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Malashock Dance’s next steps

Dancers with San Diego’s Malashock Dance perform at last month’s Without Walls (WOW) Festival.
Dancers with San Diego’s Malashock Dance perform “Swells” at last month’s Without Walls (WOW) Festival at Arts District Liberty Station.
(Courtesy of Malashock Dance)

San Diego dance company looks to ‘Horizons’ while searching for an artistic director to replace its legendary founder

After more than 30 years, Malashock Dance company has begun a campaign to find a new artistic director while it continues to evolve with its strong legacy of performance and service to the community.

That said, John Malashock, who founded the organization in 1988, is a hard act to follow.

He has choreographed more than 100 modern dances and collaborated with numerous local and national arts organizations.

He is known for creating work for companies in other states and for inviting emerging choreographers to set work on Malashock dancers, an effort that has helped to make San Diego and Liberty Station, headquarters for the company, an entertainment destination.

“Times do change,” says Malashock, who will share artistic director duties for a season and continue to mentor the chosen candidate.

“Working for 47 years in the professional dance field offers an unbelievable repository of information and experience to draw upon. I don’t need to articulate that — it comes out in the work and in my perspective. But there is a saying: A person is who they are today, not who they were yesterday. It’s something you have to pay attention to.”

New horizons

Last summer, Malashock traveled to Rhode Island to collaborate with Miki Ohlsen, artistic director of the Newport-based Island Moving Company.

He choreographed a dance titled “Swells” and invited a group of Island Moving Company dancers to perform in this weekend’s premiere of “Horizons,” a program of five new works.

“Horizons” introduces new choreography to audiences and brings dancers from different dance disciplines to San Diego.

“As we get older and the dance field stays perpetually young, it creates a divide,” Malashock says. “There’s a need to look at things in a different way — to really connect with the dancers — and to offer them something they wouldn’t get elsewhere.”

What dancers do get when working with Malashock is exposure to his athletic, inventive choreography showcased in “Horizons.”

The program presented on an outdoor stage at Liberty Station opens with “The Ride,” a two-movement work performed by eight company dancers to music by composer and Carlsbad Music Festival founder Matthew McBane.

The dance “Controlled Chaos” is a commissioned piece by Tristian Griffin, who worked collaboratively with Malashock and his company dancers in the creation of “The Bridge” last year.

The show was well-received, and Griffin is now a candidate for the artistic director position.

“Tristian creates very articulated, isolated, sequential movement,” Malashock says appreciatively. “He comes from strong training in ballet and modern dance. I find his style an interesting balance to mine.”

“Horizons” also includes “Just A Phase,” a suite of four works recently presented at last month’s Without Walls (WOW) Festival.

Justin Viernes performs “The Hunter,” a solo from “Just A Phase”
Justin Viernes, who has been a Malashock company dancer since 2011, performs “The Hunter,” a solo from “Just A Phase,” a suite of four works recently presented at last month’s Without Walls (WOW) Festival.
(Courtesy of Malashock Dance)

Justin Viernes, who has been a Malashock company dancer since 2011, was chosen to perform “The Hunter,” a solo from the suite.

“Justin has worked with me for so long, and in many ways, he’s one of the most versatile dancers I have,” Malashock says. “He can work in so many styles, and he’s an intuitive dancer. I don’t have to explain, as much, what I’m looking for.”

“The Hunter” is athletic, with fast stops and starts, circular patterns and reaching and withdrawing arm gestures that suggest both chasing after something and being pursued.

Viernes relates the piece to his personal struggles as a professional Asian dancer who doesn’t fit a stereotypical model that dance companies often prefer.

“John is a storyteller and his choreography interprets different relationships between people and communities,” says Viernes, who admits to being a “huge perfectionist.”

“He just throws an idea out there to see what happens. That’s why I like his artistic direction. I’m allowed to express myself. With ‘The Hunter,’ I got the title, and it went from there. I take everything in and run with it. I gave up a lot in my personal life to dance, and I was willing to be fearless. It’s one of the reasons John and I have a good artistic relationship.”

Viernes says that in today’s “dance climate,” it’s important to be well-rounded.

“Younger dancers are looking for companies that will push them, not just as a dancer but stylistically and with more content creation. They are more about social justice and work that has something to say.”

Viernes also is dancing in “Swells,” the three-movement finale of “Horizons” that features a large cast of artists from Malashock and Island Moving companies.

Malashock’s choreography in “Swells” was inspired by contrasting themes, the surge and retreat of the ocean, the swelling of emotion that can occur in comings and goings and the disparate movement disciplines that merge together in the dance.

“Island Moving Company defines itself as a contemporary ballet company,” Malashock says. “That has never exactly been my world. I’ve been of the modern dance world, and the word ‘contemporary’ has sort of taken over. I have earthy, grounded and driven movement qualities and these are incredibly trained dancers, so it’s a real mix of styles. It was: How do we make that mesh in a way that works? I’m very pleased with how it came out.”

Executive director Molly Puryear also is pleased with the way the company is evolving and hopes audiences will become more aware of the contribution Malashock Dance has made to the community for more than three decades.

“I’m unbelievably enthusiastic about what is happening at Malashock Dance right now,” she says. “What folks may not realize is that our school and outreach programs have served as a resource for dancers, students, schools and communities throughout San Diego. We are thrilled to be on the precipice of one of the most important phases of the organization’s growth.”

Malashock Dance Company presents ‘Horizons’

When: 6:30 p.m. May 26-29

Where: Outdoor Stage, Ingram Plaza, 2640 Cushing Road, Liberty Station

Tickets: $35-$45, discounts for students, military and seniors. Pay-what-you-can donation-based admission on May 29.

Online: malashockdance.org

Luttrell is a freelance writer.

Dancer and choreographer John Malashock, center, and his dance company.
Dancer and choreographer John Malashock, center, and his dance company will celebrate its 30th anniversary with “The Ride: Malashock@30” at the Lyceum Theater. (Photo by K.C. Alfred/ San Diego Union -Tribune)
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)


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