Brenda Way for Luxury Trending Magazine
Brenda Way for Luxury Trending Magazine | Foto: Brenda Way for Luxury Trending Magazine


Por: Edward Rueda

12, May, 2022 en Lavishly Style

Dancing Her Way

Geraldine Zialcita

The alliance of passion, motion, and technique equates to a contemporary dance depicting an astounding story that evokes an intense emotion to express beauty, creativity, and inspiration. Brenda Way’s vision of integrating classical and modern dance was constellated in the stars and encapsulated into a phenomenon―a fete of the arts.

As early as three years old, Brenda studied ballet with her mother before receiving her formal training at the School of American Ballet at age twelve, followed by more professional training at the Ballet Arts in New York City. “Ballet was simply a language that I spoke and an activity that I loved, yet, I never anticipated it would become my career,” she shares. During her teens, Brenda dreamed of emulating journalist, playwright, mother, and US Ambassador Clare Booth Luce who balanced arts, politics, and parenting. “I loved her famous quote, Thoughts have no sex.” She smiles.

Being fascinated by ballet and dance, Brenda spearheaded the ODC/ Dance, a contemporary dance and arts organization where she serves as the Artistic Director and Creator of the ODC Theater and ODC Dance Commons, community performance, and training facilities in San Francisco’s Mission District. To add another feather to her cap, Brenda initiated ODC and assisted in developing an inter-arts department at Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music in the late 60s before relocating to the Bay Area in 1976.

Her fondness for contemporary dance and arts preset a strong foundation to grow ODC into an institution that developed organically. Established in 1971, The ODC/Dance Company is universally acclaimed for its precise and athleticism and is composed of ten outstanding dancers that perform two annual home seasons for millions of people every year―Dance Downtown and the holiday production, The Velveteen Rabbit. The ODC organization is a pioneering modern dance company in America that developed its own theater, campus, which houses a clinic, cross-training program, and Pilates studio. “What started as a college activity evolved into a dance company which also presented other artists followed by the development of a school and the addition of a healthy dancers clinic. The institution grew from the enthusiasm of a group of young artists who set out to create a community that was centered around art-making and the values they shared—creativity, courage, and generosity,” she relays.

Dance and the arts truly resonate with Brenda which has provided a lifelong adventure—one that travels inward and outward. “The arts offer us a place where we can discover what lies beyond the cages of our familiar views and perspectives―a place where we can marvel at human capacity or lose ourselves in beauty. It can tap the creativity in all of us which is deeply empowering,” she conveys.

Brenda draws inspiration from the rough-and-tumble of everyday life which embodies the issues that dominate our culture—global warming, gender relations, greed, and inequality. She is also moved by those that touch on a more personal terrain―family, romance, the dancers themselves, and not to mention her sense of humor. “I am also continually interested in experiments of form and movement language invention,” she states.

The process from concept to execution involves various stages which enable Brenda to express her creativity in the highest form. “I collect titles and ideas all the time and squirrel them away in my journal. At some point, one or two begin to percolate and they sit on the back burner for maybe a year or even two. I need to imagine the form before I move ahead. Once a concept has ripened and feels sufficiently compelling, I gather together with the dancers at the studio where we spend about a month creating new work,” she explains.

Each artist has a unique process of expressing their vision and Brenda’s way is heavily based on problem-solving which involves the dancers’ creativity as well as her own. “I am always looking for provocative ways to generate movement, e.g. to retard or accelerate a phrase; to travel as close to the floor as one can; to do a petite allegro with one’s arms. I search for problems whose solution might elicit an emotion from the spectator, but indirectly. That is, the dancer is not thinking about the emotion but rather about solving the movement prompt, and it is my job to frame the context to reveal the emotion that I am looking for,” she describes.

To date, Brenda has choreographed more than 105 pieces for the past five decades. She is widely known for her commissions which comprise Unintended Consequences: A Meditation (2008) Equal Justice Society; Life is a House (2008) San Francisco Girls Chorus; On a Train Heading South (2005) CSU Monterey Bay; Remnants of Song (2002) Stanford Lively Arts; Scissors Paper Stone (1994) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Western Women (1993) Cal Performances, Rutgers University and Jacob’s Pillow; Ghosts of an Old Ceremony (1991) Walker Art Center and The Minnesota Orchestra; Krazy Kat (1990) San Francisco Ballet; This Point in Time (1987) Oakland Ballet; Tamina (1986) San Francisco Performances; and Invisible Cities (1985) Stanford Lively Arts and the Robotics Research Laboratory. Her work Investigating Grace was named an NEA American Masterpiece in 2011.

Over the years, Brenda has acquired a substantial amount of wisdom, skill, and experience. “I can’t believe it’s been 50 years! It’s a bit miraculous actually. Unlike Will Smith’s King Richard, I didn’t have a plan. My advice is to never leave the room—that is, don’t give up. If I could turn back time, I would have spent less time in the sun.” She smiles.

Brenda is also a national spokesperson for dance, has been featured in several media outlets, and has obtained numerous awards, including the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards for both choreography and sustained achievement and the Helen Crocker Russell Award for Community Leadership from the SF Foundation. She has been granted 40 years of support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Brenda was the 2000 recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2009, she was the first choreographer to be a Resident of the Arts at the American Academy in Rome.

Brenda Way for Luxury Trending Magazine
Brenda Way for Luxury Trending Magazine

This mother of four wears multiple hats, including a Ph.D. in aesthetics and a filmmaker of Walk on Air, Sleeping Beauty, and the feature-length Up for Air/Decameron, which was showcased on-screen during the pandemic. Her labor of love has manifested into many avenues to inspire people, showcase talent, and educate the community while the viewers experience meaningful entertainment. “One of the deeply satisfying things about being a choreographer is the opportunity to keep questioning, researching, learning, and changing. An equally powerful aspect of doing what I do is the privilege of working with hugely creative colleagues, first and foremost, the dancers,” she imparts.

Parallel to what you see on the outside allows Brenda to unleash emotions from the inside to reveal vulnerability to the audience. “When I am choreographing I go through the full emotional gamut―anticipation, impatience, exhilaration, frustration, surprise, awe, insecurity, and satisfaction. It’s a roller coaster and I hardly sleep. I certainly intend, however, to spare the dancers my personal emotions so that the intentions of the work and the creative prompts I share with them are what elicit the emotional tenor of any given piece,” she illustrates.

Despite all her accolades, Brenda encountered some predicaments but has remained focused to keep the foundation she has built alive and thriving. “The same obstacles most contemporary artists face is ‘the’ hustle for resources. You don’t overcome this one, you just keep going. Another challenge has been the diminishing presence of our art form in the public eye—the demise of dance criticism and newspapers in general. As a testament to the value we have always placed on supporting a dialogue around dance and performance, ODC published an arts journal that included the illustrious voices of Susan Sontag and Jill Johnston, among many others. The journal lasted for only four years, but we now support a writer in residence on staff and an executive assistant who is also a published writer. We also work in the schools as well as in our own school to bring young people into the art fold,” she informs.

ODC will be celebrating its 50 + anniversary Home Season, a milestone showcasing guest choreographers Dexandro Montalvo, Amy Seiwert, and ODC Founder/Artistic Director Brenda Way. This will commence the ODC/Dance Downtown at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, beginning March 31to April 10, 2022, celebrating five decades, exhibiting Investigating Grace—Glenn Gould’s 1955 recordings of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Speaking Volumes which is initially a solo act that builds to thirty dancers during the course.

Aside from eight in-person performances, ODC’s home season will be live streaming the event. Kimi Okada and Brenda Way will join forces with Rhythmix Cultural Works this May 2022 for Uprooted, a new collaboration that will merge modern dance, physical theater, and text uniting the Japanese American internment experience with Alameda’s historic Naval Air Station. In June, ODC Theater will orchestrate its annual summer festival with guest curators Amara Tabor-Smith and Charles Slender-White who will attribute the fusion of artists and the various phases of their careers.

When she’s not working, Brenda keeps a healthy work/life balance by spending time with her spouse and four kids. She loves gardening, traveling, reading, and editing her kids’ books. “I make sure that my life stays full and diverse. My advice to people is to do what you love, find good friends, don’t be afraid, and get some sleep.” She smiles.

Brenda strives to help ODC find its post-pandemic footing and will participate in amplifying its reach and contributing to this new world. “Platitude though it may seem, I just have to pass on what I was raised with―to make the world a better place,” she concludes.

Brenda Way’s mission has served as the passport for contemporary dancers to unleash their creativity, live their passion, and express love through their craft. With her strong insight, artistic panoramic vision, and ingenuity, Brenda danced her way and spawned a breakthrough for her, the dancers, and the community.