A drive through the industrial parks on Whitman Road in Concord looks, frankly, unpromising. But dance has a way of making a home in the unlikeliest of places, and out here among tile wholesalers and HVAC companies, Moving Arts Dance director Anandha Ray and general manager Scott Belding are carving out what they hope will become an exciting and vibrant venue for modern dance in the East Bay. And there’ll be no better time to get a look at the company’s new studios and black box theater than during the Moving Arts Dance, Bay Area Dance (or MAD BAD) Festival, which will showcase some 30 different companies over two weekends in April.
Moving Arts Dance’s former home Solad Center first played host to the MAD BAD Festival back in 2004, when it was called the Bay Area Dance Marathon and took place over a single day. But rising rents—Belding says they were paying some $13,000 a month in their old space in Walnut Creek—forced the company to close its doors last year and quickly seek a new location for their 450-plus students.
The new space—which is only a couple of miles up the road from their former studios—is double the size of the old and goes for considerably lower rent. A walk through the building early one afternoon reveals that they’ve transformed what was essentially a vast warehouse space into warren of mini (and maxi) spaces. The open, industrial interior has meant that they can shape and construct it however they want, subdividing it into a versatile performance space, dance studios, dressing areas and lounge for the dancers, a small kitchen, large costume storage area and offices for the company’s staff members and teachers.
“It was all put together in days,” Ray says ruefully of the company’s move into the space in May 2007. “We had just two weeks to set up the space, but everything just fell into place.”
Luck was with them, too. An insurance company that was going out of business supplied the office desks and cubicle dividers, and Ray and her staff brought ingenuity to the task of setting up other areas. The dressing area, for instance is actually an indoor gazebo structure, and in the crossover space behind the theater’s stage, Belding has set up an area suitable for his dance photography. The stage, which is rigged simply with only a few lights and swaths of dark fabric standing in for wings on the side of the stage, has already played host to two productions—for the company’s summer program showcase production of Giselle and their annual “Mad Hatter Tea Party” in December. The stage setup for the time being is basic, but Ray hopes to add more extensive lighting and curtains in the near future.
If there’s a bit of a makeshift feeling inside the building for now, nevertheless, the entire enterprise is self-contained and there’s a sense of lofty space. It also fits Ray’s vision, which is not only to spread her love of modern dance through her own teaching and choreography, but also to provide the East Bay with a flexible yet inexpensive venue where emerging choreographers can show their work. This is exactly what Moving Arts Dance hopes to do with the MAD BAD Festival, which this year, includes pre-professional student troupes as well as professionals. The two groups will present work on different programs, but even so, the dancers from across generations will have an opportunity to meet and work with the others and mix and cross-pollinate ideas. Ray notes that they’ve gotten interest from companies from all over California—Long Beach, Los Angeles, Mills College, Santa Rosa—and beyond, some of whom have never before presented work in the Bay Area.
The new 6,700 square foot facility, Belding notes, is a perfect place to present such a festival since it already has its own built in studio for rehearsing and classes, along with the black box theater, which is capable of holding 110 audience members. With ceilings that rise 26 feet high over the 40 x 30 foot sprung floor, the space feels large with potential. Indeed, given their high ceilings, Ray says she hopes that they’ll be able to accommodate everything from ethnic to ballroom to contemporary ballet and modern to, perhaps one day, aerial dance.
“We want it to be a place where anyone—emerging or established choreographers—can come,” she says, “Where they can show their work, or film it, or just work on it, in an affordable, comfortable space.”
Moving Arts Dance’s MAD BAD Festival is at the Moving Arts Dance Center, 2355 Whitman Road, Studio D, Concord. Professional companies present their work on April 19 & 26 at 8 pm; pre-professional companies on April 20 & 27 at 3pm. For more info visit movingartsdance.org or call 925-825-8399.