At Mission Federal ArtWalk, dance finds a home


Choreographer Peter G. Kalivas, founder of the PGK Dance Project, also produces Dance on the EDGE, a showcase for dance performances staged at this weekend’s Mission Federal ArtWalk.

He jokingly describes his role as being like the dance police.

Kalivas strives to keep the peace by helping to ensure that the choreography is appropriate for a large and diverse, family-friendly showcase. No politics. No nudity. No religious themes. And if you refer to the event as a street fair, he’ll issue a warning.

“We have 21 dance companies this year and they all submitted an application stating who they are, what style of dance they perform and a video that represents the quality of the work,” Kalivas explains.

“We sit down and judge the presentations based on various factors. We can’t warn the audience if someone is going to curse or not be fully clothed. It’s an outdoor event, so it has to be appropriate for most audiences.”

Mission Federal ArtWalk is more accurately a celebration of visual and performing arts that spreads throughout 17 blocks in Little Italy this Saturday and Sunday. There’s a diverse selection of art to peruse, along with music concerts, kid’s activities and spoken word and dance performances.

The Dance on the EDGE artists, Kalivas explains, are professional or semi-professional companies rather than recreational groups that entertain just for fun.

“We have approximately 10,000 people who see our stage over the course of two days,” he says.

“That’s huge and a marketable opportunity. It’s most definitely a promotional platform for regional dance. These artists are investing in the idea and how they want it to serve them.”

At the Dance on the EDGE stage — corner of Grape and India streets — attendees can witness the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, a fiery flamenco performance by Flamenco Arana or pulsing hip-hop by Culture Shock Dance Troupe. The show by PGK Dance Project invites the audience to join in the performance.

“We are teaching a country line dance to the song ‘Footloose,’ ” says Kalivas, who has produced Dance on the EDGE for seven years.

“I try to get the audience more involved with what we do. I don’t want them to sit in a plastic chair and stare while we are jumping around. Those who stand up and join us can have a physical experience and feel the joyfulness of moving the body.”

ArtWalk gives emerging choreographers like Shannon Mueller a chance to present new work to a large audience. In fact, it was the size of the audience, with people of all ages and from all walks of life, that inspired her idea to create movement that would reach everyone, even those who might dismiss watching a dance performance because of a disability.

A Chapman University graduate who teaches at Shadowridge Dance Center and Carlsbad Performing Arts Academy, Mueller’s new work, “They,” will be performed by eight dancers to the poignant instrumental “They Move on Tracks of Never-Ending Light” by This Will Destroy You. Mueller was once a volunteer at Reins, a therapeutic riding program in Fallbrook, where she assisted children and adults with mental and physical disabilities to ride horses.

“As a choreographer, I think I’m really lucky to have all my senses and have the ability to move my body as an instrument,” Mueller says.

“So I approached the work differently from just wanting to create cool movement. I started thinking about people who don’t have the luxury of sound and how can I bring dance to their eyes so they can enjoy it. Art can tap into so many senses and with this piece, it went into a deeper state for me.”

In “They,” as the music becomes more layered, the dancers become instruments of sound in a movement language that speaks to everyone, even those who are hearing or visually impaired. Dancers link arms, resembling a sound wave with a rippling motion. At other times, Mueller says, it looks as if the notes are taking over the body as dancers jump up with a crescendo or reflect subdued movement to quieter strains. They inhale together and feet hit the ground in a rhythm that supports the music.

“ArtWalk has so many types of people, it’s a huge public event,” Mueller says. “I think about people who might be missing out on certain aspects of art because of some sort of disability and I try to tap into that instead of just creating for myself. I think that is why dance is so beautiful. It offers something for everyone.”

Mission Federal Credit Union ArtWalk

Now in its 34th year, Mission Federal ArtWalk is one of the longest-running fine arts festivals in Southern California. It’s expansive, too, with ArtWalk @ Liberty Station celebrating its 13th year on Aug. 11-12 at Liberty Station. And Carlsbad ArtWalk makes its debut Sept. 22-23 in North County. Information about all three events can be found online at Visitors to this weekend’s Mission Federal ArtWalk in the Little Italy neighborhood will discover:

  • More than 300 local, national and international artists, displaying and selling paintings, sculpture, photography, glass, and jewelry.
  • Live music shows, including performances by local recording artists Tom Griesgraber, Sara Petite and Robin Henkel.
  • A dozen spoken-word artists such as Gill Sotu, Viet May and Amen Ra performing 10-minute works that can incorporate rhythm, improvisation, rhyme, word play and slang.
  • An interactive project hosted by Artist & Craftsman Supply that invites attendees to create an abstract painting and a community mural led by Carly Ealey.
  • Dance on the EDGE showcasing 21 dance troupes, including performances by City Ballet II, PGK Dance Project, Flamenco Arana, Shannon Mueller and more.
  • KidsWalk, with face-painting, wildlife programs, circus arts and an interactive photography exhibit.

2018 Mission Federal Credit Union ArtWalk

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Between Ash and Grape Streets in downtown Little Italy

Tickets: Free