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California Literary Review

Bay Area Dancers Perform in a Benefit for Cancer Prevention

Bay Area Dancers Perform in a Benefit for Cancer Prevention 1


Bay Area Dancers Perform in a Benefit for Cancer Prevention

Movie Still: The Killers

Sarah Van Patten dances a solo from Paul Taylor’s I Can Dream Can’t I?

It is no secret that a national health care program controlled by those who use it is the only practical solution to the medicine-for-profit system that leaves more and more of us out in the cold with the coming of each new fiscal year.

Arguing for such a program raises the much-debated question of socialized medicine. “But it’s human nature to be self-interested. People will never cooperate for the greater good,” say the opponents. As my own health twists and turns on the slender thread it hangs from, I have become practiced at coming up with examples to disprove their shortsightedness, but such examples have rarely been located on the landscape of the North American dance world. Get in Front: A dance performance to benefit the Cancer Prevention Institute of California has changed all that by serving as a shining example of the willingness of people to cooperate, and volunteer their best talents and skills to put a premium on support for cancer prevention. Prevention, by definition, takes big strides in the direction of leaving the self-interested out of the equation of the cancer business. And Get in Front may have turned the question of self-interest on its head. Maybe self-interest is best served by cooperation. Maybe, instead of cancer being yet another vehicle for stepping all over each other to get ahead, we get the better result when we compete with ourselves to help prevent cancer’s spread, and leave the world a better place than we found it.

On Wednesday, June 6, thirty-three dancers from or associated with twelve San Francisco Bay Area dance companies, came together to dance for a packed audience at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater. Each piece represented the best of that company or dancer’s repertoire, and it was a rare opportunity for the dancers to share it not only with an audience, but with colleagues in the dance world. The atmosphere took on the excitement of this being a first-time-out effort to raise funds for the prevention of a disease that with certainty will show up in the lives of every other person we know.

I was able to interview the curators of Get in Front, Garen Scribner and James Sofranko, who are soloists with San Francisco Ballet.

Asked what led to the discussion about taking on such an ambitious project, Scribner said, “We were good friends who shared a dressing room at the theater, as well as rooms on tour, and together we brainstormed ideas of things to do during our summer layoffs, and researched similar events in other cities.”

Did they expect the outpouring of dancers volunteering to be part of the program?

“We knew so many dancers, and when we started reaching out, we were overwhelmed by the positive responses! Our event grew quickly into so much more than we ever imagined.”

The Bay Area can truly boast an embarrassment of riches when it comes to dance, and Scribner and Sofranko crafted a program that presented works that ranged from Balanchine to Alonzo King, Helgi Tomasson to Robert Moses, KT Nelson to Paul Taylor and Christopher Wheeldon, and Sofranko contributed a very moving dance piece of his own for the event, called Fantasie 2011. Such outstanding dancers as Yuan Yuan Tan, Katherine Wells, Sarah Van Patten, Rodney Bell, Sonsherée Giles, Anne Zivolich, Dennis Adams, Martyn Garside, Maria Kochetkova, Joan Boada, Frances Chung and Matthew Stewart, Meredith Webster, Zack Tang, and others, brought the audience to its feet in appreciation of the short, but virtuosic work they donated to this memorable and successful evening, organized in the short space of two months.

But dancers did not only participate by performing. Scribner said, “We couldn’t have done this whole thing by ourselves! We enlisted help from our friends, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Willis (both SFB dancers), who chaired the silent auction, and former SFB dancer Margaret Carl,” who organized the lush after party in a terrace room with a view of San Francisco’s night-lit City Hall. “We sought advice from ballet patrons such as Yurie Pascarella, who is a specialist at fund-raisers, as well as the CPIC staff, in order to insure that we would be giving our audience clear information about what CPIC does.”

What made Scribner and Sofranko choose CPIC as the beneficiary of the event? Sofranko says, “CPIC spoke to us directly as being a proactive, research-based group that takes a holistic approach toward wellness. We felt that as healthy, active people, we could embody that ethos while uniting great dancers on one stage.”

Get In Front dancers

The Get In Front dancers.

One need not go much further than taking a long look at the printed program to understand exactly how well Scribner and Sofranko utilized their resources to make the event a success. Dancers drew on connections from their private lives to garner support: among the donors was LEAP, an academic program offering dancers a chance to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree by in part utilizing their dance careers as life credits, and in-kind donations came from dance academies, a winery, and other local sources. In other words, the organizers not only danced the dance, but walked the walk, and gathered a small army of supporters who walked alongside them to make this dream come true. They raised nearly $150,000, as well as the morale of their colleagues, and the larger community here that follows and supports dance. Get in Front demonstrated that when presented with an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, dancers are a far cry from the prima donnas, princes and princesses that they are sometimes called upon to interpret onstage. They are no different from the rest of us, as they put into practice the socialist adage: “From each according to their abilities to each according to their needs.”

Toba Singer, author of "First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists" (Praeger 2007), was Senior Program Director of the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library and its dance selector until her retirement in 2010. Raised in The Bronx, she graduated from New York City's School of Performing Arts with a major in Drama, the University of Massachusetts with a BA in History; and the University of Maryland with an MLS. Since high school, Singer has been actively engaged in a broad range of pro-labor, social, and political campaigns. She has lived, worked, organized and written in Baltimore, Boston, The Bronx, Cambridge, Charleston, West Virginia, Jersey City, Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., working in steel mills, chemical refineries, garment shops and as an airlines worker; also editing, teaching and as an office worker. Singer has contributed articles to the "Charleston Gazette," "San Francisco Chronicle," "Dance Magazine," "Dance Europe," "City Paper," "Provincetown Advocate," "Voice of Dance,", "InDance," and "Dance Source Houston." Singer returned to the studio to study ballet after a 25-year absence, and in 2001, was invited to become a founding member of the board of Robert Moses' KIN dance company. Singer studied ballet with Svetlana Afanasieva, Nina Anderson, Perry Brunson, Richard Gibson, Zory Karah, Celine Keller, Charles McGraw, Francoise Martinet, Augusta Moore, E. Virginia Williams, and Kahz Zmuda; and Modern Dance with Cora Cahan, Jane Dudley, Nancy Lang, Donald McKayle, Gertrude Shurr, and Zenaide Trigg. Her son James Gotesky dances with Houston Ballet. Singer lives in Oakland, California, with her husband Jim Gotesky.

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