Dancing in the Street

    The woman fondled her cluster of grapes. She rolled it around in her hand and slid it up the side of her arm. She sucked on some grapes and rubbed her cheek with the rest. Then she ripped them from their stem and threw them into her mouth, sometimes missing. Grapes littered the floor as she gnashed the fruit with her molars. Pieces of skin got caught in her teeth. When she finished her bunch, she frolicked away to form a lime-and-orange line, tossing and passing citrus fruit with her fellow employees.

    This scene is part of “Site 1: Food 4 Less Market Produce Aisles: ‘Precision (sic) Produce Handling,’” the brainchild of Jean Isaacs, founder and artistic director of the outside performance program Trolley Dances.

    Isaacs founded the event out of necessity. “My first year was a practical need,” Isaacs said as she passed out tickets to customers. “We couldn’t afford a theater, but still needed to produce my work.” A man interrupted her and began relaying the summary of the previous show. Apparently, one of the observers had grabbed a watermelon and began dancing with the produce workers. “Oh, that is wonderful!” Isaacs said. “That is great.”

    Eight years since its inception, Trolley Dances is running strong. Six sites construct the program, each year following a different course through the Metropolitan Transit System. This year, the course started in the produce aisle of the local Food 4 Less, wrapped its way around Market Creek Plaza and passed 47th Street on its way to the intersection of 25th Street and Commercial Street, where it concluded. Isaacs procured the idea for a show after visiting Switzerland, where she saw dancers parade through buses and on tops of houses. “It was incredible and with site-specific work dance, you look at the space and the dance writes itself,” she said.

    The crowd on this particular tour was mostly Caucasians of varying ages, from teenagers to grandparents, Abercrombie to Ann Taylor. No one knew what to expect when they filed into the produce section of Food 4 Less and watched as the dancers milled around before the show, exclaiming forced dialogue such as, “I hate that new boss” and “Anyone ready for a lunch break?” When the music started, they formed a line and bounded in with slouched posture and ape-like hands. The music was folksy and the fruits of choice were limes and oranges. The dancers constructed complicated patterns of fruit tossing and passing lines, sometimes stopping to tango with each other or seduce the crowd with broccoli, grapes, cucumbers or pears. When they finished, they formed a line and played their fruits and vegetables like instruments, with the minstrels of King Arthur’s time for their inspiration.

    Later on in the event, observer Kim Hunt described the performance.

    “It’s really interesting that they’re doing it at different sites,” Hunt said. “I liked how playful and inventive the produce dance was.”

    “She liked that she got seduced by a guy with an apple,” her husband said. Hunt blushed.

    At “Site 2: A small corner of the amphitheater at Market Creek Plaza,” dancers in white sports bras and skirts over sheer culottes examined the mud on their soles. They carried each other over miniature grass terraces and looked longingly past their outstretched hands and feet. The music was once again folksy and the dancers pranced and extended their limbs with faces that alternated between blank apathy and pained yearning. It was what comes to mind when someone mentions Swan Lake to ballet neophytes. Although, according to Sarah Leonard and Natalie Briley, two dance students and attendees at the show, the movements were decidedly more modern. Briley and Leonard study dance at Palomar Community College and attended the event for a homework assignment.

    When asked what type of dance was happening at Trolley Dances, they laughed. “It’s a little modern, a little jazz. … It depends on how you interpret it,” Leonard said.

    The girls had trouble giving a more precise definition. “It’s hard to explain,” Briley said through giggles. “It’s modern because you can fit anything into modern now.”

    “Site 3: WriterZBlok: a gathering center for teens ‘Antrieb’” was definitely modern. Dancers in cut-off capris and loose shirts marched and rolled in the dirt next to heavily graffitied walls. They formed complex marching patterns and hand movements, so coordinated that if the moves had been cornier, they would have stolen them from OK Go!. It was quite the contrast to “Site 4: 47th Street Stop: ‘Two Forms’” (created in 1980), where a ballerina in a black leotard and black tights stretched and extended on a black duct-taped cart, then rubbed up against a red sculpture. The ballerina, Rachel Sebastian, the principal dancer of the San Diego Ballet, displayed tremendous body control that would have left most couch potatoes exhausted by simply watching her.

    The concept of interaction between dancer and environment in a site-specific dance was most evident at “Site 5: 25th and Commercial Stop.” Dancers in white tuxedo coats and flowing clothes of cream and white shuffled across a vacant lot with heaps of broken concrete. The dancers alternated between walking slowly and shaking their fists at the sky. They covered their heads when they walked over ditches and danced moves reminiscent of the Brat Pack. Dancing in the city hasn’t been this cool since the Sharks and the Jets fought it out.

    The last stop, “Site 6: Vacant Rec Center,” held a group of dancers standing on small pillars, poking and exploring each other’s faces. They moved locations and held a dance fight in the parking lot, using moves that looked like capoeira, a form of Brazilian martial arts. One of the dancers performed a modern pole dance using a lamppost. He repeated his refrain three times until another dancer caught him by the neck and led him to a vacant parking spot. There, they dance-fought it out. The tour guide, Lance Rogers, summarized the ingenuity and allure of Trolley Dances. “It’s a litmus test for people’s comfort zones,” he said. “[The dancers and observers are] not used to being outside of the theater.”

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