Commuters along San Diego trolley’s blue and green lines may have noticed more traffic than usual Sept. 27 and 28 as patrons of the arts and lovers of dance crowded the bright red box cars anxious to be transported, not from stop to stop, or line to line, but to an inarticulate destination created especially for them through the art of Trolley Dances.
Trolley Dances is an annual celebration that brings dance to the masses by staging site specific performances in areas along the San Diego trolley line. The brainchild of Jean Isaacs Dance Theater and the Metropolitan Transit System, Trolley Dances has proven to be a successful collaboration inspiring the creation of Trolley Dances in San Francisco as well as becoming the subject of a KPBS documentary, “Trolley Dances 2007,” which aired Sept. 30 to coincide with Trolley Dances’ tenth anniversary.
Like the art that it celebrates, Trolley Dances is an event in motion. Performance sites and trolley routes change from year to year, that along with a constant flow of new choreographers and performers, ensures that viewers won’t get the same old hat.
“The excitement is that every year it’s different and you can’t predict what will be different,” says Jean Isaacs, co-founder and artistic director of Trolley Dance. “Dancers hang from trees and staircases, they’re not dances that can be performed anywhere but that site. They’re not repeatable.”
This years Trolley Dances featured the art of 5 choreographers; Jean Isaacs, Monica Bill Barnes, Anthony Rodriguez, Katie Stevinson-Nollet and City College dance instructor Terry Wilson, along with 54 dancers. The performances ran the gamut with musical genres that encompassed everything from classical to country, destinations ranging from riverside to poolside to fire escape and choreographers interpreting, through dance, issues as dire as poverty and as fantastic as Alice in wonderland, all inspired by their particular site along the trolley route.
“We take the neighborhood where we are and we see what can happen,” said Isaacs.
Because the routines are performed in areas open to the public there is an element of unpredictability to each performance.
Terry Wilson, a veteran Trolley Dance performer and choreographer, was the first stop on the Trolley Dance tour. Inspired by her site to create a dance centered around the socially sensitive issue of homelessness, Wilson encountered a wild card early, on when a citizen unhappy with the content of her routine disrupted their rehearsal and tried to take one of their props. “Luckily the issue resolved itself.” Said Wilson.
For many the incorporation of the everyday goings on of people into the performance is one of the things that make Trolley Dances unique. Katie Brill, who performed in the Rolling Luggage Carts dance at the Santa Fe Depot, enjoys the surprise factor of dancing in a public area.
“You’re always going to have people walking in the middle of your performance and that’s part of the fun of it because when you perform six times each day, in a way, it adds a little bit of fun for us,” said Brill. “There’s always something that changes the piece.”
At the end of the day, as Trolley Dance patrons milled about the Santa Fe station, it seemed a general consensus that, though each had their favorite piece, the experience was, overall, a pleasant one that brought art to places where it might not be expected and created a feeling of community through dance.
“It’s fun to ride the trolley and we really love the site specific dances. They introduce us, each year to another part of San Diego that we’re not familiar with,” said Teri Miller of Leucadia. “It’s exciting and I think it introduces people to the arts in a real novel way. We’re standing around, we’re talking, moving from place to place. It feels like a little community for the day,”
Choreographer Terry Wilson agreed, “It’s a fabulous community project. It brings all different people together. You see people in the audiences at Trolley dances that you probably wouldn’t see in a typical theatre.” said Wilson. “It’s very accessible to the public and I think art should be accessible.”