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Where is OC's own major professional dance company?

Segerstrom Center's Judy Morr ponders why this might not be fertile ground.

Leonard Ortiz
Judy Morr, executive vice president of Segerstrom Center for the Arts, has been at the center since it opened in 1986 and has programmed the dance series over the decades.

A persisting mystery for Southern California dance fans is why the region, population 22 million-plus, has never had a major, professional dance company.

The regional appetite for dancing is tangible. The area is a hotbed for ethnic dance troupes. Dance studios, mostly for child and teen instruction, are easily found. Pick-up ensembles fill the schedules of regional arts festivals. Even a few mid-size companies hang on, subsisting largely on ticket sales to homegrown “Nutcracker” productions each December.

But a national-caliber company? Not even baby steps.

Easy conjecture would be to bemoan a lack of funding. Yet there’s plenty of major theater and classical music companies happening, mostly well-funded. Performing arts spaces to house dance have sprouted up all over the region.

From her perch booking the Segerstrom Center for 30 years, Judy Morr has both a local and world view of the dance universe. Though the performing arts center’s mission is not to grow artists, but present them, Morr was willing to grapple with the question: Why not here?

After hesitancy and thought, her answer was an unlikely, but telling fusion of themes: the landscape of urban geography, the fertility of communal vision and the pacing required by the art form.

“Maybe,” she said, pausing, “it’s because the right people – ‘the dancemakers’ - have to be together, they can’t be spread apart.”

It’s a practical explanation that speaks to the Southern California geography. “Dance companies require a partnership of people with collaborative resolve, whether it is two or three or four or five, they need to find the sources of life and bring it together,” she said.

“In Paris, New York, artists always seemed near each other. Here we are physically spread out. We drive to get places, not around the corner from others to mix with.”

Dance, she explained, is neither a solitary exercise nor is it quickly formed.

“A painter can do it all,” Morr said, “because the process is static, a person working with materials. But the choreographer-artist has to have human forms to help the art of it emerge. And time is needed for dance, as they come together they are hugely trial and error, and don’t necessarily look very pretty or look like they will be anything much: they need time to take shape.

“There is no short cut,” she concluded. “Dance is not easy.”

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