Eleven years ago, after moving to Walnut Creek with her new husband, Mark, Anandha Ray was looking for rehearsal space.
The award-winning choreographer and dance therapist had been living in Los Angeles; her then-fiance, in New York. They decided during their many phone conversations that Northern California was the place to be. Weekend trips narrowed it down to Walnut Creek, where she felt she could raise her teen-agers from a former marriage and the child they would eventually have together.
Ray had founded companies in places like Prescott, Ariz., and Stockton, where the response had been enthusiastic. Her offer to trade free teaching for rehearsal space surely would be easy.
Instead, someone told her, “There’s no need for modern dance in Contra Costa County.” Another asked, “Modern dance? Isn’t that be a tree’?”
The suburbs are a different place than they were a decade ago when Ray founded the Moving Arts Dance Collective in Walnut Creek. Audiences stand to give an ovation, not to walk out in the middle of a performance or throw paper airplanes. Last year’s opening season concert did so well that it has been expanded to two nights this year, beginning Friday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
It’s at this juncture that the founder can take off yet another hat. The concert will be Ray’s last as artistic director. Resident choreographer Charles Anderson is taking up the title.
The two-day concert was nearly canceled because of the Sept. 11 attacks. The company decided to go on, and also to keep “Mayday! Mayday!” Ray’s 1985 award-winning piece about two World War II bomber pilots who crash-dive and gradually realize they are dead in the show’s lineup.
This piece had prompted some audience members to walk out when Ray presented it in Walnut Creek five years ago. One woman said to a board adviser, “This is not entertainment,'” Ray recalls. “It was such a telling comment. And it was a compliment.”
The work, however, had won much acclaim in the past and drew war veterans to bring their family members as a way to explain their experiences. Balancing the hauntingly reflective “Mayday!” are two world premieres: “Aposiopesis,” Anderson’s romantic celebration of movement; and “Invitacion,” Ray’s examination of one’s dark shadow self. Anderson’s “Hush,” which explores the physical manifestation of music, makes a return appearance.
Rounding out the program is another kind of premiere. For the first time, women instead of men perform Tandy Beal’s strenuous “The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light.”
“It explores how people support each other, without being aware of supporting each other,” Ray says. The reverse gender casting “really tells the story of the strength of women and how it has really changed.” Ten years ago, women didn’t partner one another, but changes in perception of what women can do have made their inroads into dance.
Perceptions of modern dance itself have also undergone changes. “In the last five years, dance has become more alive in the suburbs,” Ray says. Moving Arts now boasts a staff of 14 (Ray is the only full-time volunteer), and companies have formed in suburban areas like the Peninsula, Marin and San Jose. She finally realized her company had arrived when she was asked to be a judge on the 1999 Isadora Duncan Awards Committee.
The concert may be Ray’s last as artistic director, but she’s getting a promotion as executive director. Ray had always planned to find and train her replacement, and started searching in earnest five years ago. One candidate, Anderson, ended up moving in 1999, but his fortuitous return to his native Bay Area meant she did not have to start her search from the beginning. Her creative collaboration will continue, and so far, the melding of Anderson’s ballet roots (which go back to his parents and stepfather his mother co-founded the Contra Costa Ballet) and her modern dance background has been successful. Ray also plans to sustain the camaraderie that she has nurtured within her company.
“There’s a lot of passion in the members of this company and we all do whatever it takes to bring the show to its best,” Ray says. “I really love this group of dancers. We refer to ourselves as Tribe.'”
Vera H-C Chan is the Times event editor. She can be reached at 925-977-8428 or at email@example.com.
* What: Moving Arts Collective
* Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.
* When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
* How much: $14-$28
* Call: 415-978-2787; www.movingartsdance.org