Budding, Not Yet Blooming: Summer Odell and Artesan Dance Company

By Tara Sheena of Dance Informa.

Northern California-based Artesan Dance Company began in 2006 with its current leader, Artistic Director Summer Odell, at the helm. With only three dancers, one of them being Odell herself, the company laid foundations for what would eventually become its current iteration.

A turning point came in 2008, when Odell struck a deal with a group of young b-boys: if they took Odell’s weekly modern and ballet classes, they could have an hour of free studio space every week to work on whatever they wanted. From that initial arrangement, five of them were chosen to perform at Artesan’s debut performance at the Cascade Theatre in 2009 and continue to collaborate with the company to this day.

Since then, Odell has nurtured the exciting intersections of hip-hop, breakdancing, modern and ballet that make up the signature movement blend of her company, performing at such venues as the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Inside/Out stage and across the West Coast.

For this month’s Budding, Not Yet Blooming series, Odell spoke to Dance Informa’s Tara Sheena about early influences, how she thinks about her audience when making dances and where Artesan is headed.

What originally drew you to choreography? Do you have any early influences you can recall?

“Dance is my vehicle of communication with the world. As a child I was often quiet yet I always experienced an overwhelming range of emotions and ideas exploding inside of me that would feel blocked. I would struggle and suffer frustration in finding adequate words to accurately express the full breadth of those ideas with the people around me. I have many memories of lying in bed at night and closing my eyes to fall asleep and immediately full dances and performances would begin to play out in my imagination. When I found dance, and specifically choreography, I found my true language.”

Summer Odell's Love Story

Artesan Dance Company dancers Natasha Morken and Eero Taina perform Summer Odell’s ‘Love Story’ at the Cascade Theatre in Redding, California. Photo by Renee Lansdowne.

How would you describe your aesthetic and style to someone who has never seen your work?

“I enjoy the challenge of finding the beauty in what could be considered ugly or unlovable and putting it together in such away that my audience can experience and share in that beauty with me. I have explored these concepts by using elements of classical dance mixed with urban dancers by employing classically trained dancers and b-boys. My work tends to be very athletic and demanding, mixed with elements of beauty. However, my style is always in a state of growth and transformation and I hope to continue to expand my range as I continuously push myself to see something from a new perspective.

I love working with dancers. Dancers are some of the most brilliant people on the planet. I love taking an idea that I have been working on for a while and bringing it into the studio and putting it on its feet with dancers. I love how the idea metamorphoses into something full and alive when you put human beings in the mix. I guess I am in love with the journey of the creative process. 

I also care a great deal about creating an environment in my work that sets the audience free to imagine, dream, discover and wonder with us. I hope for people to feel enlightened and inspired by what they see and experience in my work and to look at something in a new, beautiful way that they had not considered before. I love the shared experience of a moment in time with the audience and dancers.”

What, in your mind, is the biggest challenge for emerging choreographers right now? What are the strategies you’ve employed to navigate that challenge?

“By far, funding is the greatest challenge. Many of my first shows were funded by my own bank account. I would raise money through teaching classes or anything else that I could do, enough to put a small deposit on a theatre. Since then, we have written grants as well as created crowdsourcing campaigns. Regardless, funding is a constant challenge to be able to cover the costs of an emerging dance company.”

What are the next steps for you and your company?

“We are continuing to raise funds in order to develop my next work that we hope to tour. I am also currently a part of the development of a dance-driven feature film.”

For more information on Summer Odell and Artesan Dance Company, visit  

Photo (top): Artesan Dance Company dancers Fred Vassallo and Eero Taina perform Summer Odell’s Parallels of Another Universe at the Inside/Out Series at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Photo by Paul Bloomfield. 

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