Della Davidson and Ernesto Sopprani are the recipients of the 2012 Bay Area Dance Week Dancers Choice Award. This tradition, in its 5th year, celebrates individuals and organizations that are resourcefully finding effective and creative models that impact dance. When Della and Ernesto were selected as this year’s recipients, we wanted to hear their perspective of the value of dance and its importance in their lives. Though they represent different generations and come from disparate corners of this community, both recipients provide guidance and richness to Bay Area dance and performance culture. This page holds many perspectives on our form, its value, and these two pillars of our community. With a heavy heart we are sad to report that Della Davidson passed away on March 13, 2012, and in the words of her sister, “Her whole life was dance, and she was devoted to the magic, beauty, and mystery of body, gesture, image, and movement. How pleased she was to be getting the Dancers Choice Award.”
We can only imagine how Della might have responded when asked to talk about the value of dance. Along with countless others, I was fortunate to have Della in my life as a mentor and dear friend, and to have played and dreamed in the dance studio with her. When I think about Della and her relationship with dance, two things come to mind: transformation and community. This is what I think she might have written:
Dance lets us explore the mysteries of our world and of our human experiences. It transforms into reality the things that science, language or psychology alone cannot. It captures the unspeakable and the indefinable, and for just a brief moment dance lets us hold the unknown in our hands, crystallizing it into memories that strengthen us as we navigate life.
Dance helps us find courage in our uniqueness. It teaches us to embrace the exceptionality of our bodies and our creativity, and to carry that into the other parts of our lives. It encourages us to find the pleasure of our bodies through movement and touch, to transform that pleasure into all of our senses and experiences, and that the artistic path itself can be one of pleasure, even amidst great pain and darkness.
“How do we live with the sorrows that life presents?” Della asked, when creating a work following the events of 9/11 and her father’s death. “My answer lies in the sensual experiences of the body.” Through unconscious means, she would say, dance helps us understand our lives, our responsibilities, our pleasures and our terrors.
She might have continued…
Just as dance transforms us individually, it also gathers us together as a community. Bonds are created between students and their teachers, relationships grow between artists and audiences, and when we meet another dance lover in the world it can feel like we are discovering a new friend. Even the process of creating a dance is a collaborative and collective process. We rely on each other to bring our best parts forward and to weave each unique thread into a cohesive tapestry. Through our shared explorations, our learning and our passion, dance deepens our connections with each other and creates for us a beautiful and rich community.
Della is community. Through her company Sideshow Physical Theatre, she created a second family and connected me with some of my closest friends. We collaborated with scientists, designers, writers, filmmakers, scholars – and on one occasion with a microwave wearing a bear suit. She inspired fierce devotion from everyone who worked with her, because she was always fiercely devoted to us and she brought out our best and brightest qualities.
Della built a beautiful and rich community, and a testament to this can be seen in the award nominations submitted by the those impacted by her work, some of which have been included below.
I’m lucky, because every time I dance I will be reminded of Della. She lives in my quirky small gestures, in wide-sweeping arms, and in my sometimes shaky voice when it suddenly finds a place to land. And for me, that is the value of dance – that through dance, my body holds the memories of all those who I have worked with and hold dear to my heart. Thank you Della.
“Della is an influential and consummate artist, a visionary, an original voice in the field and one of the early blenders of dance-theater in the Bay Area. She is the brainchild behind the radical multi-disciplinary MFA program at UC Davis; each year bringing students (primarily mid-career artists), including directors, actors, choreographers and designers to develop deeper, broader collaborative practices in the performing arts. Her work has done much to bring dance forward in the U.S. as a viable, sustainable art form, continually creating awareness through her intelligent craft and vision. She also has an incredible heart – her humanity shines through her work.”
“Della has been a remarkable force in the Bay Area dance scene for many years. She has created and produced exquisite, thought provoking dance theater works that have inspired many. She has worked in collaboration with great artists of many disciplines and engaged superb dancers in all her pieces. As an educator, she has been instrumental in making UC Davis one of the most important centers for dance & theater studies in the region, providing an amazing environment where new generations of artists can research and create not only as artists but as intellectuals as well.”
–Jose Maria Francos
“I was talking to Della about competition shows like So You Think You Can Dance, asking if she too watched these. She didn’t – she couldn’t bear to watch anyone being kicked or voted off. This speaks to her soft-heartedness, her deep kindness of heart, and her way of seeing deeply into her performers. Della saw the potential in us – the things we couldn’t see in ourselves. She honed our skills and extracted out the beauty and fire in each of us. It reminds me of a line from her piece, The 10 PM Dream: “As if a paper clip could be a piece of sculpture…and it could.” Thanks for never voting us off.”
“Della was one of the first choreographers I encountered as a new dancer fresh out of college and just relocated to the Bay Area. I found her movement to be deep, compelling and transformative. Over the many years that I have seen her choreography, I have consistently been impressed with the way she takes new risks, every single time she makes a new work. This maverick spirit of hers is one I aspire to, and one that has enriched our entire dance theater community. We are blessed to have her commitment to discovery, her artistic integrity, and the many stellar artists that she has helped to train and mentor.”
“I was astonished at Della’s endurance, patience and strength – and not only in the studio. She was the first person I knew to undergo radiation therapy and beat cancer. And she kept working. One reviewer described her work as “beautiful, eye-catching, absorbing, impressionistic, fluid, dreamlike – in the spirit of Maeterlinck and Jean Cocteau.” And Della dancing? Imagine Judith Jamison performing a sensual Tharp, Lubovitch, or Limon with a dose of Bausch’s theatricality. Della’s lush movement went from dreamy moodiness, to sweeping physicality. She consumed every danceable nook and cranny on the stage and fearlessly captured thoughtful control, or purposeful release, of time and place. After all these years, I still feel myself as a broad brushstroke within Della’s Big Dreamscape, as must so many others whom she painted into her life’s canvas, her masterpiece.”