Though its spring performance is rescheduled, LITVAKdance honors its mission
By Eva Trieger
It’s a good thing we Jews are a resilient people! We’ve been through trying times and continue to rise above the hurdles. Sadly, another example of this comes with the postponement of LITVAKdance Spring 2020 Performance. Sadie Weinberg, founder, and creator of this small company will not be deterred by these recent developments but will continue to hone her craft and looks forward to rescheduling the show once the coronavirus is history.
This almost three-year-old company was birthed by Weinberg and was originally comprised of eight women. The company now has seven women but has added a man or two into the mix. Weinberg’s intention was to “give back to the community through movement.” To achieve this goal, the North County-based company, offers open Sunday classes with guest dancers, thematic workshops, summer workshops Aikido and Argentine Tango as well as a blending of styles and cultures. Sadie looks forward to doing more outreach and sharing Hanukkah stories, such as Isaac and the Bear and The Red Knit Cap Girl that would inspire children to think about human impact on our planet, and how they might take an active role in curbing pollution.
The fledgling company’s name has old roots. Weinberg’s husband’s family arrived in the United States from Lithuania. Her husband’s great-great-grandfather was a tailor who came to America to escape persecution. While exploring his history, Weinberg learned a great deal about other immigrants including Eastern Europeans who found their way to South Africa, to Canada and eventually to the United States. This idea of immigration and equality inspired an entire repertoire. The company dancers perform solos amid three larger group pieces in Reimagining Suffrage and Other Stories. This show was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote nationally.
Four courageous, though lesser-known pioneer women will be memorialized through “somatic melodies” as LITVAKdance shares their biographies through movement and music. While the dancers tell the unique stories of these women, they are also “asking audiences to consider prohibitions associated not only with gender, but also race, class, faith, sexual orientation, and gender identity…” Each woman’s story is accompanied by the haunting music of Meredith Yayanos, who performs on violin, and a novel instrument: the theremin.
One of the solos depicts the life of Eliza Jenny Scripps who is best remembered and celebrated for her eccentric and outspoken character. She was one of the La Jolla Pioneers. Her largesse supported the Bishop’s School in La Jolla.
María Amparo Ruiz de Burton was a young Mexican woman who, at the age of 15 fell in love with an American soldier, and moved with him to Jamul, where she became naturalized. After her husband’s death, Maria was forced to fight legal battles to retain her homestead of Rancho Jamul as the land had belonged to her family when it was part of Mexico. She was able to retain it after marrying her American husband, but following his death, had to fight to hold on to it. She bravely lobbied for her land, simultaneously nurturing a successful literary career.
Eileen O’Connor or Lady in White of Vallecito is a ghost story of a young woman on her way to meet her lover in Sacramento. The mournful tale relates that she died at the Vallecito Stage Station and was buried just yards away. Rumor has it that her ghost wanders the desert nightly, wearing what would have been her white wedding gown.
A former slave and laundress during California’s gold rush days, America Newton, helped launch the town of Julian and established it as a haven for freed slaves. The courageous maverick owned a small business and an 80-acre homestead near Julian, where she resided for fifty years.
Other pieces in the concert include group performances She/Her/Hers which is choreographed by Tamisha Guy and showcases six women, dancing in “a fluid amoeba-like unit.” Tamisha, the choreographer of this piece, dances for the company of Kyle Abraham in New York. Another piece, Girls with Balls, is a “witty and playful vignette” that considers all of the many balls society forces women to juggle. This is choreographed by SDSU professor emeritus, Patricia Sandback, who is 83, disproving the concept the dance is the domain of the young. The final piece in the repertoire is Mr. President. This excerpt, choreographed by Faith Jensen-Ismay on her company Mojalet Dance Collective, is intended as a call to action for all Americans “to have an equal voice in our democratic process.” Visual artist Wren Polansky will also collaborate with images on display alongside the dancers.
LITVAKdance is a family affair, as Sadie is a second-generation dancemaker, following in the footsteps of her mom, Betzi Roe, who though recently retired, continues to perform and choreograph dances for others. Husband, Greg, was also a dancer when the two met while performing in Richard Move, American choreographer’s show Martha@The Lyceum. This project celebrates the work of Martha Graham, often referenced as “the mother of modern dance.”
Weinberg has been influenced and inspired by Neil Greenberg, Yolande Snaith, Kevin Wynn and Doug Varone among many others. Her formal training at SUNY and UC Irvine have given her work greater depth and breadth, as well as her experiences in local and international programs and festivals.
The current company is comprised of Ashely Akhavan, María José Castillo, Beverly Johnson, Berlin Lovio, Emily Miller, Erica Ruse, April Tra and Artistic Director, Sadie Weinberg. Curious to know where Weinberg finds her dancers, I was told that they come largely through the courses she teaches at area colleges and universities. It is important that the dancers are comfortable with each other, and so the vetting process is critical.
Weinberg told me that many of her colleagues prefer to head to New York to establish a company, however, she is committed to San Diego and feels compelled to stay here and “give young dancers a place to perform and find their voice.”
I, for one, cannot wait to see this exciting, innovative and important performance as it honors our rich and multifarious San Diego. Honoring our women of valor, bravery and ethnicities feels like a well-timed endorphin boost. With her goal of universal suffrage, Weinberg wants to celebrate our power as a collective. Through live musical accompaniment, audiences and dancers are inspired to erase partisan lines and embrace each other through art and movement.
Keep your eyes peeled for the new date for LITVAKdance Reimagining Suffrage and Other Stories and visit www.litvakdance.org/performances.