Choreographer Jean Isaacs, artistic director of San Diego Dance Theater since 1997, started Trolley Dances 17 years ago as a clever alternative to pricey performance venues. For two weekends every year, audiences board a trolley, and at each stop, are led to some interesting spot for a site-specific dance show.
To celebrate Balboa Park’s Centennial, this year’s Trolley Dances included a bus ride to the park and a considerable amount of walking. Starting at the new County Waterfront Park, a few blocks from the Beech Street trolley station, the 2.5-hour tour featured a range of delights and felt like a real adventure.
The choreographers were a varied half-dozen: founding director Jean Isaacs; her daughter, Liv Isaacs-Nollet, a first-time Trolley Dance-maker; Los Angeles-based Stephan Koplowitz, a multi-award-winning director/choreographer and dean of CalArts School of Dance; Mark Haim, another multi-award-winner, who creates works for dance companies around the world; Suzanne Forbes-Vierling, whose specialty is West African dance; and Anne Gehman, who designs movement for nontraditional spaces.
The first piece, Koplowitz’s elegant “Play(as)”, began with 10 dancers lying in a row in the North Fountain Reflecting Pool. The arcing fountain provided water music as the dancers rolled, leaped and stretched their way across the pool. “Best place for them to be on a day as hot as this,” murmured one observer.
Next up, a short stroll away was Liv Isaacs-Nollet’s moving “Blue Stillness,” staged on the blue, dome-shaped children’s play area that- included a slide used by the dancers and an occasional, unchoreographed child — what someone called “dancing with real life in real time.”
Now it was on to the trolley, followed by a trip through up-scaling downtown on a not-so-rapid, but nicely air-conditioned, Rapid Bus to Balboa Park, where Jean Isaac’s dancers played out the ebb and flow of our declining oceans on the Zoo’s grassy walkway. Afterwards, Mark Haim’s dancers — with special appearances by a small dog and a bicycle — tangoed in inventive combinations in an alleyway in Spanish Village.
Then there was Suzanne Forbes-Vierling’s “Roots, Soul and Love,” an exuberant display of African dance and live drumming by the huge-rooted Moreton Bay Fig Tree. And last, a chance to chill in the air-cooled Mingei Museum and watch from the second-floor balcony as dancers moved to the bluesy sounds of Nina Simone under the colorful presence of Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Angel of Tolerance.”
The complicated logistics of a major bus/trolley/walking event with six tours a day, and close to 100 people of all ages on each tour, were beautifully handled, and even in the sweltering heat, everyone seemed to be having a fine time. It’s not too late to catch the last weekend of Trolley Dances. Wear a sun hat and good walking shoes, and come prepared for a wonderful day. u
• IF YOU GO: Trolley Dances, Weekend No. 2 is Oct. 3-4, 2015. Starting Point: County Administration Building, 1600 Pacific Highway, downtown San Diego. Tickets are $15-$35 (kids under age 6 and wheelchair patrons free) includes free all-day Trolley Pass and same-day admission to Mingei Museum. Tour Times: 10, 10:45, 11:30 a.m.; 12:15, 1 and 1:45 p.m. (619) 225-1803.
• MORE INFO: sandiegodancetheater.org/trolleydances.html