With fresh young faces popping up constantly, the local Bay Area dance community is a unique blend of seasoned and new perspectives. In Dance caught the new view from New York transplant, Jim French.
Jim’s artistic mission: I strive to create lighting that is absolutely specific to the ballet I’m designing. At its most successful, my work blends with the movement, the music, and the other design elements to create a complete composition. It’s cliché to say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but it’s also true that my most satisfying work has been in contribution to a greater and vital effort.
What brought you to the Bay Area?
Coming home! I grew up in Pleasant Hill and went to Cal. After 12 years back east in Pittsburgh and New York City, it was time to come home to the Bay Area. Also, I’m getting married in the Fall, and my Jersey-girl fiancée and I decided we wanted to start our married life away from the Big Apple. When we started looking at places we wanted to live, there was really no question; we were coming to the Bay.
The Bay Area is…?
A place of wonderful balance: urban and natural, new and old, crowded and calm, highbrow and lowbrow. New York swings to extremes, but the Bay Area keeps everything in balance and gives you the opportunity to live life on a sliding scale.
What’s your neighborhood? Stomping ground?
We’ve settled in a little pocket of Oakland between Piedmont and Grand Lake. Loving it! Our neighborhood offers the walking and biking lifestyle we enjoyed in Brooklyn, plus parking and a little backyard. I love that Oakland shares Brooklyn’s commitment to locally-owned business, and a plucky D-I-Y attitude.
What’s your gig(s)?
I’m a lighting designer working primarily in dance, with just enough theater and event work to keep things fresh. I’m heading into my seventh season as lighting designer with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and have spent significant time with companies such as Twyla Tharp Dance, Martha Graham Dance Company, Richmond Ballet, Adele Myers and Dancers, and Rioult. Locally, I’ve worked with Company C Ballet and Chitresh Das. I’m excited to get to know the Bay Area dance community, and hope to be working more with local companies soon!
What’s your secret spot in town?
I think the East Bay Regional Parks system is such a find! Who knew there were Redwoods in Oakland? (Redwood Park) Or a swimming hole? (Lake Temescal) Or a Dog-Cafe? (Point Isabel) We just became members, and I can’t wait to find what other surprises are tucked away in the hills of the East Bay.
What event(s) will we find you at this summer?
I’m hitting as many street fairs, street food festivals and food truck rallies as I can. I’m a major baseball geek, and can’t resist a mid-week day game at the Coliseum. I’m also trying to get to as many of the West Wave performances as possible; what a great crib sheet for the Bay Area dance community.
First dance memory?
My first night at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival was every bit as disorienting as my first night at college. I was living in on-campus housing, and every square inch of wall space was covered in vintage dance photographs. The studios were filled with dance memorabilia. The Dining Room was filled with dancers. The fields were filled with dancers. Even the stenciled guy on the yellow crosswalk sign wears a tutu. Having not come from a dance background, I felt like I’d been dropped into a foreign country, without a map or phrasebook. It turned out for the best; I worked at Jacob’s Pillow for three years, and subsequently designed lighting for their Gala for nine consecutive seasons.
Guilty dance pleasure?
I’ve been known to whip out the Snoopy Dance at parties. Arms down, tight to the waist, hands back at the wrist, chin up, hopping from left foot, to right foot, to left foot…
Shortlist of inspiring people, books, moments, classes, etc?
My fiancee and I volunteer regularly for DRA; Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The staff is small but mighty, and the community of volunteers we’ve come to know and love is perhaps the most wonderful, inspiring, dedicated, talented, and oddball collection of misfits on the planet. (Apologies to the 2010 Giants) The dancers and companies who donate their time and talents to DRA performances come from the entire dance spectrum (A performance this summer featured, among others, Wendy Whelan, Kyle Abraham, Brian Brooks Moving Company, Complexions, and the entire Paul Taylor Dance Company), and embody the generosity that lives in the dance community.
Current artistic obsession?
Well, it’s baseball season, so my current obsession revolves around all things grassy and diamond-shaped. Get back to me in November, and I’m sure I’ll have replaced it with something artsy.
Money’s no object, what’s the next place you might travel?
This might be a boring answer, but if money were no object, I’d stay home! I spend a lot of time traveling for work, so I love to be home whenever possible. Especially when home is as cool a place as the Bay Area, there’s no end of things to explore.