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PGK Dance Project on Socially Relevant Dance in San Diego

By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.

This March, The PGK Dance Project will present “San Diego Dances in Logan Heights,” located in a century-old former bread factory in the Logan Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Featuring a varied program with works by several choreographers, the event will encompass world-class professional contemporary dance in addition to collaborations between tap dancers, flamenco dancers, spoken word artists, filmmakers, and more. With keen interest in community-building performance experiences the founding artistic and executive director of the company, Peter G. Kalivas, strives to make sustainable, affordable, and accessible dance by setting work in venues other than theaters.

The 20-year old company is no stranger to making dance in alternative spaces, which Kalivas began doing for reasons both financial and artistic.

“As many people know, renting a theater for a week or even a day can often be the largest expense, more so than paying the dancers, choreographers, and marketing… ,” Kalivas says, “I basically wanted to do away with that cost so I can focus on paying people over the long term vs. paying for a place for just a few days.  I want to do my work, in fact I want to make and produce great work and I don’t want money to interfere with that.  “

PGK Dance Project

Two male dancers from PGK Dance Project in a duet by Peter Kalivas in the courtyard at the former gas station, now work/live spaces. Photo by Sue Brenner.

One of the biggest necessities of building a sustainable dance company is creating a strong network of performance-goers, donors, and community members to support the work a company does.  Kalivas realized a long time ago that reaching out to new, non-theater-going audiences and asking them to pay for expensive tickets doesn’t often yield good results.

Kalivas explains, “It’s just about knowing what people today are doing with their social time.  Where are they going and why?  If part of my job is to establish the value of dance in today’s world, then dance has to relate to today’s world.”

As the saying goes, sometimes success comes down to “location, location, location.”

“As you walk around throughout your day, we engage with gorgeous commercial and public meeting spaces all the time.  So, one day I just thought about it, ‘Why can’t I just do my concert here or there, or there?’” he says. “These places and spaces were where people already were, whether they were shopping, hanging out, whatever.  This to me also translated to not having to 100% convince someone who has either never been to a theater, or considered them too expensive (which often they are), or a zillion other reasons to please come to this place you don’t necessarily relate to.”

From hair salons to wine bars, from gas stations to factories, partnering with local businesses benefits both the artists and the businesses themselves by generating cross-promotion opportunities on both sides. In this way, Kalivas can reach out to community members who might not ordinarily pay for a dance performance by not only advertising to, but by performing for and engaging with non-traditional audiences in their everyday environment.

Featuring concessions, movable seating, and accessibility options for the elderly or those with disabilities, Kalivas strives to create an all-encompassing performance “experience,” which is contrary to what he calls the “sit and stare” method of traditional dance-viewing in theaters.

Peter Kalivas

PGK Dance Project’s director Peter Kalivas in a solo. Photo by Keith Weng.

“My job is to help people to love dance, and I can do this by providing a great, comfortable, inviting experience with quality art,” he says.

Kalivas argues that, while any dance not performed on a stage is often labelled “site-specific,” dance in theaters is in many ways more site-specific than what he sets in alternative spaces because choreographers can’t often imagine putting their work any place other than on the stage.  He says that much of the work audiences will see at the bread factory is work that could easily be presented on stage, but that he is simply setting it somewhere else. Additionally, Kalivas mentions that “alternative space” doesn’t equate to “alternative” or post-modern work. In fact, his company presents well-established forms such as ballet, tap, dance theater, and work by professional companies of ethnic dance forms.

Presented annually, this year’s “San Diego Dances in Logan Heights,” (each year the title takes on the name of a new neighborhood), will take place in the bread factory that has now been divided into various gallery spaces, a radio station, offices, and garden space by the owner and architect James Brown of Public Architecture + Planning.

When audiences arrive, they can expect to be ushered to concessions, take a tour of the building, and view a dance film created by Kalivas and filmmaker Fernando Garcia. Slated for the program is a new work by Somebodies Dance Theater that will take place in the chamber where the large bread oven still exists, a collaboration on sound with flamenco dancer Kristina Cobarrubia, classical Indian dancer Divya Devaguptapu, and tap dancer John Paul Lawson.There will also be works by guests Blythe Barton Dance, Anjanette Maraya-Ramey and Viviana Alcazar. Kalivas will present a dance performed by his 7-member company in collaboration with spoken word artist Nate Howard inspired by Michelle Obama’s 2009 speech at G-20 Economic Summit entitled “Why the Arts Matter”.

Events like this one require enormous organization, forethought, and financial management to pull off successfully, and Kalivas acknowledges that many choreographers often fail because they don’t understand the demands of running a business. From managing budgets to sending thank you notes to individual donors, choreographers are responsible for both the artistic and financial success of their company.

PGK Dance Project

PGK Dance Project dancing on the main level of a bi-level wine bar. There was also one dance on the sidewalk with the audience looking out from their seats inside. Photo by Sue Brenner.

“Artistic people like to often say ‘Oh, I don’t know anything about business,’ and I say, ‘YOU BETTER LEARN!’ fast.  If you can pay your rent or your phone bill on time you can create and manage a budget for a dance company,” Kalivas notes.

But when thinking about the journey of his 20-year old company, which Kalivas began in Europe, moved to New York City, and then relocated to San Diego, Kalivas understands that valuing people, be they performers, collaborators, or audience members,  is what matters most to success. In turn, this is what will ultimately lead to financial stability.

“It’s about knowing how you spend your money with the greatest return on your assets.  Yourself, your artists and your staff will ALWAYS be your greatest assets,” he says. “Without people, you don’t exist.”

San Diego Dances in Logan Heights will run from March 6 -8, 2015. For tickets and to learn more about Peter Kalivas and the PGK Dance Project, visit www.thePGKdanceproject.org.

Photo (top): PGK Dance Project performing at 3rd Space, a multi-level loft space where the musicians stand in different spots and the dance wove throughout. Photo by Sue Brenner.

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