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Interview with Nate Hodges and RhetOracle Dance

September 9, 2011

When and why was the company started?  What’s the underlying philosophy and purpose of RhetOracle Dance?

The company was founded in 2006 with a mission to bridge the concert and commercial jazz worlds that seemed at odd with each other in terms of intention and communication. The goal was to use the aesthetic of commercial and contemporary jazz with the artistic intention of concert dance to really create an entertaining AND intellectual experience rather than one or the other. We attempt, without dumbing anything down, to really communicate with the audience so they come away truly understanding what they’ve seen so they have the ability to discuss their thoughts. I had family that had seen my shows in college and, while they enjoyed them, didn’t always get what was trying to be said. This wasn’t at all because my family members weren’t intelligent or uncultured. It was because the dances weren’t making the effort to want to really communicate their ideas. That inspired me to create a company who made it its mission to have every dance be clear and articulate so that both the dance novice and the seasoned dancer could appreciate it and enjoy it.

Has this changed since the company was first founded?

The company has changed mostly in its dancers since the company has founded. The mission hasn’t changed and I think we’ve stayed very true to upholding it. Fortunately, and sometimes unfortunately, most of my dancers are working professionals and I will lose them to tours with Taylor Swift or Britney and such. It’s great for them and they always come back, but it means the cast of the company is always in a state of flux. Working on the ballet this year, rather than shorter works, made that more difficult this year, but not unworkable.

What is your favorite piece of choreography to date?

My favorite piece of choreography I have ever done to date is probably the ballet, La Bayadere, that opens this weekend. Not because it’s anything crazy original, but because I made a solid effort to take classic jazz lines and steps and infuse them with a contemporary style while holding on to the technical edge. It was a challenge to bridge ballet, classic jazz, and my personal style without it feeling disconnected. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to do and it’s even more fun to watch!

Briefly tell us about the pieces in your upcoming show.

Our upcoming show, La Bayadere, is a re-interpretation of the classic ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa. We stripped away the grandiose Orientalism, sets, and costumes that the ballet is known for and focused on the tragedy of the story. We set the ballet in a dive bar in the Deep South of Louisiana and then completely re-scored the music with classic and contemporary blues. It focuses on the return of Sam, a former manager for the bar, who reignites his love for his old girlfriend, Nikki, who’s the head gogo dancer. The boss, Regina King, however, has a plan to have him marry her daughter Gemma-Belle. From there the plot grows sinister and is followed by roofies, acid, ghosts, and a botched wedding. It’s going to be crazy.

What do you hope to evoke in your audience at “La Bayadere”?

I think, with La Bayadere, I want audiences to lose themselves in the story. I really think sometimes we underestimate our need for just a really good story, especially in dance. We always see these metaphors or conceptual pieces, which are always interesting, and I do them, too. But, sometimes you just want to start at point A and see what happens to people as they approach point Z. I want the audience to fall in love with Nikki and Sam and I want them to want to go on their journey with them: into love, into loss, into hell, and into redemption.

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to see for RhetOracle Dance in the future?

I would love to see RhetOracle touring. We have all this fantastic rep that has been nominated or has won Lester Horton awards and that audiences love and I would love to share this other audiences in California and the world. I would love us to become a household name!

Any words of advice or inspiration for other dancers?

I think 2 pieces: 1) I didn’t start doing modern or ballet until I was 18, in college. It’s never too late to start dancing. It just depends how hard you’re willing to work. If you want it and you work at it, you can be a dancer. It’s a scary and amazing adventure. 2) If you have something to say, say it. Choreograph and keep refining your craft. I got better with every dance I did and now I’m doing a full-length ballet. What’s crazy is that I’m still learning things about my choreography and style and teaching techniques. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning, but you have to start somewhere. So, don’t be afraid to choreograph, if you have the want to communicate, do it, because there are probably people who really want to listen!

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La Bayadere premieres this weekend at Irvine Valley College.  To purchase tickets, please visit: http://www.rhetoracle.com/


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