SFDanceworks Debuts Inaugural Season

by Heather Desaulniers

Dancer/choreographer James Sofranko mixes it up in his new company’s first presentations.

In 2014, dancer/choreographer James Sofranko set out on a professional adventure. Inspired by the Bay Area’s spirit of innovation, he decided to launch a start-up. Not a tech start-up, though the process shared some common steps— fine-tuning an idea, selling it to investors, bringing it to life and doing a public launch. As it happens, Sofranko’s start-up is a new dance company, SFDanceworks.

Sofranko is not a stranger to the Bay Area’s dance community. He joined San Francisco Ballet in 2000 and is currently a soloist. In 2012, he co-founded DanceFAR (Dance For A Reason), a yearly benefit performance in support of cancer research. With the creation of SFDanceworks, he adds another credential to his already significant CV: founder/artistic director.

“I felt there was a need for a San Francisco company that covers the past, present and future of dance, in a variety of styles and from a variety of perspectives,” explains Sofranko. “Variety is good—it’s good for the audience, it’s good for the dancers and it’s good for the art form.”

Sofranko envisions presenting seminal work from modern dance pioneers that can be paired with newly commissioned pieces from emerging choreographers; varied programs that would appeal to a broad audience base. He also plans to introduce choreographers whose work isn’t often seen on the West Coast.

“I wanted to make a company that I would want to buy a ticket to see,” he says, “one that could share the rich history of dance and explore the future of what dance may be, and where it may be going in San Francisco.” His ultimate goal: to preserve lineage, celebrate diversity and contribute to the next chapter of contemporary dance.

Garrett Anderson, Adrienne Lipson in Joe & Ida. Choreographer Penny Saunders. Photo by Alex Reneff

After a year of planning, organization, fundraising and preview events, Sofranko’s SFDanceworks is primed and ready for its inaugural season in June. Sofranko has drawn on his vast network of talented dancers, choreographers and arts professionals for this first evening-length concert, an ambitious mixed-repertory program that runs for three performances at ODC Theater. Five pieces are on the bill: two influential works by established dancemakers and three world premieres from newer choreographic voices.

Lar Lubovitch’s “Concerto Six Twenty-Two” (1986) is a work that Sofranko calls “an iconic piece that shouldn’t be lost or forgotten”; has made the adagio movement part of SFDanceworks’ inaugural show. Set to Mozart, Sofranko describes this contemporary duet for two men as “a beautiful, tender dance of lifts and suspension, where two people are sharing the weight and supporting each other.” “Lickety Split” (2006), by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, also has its share of intricate and surprising partnering, yet the dance brings something very different to the stage. Moods, atmospheres, emotions and humor unexpectedly converge in this ensemble piece, which is framed by an avant-garde folk-pop score by Devendra Banhart.

A trio of new pieces joins these beloved compositions. Penny Saunders, who currently dances with Hubbard Street, offers “Joe & Ida,” a co-production with the Grand Rapids Ballet. A whimsical work for six dancers, “Joe & Ida” plots romance and relationships against time and different seasons of life. Dana Genshaft, a longtime San Francisco Ballet company member who retired at the end of last season, presents her new solo, “Portrait,” to be danced by Amber Neumann. Perhaps the most theatrical and narrative work of the group, “Portrait” draws on the life of 19th-century French novelist Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the pen name Georges Sand. The third world premiere on the program comes from Sofranko; it’s a solo for dancer Anne Zivolich-Adams, who just finished a 12-year run with ODC/Dance. Entitled “Z,” Sofranko’s choreography is “inspired by Annie herself, who I’ve known since we were at Juilliard, as well as the percussive music that I found [by Bob Crosby]—jazzy, fun, playful and a little quirky.”

As the date of SFDanceworks’ June performances nears, Sofranko is eager to see what happens next. “I’m looking forward to getting the audience into the theater, to seeing their reaction to the work and hopefully to turning some people on to this type of dance.”

SFDanceworks Inaugural Season

June 23-25

ODC Theater

3153-17th Street, San Francisco