Ojai Music Festival and Mark Morris Dance Group

by Spot LA


On Saturday, June 8, Spot LA had the opportunity to cover the Ojai Music Festival in Ojai, California.  For those of you that don't know, Ojai is a small town about 1 hour Northwest of Los Angeles nestled in Ventura County and about 30 minutes from Santa Barbara.  The music festival celebrated its 67th annual year and this year, Mark Morris served as its Artistic Director.  Performances included MMDG, MMDG Music Ensemble, The Bad Plus, American String Quartet and Gamelan Sari Raras.   There were a ton of events patrons could choose from Film Talks about Lou Harrison and John Luther Adams to community dance events with the MMDG dancers and even late open mic nights!!  We are very excited to share our pictures with you Below.

We also had the opportunity to interview two California Native Dancers of MMDG - Maile Okamura and Sam Black.  Here's what they had to share with us about their experience in dance.  Enjoy! 

 Maile Okamura

Maile Okamura

 Sam Black

Sam Black

SPOT LA: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a modern dancer?

MO: My first real exposure to modern dance was at a festival in humboldt county when I was 20. Shortly after, I saw a performance of the White Oak Dance Project and thought, "That's exactly what I want to do!"

 SB: Basically on a whim, I went to a summer program at the North Carolina School of the Arts the summer before my senior year of high school. Even though I'd been dancing for years, it wasn't until I spent five weeks dancing seven or eight hours a day that it really occurred to me that this might be a possible career for me. It was my first time experiencing a conservatory environment, and I thought, "Why wouldn't I want to spend all day doing what I love?" That's where and when I decided to seriously pursue a professional dance career.

SPOT LA: What advice would you give to dance students on the West Coast?

MO: See everything. Sneak into shows if you can't afford a ticket.

SB: Go see as many shows as you can. California is lucky to get a lot of touring dance companies coming through, but you have to take advantage of that. That way you'll be able to make educated decisions about what kind of company you want to dance for.

SPOT LA: Coming from California, what is your first dance memory being in NYC?

MO: My first day at the Martha Graham summer workshop, the teacher, Armgard Von Bardeleben, asked if anyone in the room had not studied graham technique. I was too embarrassed to raise my hand. Little did I know that all the exercises were set... She gave me a wink and let me fake it.

 SB: This might not be my first, but it definitely made an impression. I was in NYC auditioning for schools, and my mom and a friend and I went to see the spring concert at Juilliard. We had had several auditions that day and were all exhausted, and the first two pieces on the program weren't particularly exciting. And during the intermission before the last piece, a guy was improvising in front of the curtain, and I remember thinking "This is the most obnoxious thing I've ever seen; maybe we should just go back to our hotel." But we stayed, and it turned out to be "Minus 16" by Ohad Naharin, and it was of course thrilling and wonderful. If you can imagine a time when he wasn't as well-known as he is now, you'll understand how shocked and surprised and elated we were. It made me super psyched to move to NYC.

SPOT LA: What professional programs and/or schools would you recommend to an up and coming dancer?  East Coast or West Coast?

SB: This is hard, because every program has something different to offer, and even the best programs aren't right for everyone. I also haven't been to any programs in over seven years, and things have changed a lot. I went to SUNY Purchase, which was great for me, but not for everyone. I'd say that exposure to as many things as possible is ideal. A place that offers variety (several contemporary techniques, for example) would be best.

SPOT LA: What things excite you about the dance world and what things would you like to see changed?

MO: I was inspired last night at a social dance by the number of people who were willing to try something new. That spirit that keeps dance alive. 

SPOT LA: Would you like to give a shout out to any California-based companies?

SB: I spent the summer after my freshman year of college at LINES Ballet. It was a wild, mind-blowing place, especially at that age when I was receptive and an open book. The entire faculty, but especially Alonzo King and Summer Lee Rhatigan, had infinite ideas of how to move and how to approach technique. I had no illusions of becoming a ballet dancer, but that didn't matter. It was terrific and scary and helped me in so many ways.

SPOT LA: What has been your most favorite dance venue to perform in?  Your most memorable festival?

MO: So far, Ojai has been magical. The energy of the music and dance infects the whole town. It's an art virus.

SB: Because Mark is so fascinated and inspired by music, we go to more music festivals than dance festivals. It's nice, because we're more of an anomaly, and we get to meet and work with phenomenal musicians. Tanglewood (in Western Mass) is a personal favorite of mine. The grounds are beautiful, and there's a wonderfully rich history there that is really lovely to feel a part of.

SPOT LA: What’s your most treasured piece of rehearsal wear?  

SB: I wear my navy blue leg warmers all day. I actually kind of freak out if I forget them. I'm sure I'll be fine without them, but they're my blankie. They're perfectly snug and I like tucking my baggier sweat pants into them for that tapered Euro look.

 

 Photo Credit Timothy Norris     Mark Morris conducts the American String Quartet, pianist Colin Fowler, trumpet player Sycil Mathai, soprano Yulia Van Doren, mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck, bass-baritone Douglas Williams and the audience in Carl Ruggles' "Exaltation" at Libbey Bowl on June 9, 2013 in Ojai, California.   

Photo Credit Timothy Norris 

Mark Morris conducts the American String Quartet, pianist Colin Fowler, trumpet player Sycil Mathai, soprano Yulia Van Doren, mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck, bass-baritone Douglas Williams and the audience in Carl Ruggles' "Exaltation" at Libbey Bowl on June 9, 2013 in Ojai, California.

 

 Beautiful tapestries on trees throughout the grounds.    

Beautiful tapestries on trees throughout the grounds. 

 

 Photo Credit Timothy Norris    Mark Morris Dance Group perfoms "Empire Garden" at Libbey Bowl on June 7, 2013 in Ojai, California.   

Photo Credit Timothy Norris

Mark Morris Dance Group perfoms "Empire Garden" at Libbey Bowl on June 7, 2013 in Ojai, California.

 

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 MMDG Dancers - Benjamin Freedman, Brian Lawson and Stacy Martorana

MMDG Dancers - Benjamin Freedman, Brian Lawson and Stacy Martorana

 Ojai Music Festival's Gina Gutierrez Director of Marketing and Communications.

Ojai Music Festival's Gina Gutierrez Director of Marketing and Communications.

 There were community Dance events with live music at Ojai Music Festival.  Here's Stacy Martorana leading a class with Yegor Shevtson providing piano accompaniment.   

There were community Dance events with live music at Ojai Music Festival.  Here's Stacy Martorana leading a class with Yegor Shevtson providing piano accompaniment.   

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 Nordoff High School Band of Ojai

Nordoff High School Band of Ojai

 Nordoff High School Band of Ojai

Nordoff High School Band of Ojai

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 Ojai Music Festival Artistic Director Thomas W. Morris and guest.

Ojai Music Festival Artistic Director Thomas W. Morris and guest.

 Photo Credit Timothy Norris    Drummer David King of The Bad Plus performs at Libbey Bowl on June 6, 2013 in Ojai, California.   

Photo Credit Timothy Norris

Drummer David King of The Bad Plus performs at Libbey Bowl on June 6, 2013 in Ojai, California.

 

 Photo Credit Timothy Norris    Yegor Shevtsov performs works by Erik Satie and John Cage on toy piano at Libbey Park Playground on June 7, 2013 in Ojai, California.   

Photo Credit Timothy Norris

Yegor Shevtsov performs works by Erik Satie and John Cage on toy piano at Libbey Park Playground on June 7, 2013 in Ojai, California.

 

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 Photo Credit Timothy Norris    Mark Morris Dance Group perfoms "Grand Duo" at Libbey Bowl on June 7, 2013 in Ojai, California.   

Photo Credit Timothy Norris

Mark Morris Dance Group perfoms "Grand Duo" at Libbey Bowl on June 7, 2013 in Ojai, California.

 

 Patrons getting ready for the performance.

Patrons getting ready for the performance.