If a history project including flamenco and hip-hop sounds completely improbable to you, make sure to catch Aug. 18’s Arts Explosion event, Dances from Ventura’s Historic Past, to prove yourself wrong. Saturday afternoon, at the Ventura City Hall Foyer and Atrium, dancers from several different troupes will come together under the umbrella of the Ventura County Ballet Company to present a series of dances meant to represent a few of Ventura’s many historic cultures.
The brainchild of Ventura County Ballet Company Executive Director Kathleen Noblin, the recital is an admittedly cursory depiction of Ventura’s history but, according to Noblin, nonetheless portrays the diversity of Ventura. The first dances are inspired by the Colonial Adobe era, during which the city received its official name, and will be performed in the flamenco style by members of the Pacific Action Dance Theatre. A trip to the other end of the cultural spectrum comes next, with a few pieces memorializing the Chinese Alley period from the Ventura County Chinese-American Association Dance Troupe. The two dances will be in the most traditional Chinese forms — the banquet dance and the ribbon dance.
The trip down memory lane doesn’t end there. As a tribute to the Ventura of prohibition, the Ballet Academy of Ventura will perform a flapper-style dance, in honor of the underground speakeasies of the 1920s, leaping decades in a single costume change. For more modern dance enthusiasts comes a hip-hop performance by the Anthony Thomas hip-hop dancers, to represent the street style of present-day Ventura. And, of course, what would a Ventura tribute be without some surf scene; the recital closes with a Beach Boys number, to pay tribute to the beachside culture this town has known throughout the years.
All told, the recital proves to be a unique, albeit truncated, approach to history. According to Noblin, the emerging theme, as she researched the chosen periods and dances, became the cultural heritage of Ventura.
“I really wanted to celebrate the diversity of Ventura, and the colorful history of the city seemed the best way to do that,” Noblin says. As she developed the idea, it became more and more apparent that it would fit perfectly with the theme and intent of the Arts Explosion series, and the city couldn’t have agreed more.
Now in its fourth year, the Arts Explosion series is co-sponsored by the San Buenaventura Foundation for the Arts and the City of Ventura Cultural Affairs Division. In order to bring together local arts organizations and the businesses of the downtown cultural district, the Foundation requests proposals from local groups, who must design, plan and implement the events themselves; the only requirements are that the events be family-friendly and that they take place at downtown locations.
“We want the downtown district to be fun and active, with a constant schedule of events,” says Sharon Taylor of the San Buenaventura Foundation for the Arts.
But the mission of the Arts Explosion series is more than just a marketing tool — all the 12 events each year are free. The Foundation wanted to guarantee that Arts Explosion could include families who might not otherwise be able to afford the luxury of the arts. When art is used to present history, as in Saturday’s event, this is particularly important: reaching out to children who may not be exposed to much cultural dance in their public schools and teaching them about the lively history of their city all at the same time.
Noblin said this goes hand-in-hand with what she hopes people take away from the unusual event: “I wanted to show people that ballet isn’t always a tutu. In the same way, culture can be represented in many forms. I wanted to show that different cultures are alive and well in Ventura, throughout history and even today.”
Dance has, in fact, been a crucial piece of the history of many cultures, not only in Ventura. Most Native Americans place a great deal of importance on dance as a part of the telling of oral histories: song, dance and storytelling combined to pass legend on from one generation to the next. Despite the glaring omission of a Chumash performance in Saturday’s dance recital, it still possesses the potential to educate some of Ventura’s youth about the difference aspects of their city’s history. Dance has the power to captivate and engage even those who might not otherwise have a particular historic passion, and may ignite the flames of further ancient exploration.