of relationships you curate while dancing and then looking to what is coming ahead,” White said. “And right now, I don’t know exactly what’s coming ahead. So that part is more abstract as I process how I am feeling and where I am artistically.”


When asked to look back on her journey as a professional dancer and tenured member of Backhausdance, White admitted that she never could have predicted that the last 21 years would have gone the way that they did. When she moved to California to attend Chapman University, she figured she would go on to audition for commercial dance roles in Los Angeles. Because for many young dancers, landing a job in Los Angeles or New York is what success looks like.


In addition to the company’s performances, Backhausdance has an extensive education component that brings the dancers to K-12 schools for demonstrations as well as community education programs that take place at venues such as the Orange County Museum of Art.


Backhaus said although these initiatives have been a part of the company’s mission since the beginning, she feels they are doing a better job of delivering on that mission with more robust outreach. 


As it eyes the 25-year anniversary down the line, Backhaus said she feels like the company is in another period of growth.


For White, that growth is what keeps her invested.


“At its core, the elements that Jenny started the company with are all still there, but the scope and frequency at which we are able to do everything now is amazing. I have had the opportunity to grow alongside the company and it continues to be so inspiring. It’s just awesome. There is no other way to describe it.”


Backhausdance

When: 8 p.m. March 27

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

Cost: $25-$95

Info: thebarclay.org or 949-854-4646


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