Palm Springs International Dance Festival aims to educate, inspire

More than a decade ago, Michael Nickerson-Rossi traveled from his Long Beach home to Palm Springs with friends. By the end of the trip, he had fallen in love with the city and its vibrant, artistic atmosphere, but one big thing was missing: a professional dance company.

“I saw these beautiful works of art, from landscaping to architecture to fine art, but there was no dancing. And I was kind of surprised by that, because we’re so close to LA,” he said. “And I wanted to bring it.”

Today, Nickerson-Rossi Dance is a professional contemporary dance company with seven full-time members. Under that umbrella are also the Palm Springs Dance Academy and the Palm Springs International Dance Festival, the latter taking the stage this weekend.

The festival features nine days of programming ranging from a social evening to a student showcase, and each event deliberately features dancers from a variety of genres to introduce guests to art forms they may be unfamiliar with.

The Desert Sun caught up with Nickerson-Rossi and a few of his colleagues to find out which events they’re most excited about at this year’s festival.

Aboriginal Dance Residency Performance

The festival kicks off with an evening of three pieces of postmodern dance by Julenda Satow Freeman, cardholder of the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Lenni Lenape) and the Cherokee Nation. Freeman choreographed these works during a week-long residency at Nickerson-Rossi Dance Theater, during which she learned new ways to tell her family’s story through movement.

This is the dance company’s first Native dance residency, something Nickerson-Rossi wanted to do for years to honor the tribal land that borders Palm Springs. It came closer in 2021 when the company partnered with the Cahuilla Band of Indians to perform a modern bird song dance on a Modernism Week home tour.

For this year’s festival, he issued a public call to see if anyone in the area or beyond would be interested in a residency specifically for Native American dancers. He reunited with Freeman, a professor and head of the dance department at Mt. San Jacinto College, and is thrilled with the end result of his residency.

“I was fascinated by his story,” Nickerson-Rossi said. “His great-great-great-grandmother is the only surviving member [of their original tribe]. So she gives us the story of the lineage and how it got to where we are in California. … It’s educational, and I think a lot of people need to have a better, deeper understanding.

‘Time. Space. Energy.’ Performance

When: Reception at 7 p.m., performance at 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday March 29

Or: Nickerson-Rossi’s Dance House, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 11, Palm Springs

Cost: $60 (for reception and show)

Palm Springs-based recording artist Pat Olsen had wanted to collaborate with a dancer/choreographer for years now — he even sought them out in Los Angeles, but never found a good fit. However, when a local gallery owner introduced her to Nickerson-Rossi, something clicked.

Principal dancer Heidi Buehler will perform as part of "Time.  Space.  Energy."

After endless creative sessions, this project is ready to be unveiled on Tuesday. “Time. Space. Energy.” is named after three themes that Olsen and Nickerson-Rossi realized overlapped in their different dance and physical backgrounds.

“The area that really interests me is kind of the line between art and science,” Olsen said. “It felt real to us.”

The pair began working independently – Olsen on a set of original compositions and Nickerson-Rossi on original choreography – and as a song was nearing completion, Olsen would send it to his artist partner to give it notes, and vice versa poured.

They are related, Olsen said of their respective art forms, but also very different. And that’s what created her newfound respect for dance throughout this process.

“It’s kinetic intelligence,” Olsen said of what the Nickerson-Rossi dancers possess. “There’s this scientific word proprioception, which is understanding where your body is in space, and they’re just brilliant with that. And that was completely new to me.

This kind of intimate collaboration was new for the two men, which Olsen admitted was a challenge. But that’s also what made him happy, he added, explaining how the symbiotic nature of it all made the project come alive.

Principal dancer Chad Allen Ortiz will perform as part of "Time.  Space.  Energy."

During the performance, there will be several words projected onto the wall – one of the four “legs” of the “table” of what Olsen says will be quite a stimulating piece.

“One leg is the live music. One leg is the dance, but a third leg is between the songs, I have these short spoken interludes that would sound like a two or three minute TED talk, but they deal with music-centric topics. ‘idea that things aren’t as they seem,” he said. “I think that will add a lot of dimension to the experience for the audience.”

Gala 2022

When: Matinee at 3 p.m. and show at 7:30 p.m. (the latter with reception at 6:30 p.m.) Saturday, April 2

Or: Nickerson-Rossi’s Dance House, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 11, Palm Springs

Cost: Matinee $30, evening $60 (for reception and show)

The main event of the Palm Springs International Dance Festival is the 2022 gala, which will feature Nickerson-Rossi’s company as well as the McKeever Dance Theater of Palm Desert, the Rangoli Dance Company of Los Angeles and the Fuse Dance Company of Orange County.

As Nickerson-Rossi and Fuse will perform modern and contemporary works, McKeever’s performers will show audiences why tap and jazz are two of the medium’s oldest genres, while Rangoli will take guests on a spirited journey down south. from India to experience the striking dance form. known as Bharatanatyam.

“Classical Indian dancers, they’re amazing,” Nickerson-Rossi said. “His ladies are dressed to nine – it takes two hours just to get ready. I’m very happy to have that as a cultural component.

A passion for bringing diverse dance styles to Palm Springs is a big reason he decided to move here in the first place, Nickerson-Rossi added. This is also reflected in the festival’s mission to “provide a comprehensive education for young people, cultivate the sustainability of concert dance, and celebrate the diversity and cultures of the world”.

“I made the decision to come back full time and really have roots here for dance because the Palm Springs International Dance Festival needs it,” he said. “Palm Springs has changed. There are now a lot more young people in the area… and they want to see a great dance concert with different genres. I really try to cultivate a platform for different dance cultures.

The bigger picture

Standing in his newly renovated Sun Center studio — or Dance House, as he calls it — Nickerson-Rossi recently took a break from explaining the festival to reflect on how far he’s come since the day in 2012 when he handed a proposal to the local philanthropist Terri Ketover. for a dance project called “DNA”.

Terri Ketover with Michael Nickerson-Rossi

“It’s so huge to me,” he said through teary eyes. “Because I was seeing this for the future, I just didn’t know how to get there. And I think by consistently working very, very hard and then proving the quality and caliber of the business, we got there. here.

The fact that this year’s festival also includes a private event honoring Ketover, he said, is a testament to the positive domino effect she has had throughout the community, earning the company the respect she needed to grow. Today, Nickerson-Rossi is a non-profit organization supported by a four-person Board of Directors and an Honorary Board of Directors including renowned film, dance and theater photographer Michael Childers.

“It’s really moving,” he added. “I am very proud of my company and the professionals I work with. Because without them, I absolutely cannot display the quality of work and dance teaching that we have.

Comments are closed.