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Alice is Alive and Well in Oakland, California!

by Bobbie Giarratana
posted 6-21-01

Alice Arts, a dramatic Art Deco building dedicated to the performing arts culture is owned and managed by the City of Oakland. Since 1993 the City has offered the dance school, CitiCentre free rent in exchange for services to the community such as low-cost dance classes. CitiCentre, 23 years old, was originally located in a different building and existed under the name Everybody’s Performing Art Center. It is now one of four anchor-tenants in the Alice Arts building along with the Oakland Ballet, Dimensions Dance Theater and the Oakland Ensemble Theater. The building is devoted to housing arts organizations, all paying low-cost rents in order to better serve the community, and there’s even an affordable residential hotel used by many of the artists involved with projects there. There are rumors that Mayor Jerry Brown’s Performing Arts School may soon be moving in to share the space and CitiCentre is currently negotiating a new lease with Oakland. Of course, in an area where the real estate market is tight and rents are at a premium, CitiCentre will have to fight for a fair deal. Negotiating on their behalf is Denise Pate, Executive Director and dancer.

As Executive Director, Ms. Pate’s responsibilities cover a wide range of activities focused on the fiscal and artistic organization of this dance school. As a dancer, she was affiliated with Dimensions Dance Theater for years and performed with them several times at the Ethnic Dance Festival, held annually in San Francisco. Through her connections with Dimensions and other organizations in the dance community, this year she became a judge for the festival’s auditions. The festival takes place in June and those who have never attended the Ethnic Dance Festival or witnessed its auditions are missing out! The auditions alone are a fantastic show and attract a packed house every night. The festival’s organizers try to bring in judges with backgrounds in a wide range of styles so there’s a knowledgeable panel making intelligent choices. With regards to styles included at ethnic dance festivals in the U.S., Denise feels that there is a heavy influence on the European, but there are so many more cultures and experiences to be highlighted in San Francisco’s festival.

During the auditions, there was an ongoing dialogue among the panelists concerning guidelines for festival performances; cultural accuracy vs. artistic expression became an issue. According to Ms. Pate, this discussion was best illustrated in the Middle Eastern styles. As an example, she suggested that a Turkish dance shouldn’t include elements of jazz. That said, she described the dilemma of where to draw the line between accurate cultural representation and artistic interpretation. There were some performances where the original cultural influence was so remote that the audience could only define the dancers’ ethnic style based on the costumes they were wearing.

The panelists asked themselves and each other throughout the auditions, “When is it not Middle Eastern Dance? When is it your own thing?” She described that at several points this became a problem to answer, as our local customs tend to blur the line between formal principles and individual interpretation. In general, the panelists tried to lean toward accurate representation of a particular form, rather than relying solely on pure entertainment value.

Representing CitiCentre, an organization that includes a lot of African dance and influences, Ms. Pate wants to expand CitiCentre’s offering of Middle Eastern styles because of its connection to Africa. Currently taught on Wednesday nights is a belly dance class for all levels taught by Inanna, and the most recent workshop was taught by Cassandra Meroe, a former CitiCentre teacher who has spent some years living in Cairo. Classes are ongoing and on a drop-in basis. Take advantage of this unique local resource and support the arts with your attendance. Here’s to a long life for CitiCentre at the Alice Arts Building!

(ed- Denise is on her way to Portugal to participate in a "global cultural dialog". Perhaps we will learn more when she returns!)

Contact Info:
1428 Alice St.
Oakland, CA 94612
phone number 510-451-1230

CitiCentre's dance schedule is now featured at Voice of Dance

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