Olio the Show was born almost as soon as Claudia Gomez-Vorce and Giselle Anguizola were introduced to each other. Gomez-Vorce had the idea of putting together a vaudeville-style, supper-club show featuring the roots of American dance. Anguizola, with her wealth of knowledge about vintage dance and tap, seemed like an ideal collaborator.
“We would literally write our ideas on napkins,” Anguizola says, “and every time we had a new idea, we would just text each other, call each other—just kind of started the flow like that, just brainstorming.”
Early last year, they began auditioning local dancers and setting choreography. Olio premiered in April 2008, a rhythmic and musical extravaganza that takes the audience through the development of indigenous American music and dance, from their roots in the slave era through the heyday of jazz in the early 20th century to modern hip-hop.
“It didn't just pop up on the radio one day from nothing. It came from African rhythms; it came from jazz and swing,” says Gomez-Vorce of the array of styles in Olio. “We're not just entertaining; we're educating, as well.”
The show kicks off with African drumming, singing and dance, representing slaves brought to America from Africa.
Next up is body percussion, or “slap jazz,” performed by Danny Barber, rhythms created from hands slapping against the body, reminiscent of when slaves had their musical instruments taken away and had to make music and dance using only themselves.
Next, the show moves into the golden age of jazz, paying homage to greats such as Josephine Baker, Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington with performances of old-style burlesque dance and rhythm tap. It winds up with rap and hip-hop and ends with a rousing finale of the cast performing the shim sham shimmy, a well-known tap-dance staple.
To hear them tell it, one would think that Gomez-Vorce and Anguizola were born to do this. And looking at their history, it almost seems like they've spent their whole lives on a path to Olio.
Gomez-Vorce recalls seeing, when she was a child, the PBS documentary No Maps on My Taps, starring legendary tap dancers like Gregory Hines, John Bubbles, Bunny Briggs and Sandman Sims. “I told my mom—I guess I was like 6 or 7—I'm, like, ‘I want to do this; this is what I saw on TV.'”
When other little girls were playing with Barbie dolls or watching Sesame Street, Gomez-Vorce was finding her calling.
Her mother and grandmother, professional ballet folklorico dancers in Mexico, put her in tap, jazz and ballet classes at the local recreation center, and it was tap that quickly commanded young Gomez-Vorce's attention. As a teenager, she saw the local tap troupe California Rhythm Project perform; mesmerized by the group's rhythm tap, she eventually became a member.
Meanwhile, Anguizola found dance in the eighth grade during the mid-1990s when swing dancing regained widespread popularity. Each grade level had to do a dance from a particular decade, and hers did the 1930s and '40s. Learning the old dances, Anguizola was “completely hooked,” she says.
“I actually remember the night that we did the performance—the music and the energy that I got from the dance, I felt like I had fallen in love with someone. I felt married to something,” Anguizola says. “I remember being in the car, on the way home, and just in la-la land.”
Since then, Anguizola has become a historian of vintage American dances from the early part of the 20th century, such as the Charleston, black bottom, jitterbug and Lindy hop. But with Olio, she and Gomez-Vorce have aspirations of the show eventually landing in Las Vegas and possibly touring.
“It's not just a hobby,” Gomez-Vorce says of the pair's interest in keeping American dance forms alive. “It's not just, ‘Oh, it's fun.' It's a passion and it's from inside. It's not just from the speakers; it comes from the soul. That's where we want it to go.” Olio the Show will be performed at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 15, and Saturday, March 21, at Ciao Bella Caffe Ristorante in La Mesa. www.myspace.com/oliosd.