Walla Walla celebrates dance with weeklong festival

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WALLA WALLA — We could have watched them dance all night, but now we get to watch all week.

The Walla Walla Dance Festival will host its third season Saturday through July 26, featuring three visiting dance troupes.

The dancers from around the U.S. will perform and teach lessons in Walla Walla, culminating with a performance July 26 at Whitman College’s Cordiner Hall.

The lineup includes Lorin Latarro Dancers of Manhattan, Nobility Mob of Torrance, Calif., and ODC modern dancers of San Francisco.

According to her website, Latarro received her bachelor of fine arts degree from The Juilliard School, has been in 14 Broadway shows and helped choreograph everything from musicals, car and candy commercials to reality shows and TV specials, such as Green Day’s Grammy performance. Latarro also co-wrote an award-winning musical, “The Cosmopolitan.”

Chad Moreau founded returning group Nobility Mob, or NoMo. The group is an assemblage of hip-hop-loving young men. The Walla Walla Dance Foundation website at wwdf.org notes that Nobility Mob strives to “restore the class, integrity, power and nobility that strong male dancers can deliver to the dance community.”

ODC was founded in 1971 at Oberlin College by Brenda Way. Originally named Oberlin Dance Collective, ODC has made its home in San Francisco since 1976 when Way packed up a yellow school bus with all her dancers, male and female.

The troupe has since pioneered in its field, building its own facility housing a dance company, school, theater, gallery and health clinic for dancers. In addition to feats as a dance organization, ODC has been acclaimed around the world for its modern dance with intellectual depth, passion and athleticism.

“The styles of dance this year will be somewhat different,” said festival board member Jackie Wood. “We are not presenting any classical ballet this year; we have not ever had Broadway dancers. That’s a first.”

ODC will perform contemporary ballet with five men, “which is a little different,” Wood said.

Other firsts for the festival include a free class, an open rehearsal and a demonstration at Valle Lindo, formerly known as Farm Labor Homes.

At Charles Smith Wines and Whitehouse-Crawford spectators will learn a little bit about choreography, be able to ask questions and enjoy dancing paired with the food and wine.

The Valle Lindo demonstration is meant to increase exposure to professional dance to people who might not otherwise get a chance to appreciate it. Co-director John Passafiume said the foundation wanted to reach more people and spread the joy that comes with watching dance.

“We wanted to reach different audiences and make the appeal that dance is for everybody, and though people may not like everything, there is something for everyone on the program,” he said. “We are looking to other communities, other audiences that this might appeal to.”

The directors are also pleased about the return of Nobility Mob, which gave a great show last year and performed with confidence and charisma that make it fun to be in the audience, they said.

The lack of exposure to professional dance is part owf the reason Walla Walla Dance Festival came to fruition. Inspired by the more than 40 years of successful Summer Dance Labs in which established professional choreographers from recognized companies are brought to Whitman College to teach local students, Walla Walla Dance Festival seemed achievable.

“For a town that is kind of remote like we are, four or five hours from an urban area, people just don’t get exposed to professional dance,” Wood said. “Professional dance is a whole different endeavor. With SDL going over 40 years — that was the kernel that got us thinking.”

Wood said Walla Walla Dance Festival organizers also have big ideas for the future. They hope to bring dancers in the winter and fall and have them visit the schools, and also are thinking about working with the Walla Walla Symphony or Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival.

“Collaboration is on everyone’s mind,” said Wood.

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