When Jean Isaacs made her way out to California from Massachusetts, she had big ideas, but she never expected to become a sort of living legend in San Diego. Yet Isaacs did exactly that. With her renowned Trolley Dances about to take place for the 10th year in a row, Isaacs, even in her 60s an ultra-hip powerhouse of a woman, is as active as ever, but she's eager to reflect on her humble beginnings, along with some of the inspiration, education and superhuman motivation she's picked up along the way.
Isaacs started dancing when she was just a kid at the DeLutis School of Dance in the then-tiny town of Mansfield, Mass. When Isaacs graduated high school and continued on to Wheaton College—at the time, an all girl's school with no dance program—she decided she'd at least join the dance club if it meant getting out of gym class. As it turns out, Wheaton was cultivating more than a few other dance legends during Isaacs' time, including Carolyn Brown, one of the founding members of Merce Cunningham's Dance Company, and Denise Jefferson, who taught dance at NYU's Tisch School, Sarah Lawrence and the London Contemporary Dance School.
“We had quite a nice dance club,” says Isaacs. “I was one of those people who really benefited from education. I came out with a lot more passion and self-esteem.”
Despite Wheaton's lack in dance curriculum, Isaacs also came out with a strong background in dance culture and lots of ideas, which she put to work almost immediately.
Although Isaacs views her education as a critical part of who she is, she owes much of the drive and fierce creativity that has characterized her professional life to her tight, working-class Italian family. Growing up Italian in a community full of first-generation immigrants from England and Ireland, there was always this stigma that you had to be “better, cleaner, smarter,” Isaacs says. Her father—an amateur boxer—and her mother encouraged their children to be all of these things and more. “It's really been one of the motivating parts of my character,” she says.
In 1981, Isaacs formed the San Diego Dance Alliance to promote awareness of dance, and she's become known for involving the community through site-specific work. During the 2006 Trolley Dances, Isaacs filled a Food 4 Less aisle with dancers who juggled fruit and moved cleverly among confused produce shoppers. And with her Studio Series Showcases, she invites the community to stop by and watch a rehearsal in progress.
With so many projects always in the works in and out of her Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theater, people constantly ask Isaacs how she has so much energy.
“I tell them,” says Isaacs with almost complete seriousness, “I don't have any more energy than you guys. I'm just more motivated.”
Trolley Dances 2008 happen from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 27 and 28, and Oct. 4 and 5, starting on the Hazard Center Trolley Station. Jean Isaacs' Studio Series Showcase happens at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, at Danceplace San Diego, 2650 Truxtun Road in Point Loma.www.sandiegodance theater.org.
Emerging with energy: Getting the opportunity to choreograph a big dance production often only comes to those who've already choreographed a big dance production. It's a catch-22, and young choreographers rarely get the chance to break through. 'Tis not the case with the Emerge Dance Festival, happening at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, at the David and Dorothy Garfield Theater, 4126 Executive Drive in La Jolla. Put on by the good people of the Patricia Rincon Dance Collective, the festival features nothing but young choreographers and artists whose work is as raw and edgy as you'd expect from someone who's dying to bust out of the starting gate. $15. www.rincondance.org, 858-362-1348.
They just don't stop: Eveoke dancers are practicing their head spins and stalls, gearing up for their upcoming hip-hop production Lyrics, Beats and Bricks. The collaborative work by choreographer Ericka Moore and Collective Purpose spoken-word artist Kendrick Dial will be a multifaceted hip-hop experience that will run four weeks straight, from Nov. 21 through Dec. 14, at the Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., Downtown. Tickets are $20 for reserved seating, but pay-what-you-can if you walk up without proper funds (just another example of Eveoke keepin' it real). www.eveoke.org.
Just go: You still haven't been to the refurbished Balboa Theatre, have you? Stop depriving your soul of culture and drive down to the impressive façade at 868 Fourth Ave. in the heart of the Gaslamp. The ornate insides of the old theater will impress you (although you may be slightly unimpressed by the trickles of the fake waterfalls on each side of the stage) while you take in some of the city's top live performances. Dance-wise, Balboa Theatre will host The Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, and the California Ballet in “Dances with the Dead” at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, and 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25. www.sandiegotheatres.org.
And go here, too: Don't let the California Center for the Arts—Escondido fall off your mental map because you think it's too burdensome a drive. The Center's 2008-2009 season is looking good, and with a last-minute add of '90s gospel diva Amy Grant, there's plenty of music, theater, art and dance to make it worth the extra gas. Speaking of dance, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, one of the oldest and most renowned touring modern dance companies in the United States, will make a stop at the Center, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26. $35-$49. www.artcenter.org, 800-988-4253.
The power of two: Malashock Dance keeps coming up with new ways to keep us entertained. Whether it's emulating hit TV shows or opening its rehearsal studios for intimate performances, Malashock has the whole creativity-and-ingenuity thing covered. At 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21 and 22, artistic director John Malashock will strip it down to simplicity with Let's Duet, a night of contemporary dance duets, at the David & Dorthea Garfield Theatre, 4126 Executive Drive in La Jolla. But don't think there won't be surprises (word has it that the dances are as varied as the music, which ranges from Philip Glass to Nick Cave). $20-$30. www.malashockdance.org.