It's not that Andrea Sperling doesn't know her native New York state is buried under 723 feet of snow. It's just that she doesn't really-well-care. She's jumped into West Coast life with both feet since moving to breezy San Diego two years ago. And because she's a dancer of considerable experience, that's only too appropriate.
If the great local climate fuels Sperling's feel for performance art, one particular immediate setting can only help define it. Sperling asserted as much on a recent weekend from just that venue-one of the offices at Dance Place San Diego, a vision of artistic and architectural integrity in the wake of its official opening last month at the old Naval Training Center (NTC) in Point Loma. Antiseptic hallways and genre-specific studio floor textures reflect-nay, scream-the best of the state of the art. Digital-quality tracks blast from the seven studios' giant ceiling-mounted speakers; shower stalls and lockers await war-weary regulars; and an airy lounge with the most comfortable chairs in the history of the universe lies in wait just off the building's main entrance at 2650 Truxtun Road.
Man, San Diego's dance community has never had anything remotely this cool. And Sperling can only go with the flow, her modernist tendencies about to be tested in a class that hung in the balance a half-hour hence.
"It's really nice to be dancing with more of my contemporaries," she said, "like people in their 20s and 30s and even 40s, instead of being in a class where everybody's, like, 18. The level of the teaching and movement here is much more sophisticated. I'm challenged by long, complicated combinations that I haven't been challenged by in other classes. I'm really happy with Dance Place, especially now that the school has opened."
She was referring to The Malashock Dance School, begun by local modernist icon John Malashock on the heels of Dance Place's soft opening in December. And that founding doesn't begin to reflect Malashock's involvement in the venue's origins. The artistic director and founder of Malashock Dance had been spearheading Dance Place's creation since the mid-1990s, and 12 years later, the building is also a reflection of the art form's local growth. Escondido's California Center for the Arts and the La Jolla Music Society will begin hosting serious dance next year. Malashock Dance will present a joint workshop with San Diego Ballet and San Diego Dance Theatre-Dance Place's other tenants-this summer. The San Diego Performing Arts League counts 14 dance groups in its membership, up from zero 20 years ago.
"There's a dance boom going on in San Diego right now," Malashock said. "The universities are hiring a lot of new, strong professionals with good track records. Companies that would only come here once in a while are visiting more often and putting San Diego on their itineraries. Over a weekend, there's always some dance performance going on, whereas maybe it was once a month five years ago."
Malashock cautioned that public interest in dance often clashes with a certain confusion. There's a spectrum of influence to the art, he said. "Either on a physical level or an emotional level or a musical level, it has a language people need to understand. For some reason, people who aren't regular dancegoers find that language a little intimidating."
He added that Dance Place is the ideal laboratory for the resident troupes to build accessibility. Malashock and its collaborative traditions; San Diego Ballet, with its mix of classical and contemporary dance; and San Diego Dance Theatre's edgy interpretive take on the outside world will now incubate in a clash of ideas, with greater public awareness the inevitable result.
"This building," he said, "will change the face of dance in San Diego forever."
Actors Alliance of San Diego, service organization to the city's theater community, has also taken up residence at Dance Place, having moved from its longtime Normal Heights location last fall.
The 4,000-square-foot Dance Place, one of six units to open under the first phase of the nonprofit NTC Foundation's plans for the training center's Promenade, cost $5 million to recondition; the work was funded through a number of public and private sources. Monthly rentals on the offices and studios total $4,000.
The 28-acre Promenade, designed as a premiere center for art, culture and technology, includes 20 more facilities set for renovation. Reconstruction costs for the entire project are estimated at $100 million, with two more rebuilding phases set over approximately the next 37,000 years.
The Naval Training Center, once home to tens of thousands of recruits since its opening in 1923, was closed to all military activity in 1997 under 1990's federal Base Closure and Realignment Act. The site's new name is Liberty Station; the Navy transferred the property to the city of San Diego seven years ago amid much controversy and talk of sweetheart deals.
Malashock's grin fades as he contemplates a portion of that property, which happens to sit just to the other side of Dance Place. Luce Auditorium, a sprawling venue that used to serve as a lecture hall, needs a wholesale facelift if it's ever to become a flagship performing arts center-yet there it sits, its future basically unfunded, its 1,800 seats and postage-stamp-sized stage easy pickings for private development. Luce's renovation, Malashock said, "would [illustrate] the whole idea behind NTC as an art and culture destination-plus it's right next door."
But first things first. On the heels of 12 years' labor, Dance Place San Diego is up and running. So is Malashock, dutifully adjusting his mindset for the upcoming class while Sperling rushes off to change. The next 90 minutes will yield untold milestones in modern dance among 11 students as trippy electronic riffs spit and crackle overhead. And gratefully for all concerned, the showers are but steps away.