In new production, LITVAKdance embraces the unknown

Nick McGhee and Ashley Akhavan in Whyteberg's "I hear everybody you know is more relevant than everybody I know"
Nick McGhee and Ashley Akhavan in Whyteberg’s “I hear everybody you know is more relevant than everybody I know,” part of an upcoming production by LITVAKdance.
(Courtesy photo by Doug McMinimy)

LITVAKdance company expects the unexpected at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego North, where the upcoming ‘Dancing Outdoors Take 2’ will be staged


An outdoor stage is an unpredictable setting that can provide a jolt of vivacity to the performers and the audience.

It’s one of the things that LITVAKdance company likes about the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego North — formerly Lux Art Institute — where the upcoming “Dancing Outdoors Take 2” will be staged.

The intimate, Encinitas amphitheater is set in a shady grove surrounded by layered tiers of plants and towering trees. Sunlight illuminates the audience and the dancers.

There are no curtains or walls to disappear behind. Everything is visible and anything can happen.

“There is joy in that,” said Ashley Akhavan, a LITVAKdance company member who will perform in the upcoming production.

“It’s a lot of fun because it sets a challenge for us.”

“Dancing Outdoors Take 2” includes works by the prize-winning Entity Contemporary Dance, a resident company at Stomping Ground L.A. that blends modern and hip-hop movement.

The program’s repertoire also features the popular Tijuana-based troupe Lux Boreal and a live Latin jazz band will accompany the dance “Estirpe” by LITVAK’S Maria Jose Castillo.

The Rosin Box Project’s Carly Topazio and Jeremy Zapanta will perform a duet, and LITVAKdance founder Sadie Weinberg will showcase three company dancers in “from darkness comes light,” the third excerpt from “LIGHT,” a choreographic work that “celebrates the diversity of our communities and the sometimes unexpected histories we hold within us.”

The collection of different dance companies in the outdoor setting invites mingling and opportunity.

“We get to know one another, and we become a community again,” Akhavan said. “We support each other through the dress rehearsals and sometimes, you make meaningful connections and learn about yourself as a dancer.”

Akhavan said she appreciates being a part of the four-year-old repertory company because the dancers are encouraged to become “masters of our bodies.”

“Sadie supports us learning different styles of dance,” she said. “And that fosters intelligent dancers with solid technique and smart bodies.”

Akhavan will be dancing with Nick McGhee in “I hear everybody you know is more relevant than everybody I know,” a clever work choreographed by the Los Angeles-based dance duo Whyteberg and accompanied by LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing my Edge.”

Whyteberg — Gracie Whyte and Laura Berg — is known for creating works for film and music videos.

The choreography Akhavan and McGhee will perform was originally staged in a nightclub setting that emphasized the “we’re too cool for the party” vibe, and now they must make that work in a bright, outdoor garden.

They need to come up with a convincing look. A fluffy fur coat, a silvery jacket, sunglasses that fit snugly so they don’t fall off, harem pants and metallic leggings are all costume considerations.

“Just being in that space is so beautiful, but there is definitely more emphasis on performance quality,” McGhee said. “We don’t have lighting to hide behind, and we can’t distance ourselves. We are starting and ending in character and we have to sell the piece throughout.”

Something for everyone

Curating different dance companies at an outdoor concert is risky, but last year, Weinberg was encouraged. The pandemic necessitated the use of an outdoor venue and Weinberg consulted with city officials in Encinitas, where LITVAKdance is based.

“I was thinking about using the tennis courts, but the former Lux Art Institute has all the amenities you need,” she said. “It has the toilets. It has parking. And we don’t have to bring a lot of stuff in. I reached out to them, and they were really generous with the space.”

The inaugural Dancing Outdoors concert was so well attended that additional folding chairs were brought out to accommodate last-minute ticket buyers.

The audience was an unlikely mix for a dance event. There were families with youngsters, along with both ballet and contemporary dancers. San Diego’s dance royalty came and sat close to the stage, including retired choreographers Jean Isaacs (San Diego Dance Theater) and Patricia Sandback (San Diego State University).

This year, the plan is to create a festival atmosphere and showcase more guest artists and a selection of short dance works with different movement styles.

“As a repertoire company, I strive to present productions that have varying works that appeal to different audience members,’ Weinberg said. “This summer show takes that to a whole new level. Not only am I commissioning works, but I am commissioning companies to perform.”

Weinberg said that the outcome of all that planning is unknown, but if she could name one primary goal, it would be to make dance more accessible.

“I want people who are not dancers to come to the show,” Weinberg said. “It’s something I talk about with the company, patrons and others. It’s always surprising and enlightening to hear the range of reasons why people like such different work, and I try to curate shows that have something for everyone. Fingers crossed, it’s nothing short of amazing.”

LITVAKdance presents ‘Dancing Outdoors Take 2’

When: 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 30

Where: Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego North, 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas

Tickets: $25 general, $15 military, $10 children


Luttrell is a freelance writer.