Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater offers peek inside creative process behind ‘Dances of Love, Laughter and Loss’ coming to La Jolla

On a cold December morning, Jean Isaacs drove to the White Box Theatre in NTC, Point Loma for an early rehearsal for “Dances of Love, Laughter and Loss,” coming Jan. 16-18, 2015 to UC San Diego. “We’re restaging ‘Atlantic Man’ from 2003 and based on Margurite Duras’ radio play, and the costumes are birdlike,” Isaacs said. “Feathers are going to fly this morning.”

Several dancers were already inside, stretching and jumping to stay warm near the wall heaters. Minaqua McPherson skipped rope like a pro boxer.

Dressed in a red puffy vest and Ugg boots made of thick wool, Isaacs started a CD and took a seat.

Dancers broke into twos and threes and converged as a flock. They fell to the cold floor and struggled to stand, pulling their arms up slowly into arcs. In one section, Isaacs tossed out wooden balls the size of marbles and dancers scrambled to gather them up.

Jeremy Zapanta used crutches to balance and pivot, and soar like a bird. In performance, the crutches are covered to appear as feathered wings. “I try to stay as true to the original as I can,” Zapanta said. “I watched video, but I also want to give it my voice.”

There are many dramatic leaps onto shoulders and mini duets to challenge the dancers. “There is room in this piece to layer your own emotion over the original choreography,” said Blythe Barton. “There’s room for it.”

John Diaz dances the same part he did in 2003. “I love the wisdom of the movement,” he said. “It’s in my body, and Jean has enriched it. It’s fuller now.” Almost in unison the dancers agreed it is very tough to grab all of the scattered balls.

“There’s text about absence and it’s a very stark piece,” Isaacs said, “so I wanted to balance the January program with something light and upbeat. I got the idea for series of dances when I was cleaning out my linen closet!”

Her troupe, San Diego Dance Theater, will also premiere “Pillow: Case,” at the Mandell Weiss Theatre Jan. 16-18, 2015, and she explained its genesis. “I wanted to get rid of the old pillow cases in my closet,” she said, “and the new dances are about the people who slept on them. They are autobiographical stories and mixed up by passing of time. I asked Meagan Marshall to write narratives based on those memories. They’re embellished and names are changed. So who knows what really happened?”

Marshall, a UC San Diego alumnus and former student of Isaacs’, will perform the spoken parts live along with Justin Hudnall of the storytelling group, So Say We All. Hudnall was a hit in Isaacs’ collaborative show “Damaged Goods” last year.

In rehearsal, Marshall set the dancers in motion with her juicy stories framed like crime shows and “Inside the Actors Studio.”

“He had a jungle habitat, leopard and safari-print sheets …” she explains. Another pillow case is titled, “Parade of Men” and ends with the line, “My bed that year was like a revolving door.”

The text provides rhythm and visual imagery, and Isaacs asks dancers to improvise and interpret the ideas. Several of the dance vignettes are racy, but with a humorous tone.

Barton and Kyle Sorensen stayed late to finalize their slippery satin sheet duet. “I like it when you really slide on the cases, and the big split,” said Isaacs. “Can you wrap your leg around tighter? Whose hand is that? This is looking great. Let’s do the split again.”

• IF YOU GO:Dances of Love, Laughter and Loss,” on stage 8 p.m. Jan. 16-17; and 2 p.m. Jan. 18, at Mandell Weiss Theatre, UC San Diego. Tickets from $15. (619) 225-1803.