Where can you see the largest and most diverse offering of performing arts in a chichi evening that includes food from some of San Diego's finest restaurants and renowned wineries?
If you're an arts lover and supporter, you already know the answer is Bravo San Diego. Last week, in its seventh year, Bravo brought together 90 performing arts groups -- representing more than 1,600 artists -- to show off their various talents on 19 stages on three floors of the Westgate Hotel downtown.
Diversity is the watchword. In just five hours at Bravo, you could see tango, samba, flamenco, ballet, modern dance, swing, belly dance, hip hop and folk dancing from the Philippines, China, Mexico and Polynesia. And that just covers the dance performances. Other performances include theater and plenty of music, from three orchestras and opera to jazz and rock 'n' roll.
The usually sold-out event was made for schmoozing, claiming to bring together business and civic leaders, arts directors and patrons. Ron deHarte, executive director of Bravo San Diego, surmised that funding for the event flagged a bit compared with years past due to the enormous outflow of donations that went toward relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Attendance was about 1,200, and the event still managed to rustle up corporate donations, including title sponsor Viejas Casino, Union Bank of California, McCune Chrysler Jeep, Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) and many others.
Here's how it works. About 150 performance groups auditioned for 72 slots. The participating groups directly benefit from the performance, receiving a grant of $1,000. A few groups split the grant so that more performers could be included. Last year, Bravo distributed 97 grant awards totaling $77,200 to local organizations and artists. While the stipend might not mean as much to groups like the San Diego Repertory Theatre, which has an annual operating budget of $3 million, $1,000 goes a long way for smaller companies working on a shoestring budget.
New acts this year -- most of which could really use the money -- included the A Cappella Gold Dance Quartet, Mavin Dance Company, Radio Rug Cutters, Ruby and the Red Hots, San Diego Chamber Orchestra, Teye Amenisha African Music, Yve Evans, Xdrop Dance Company and Urban Groove Band. Bravo also honored the Old Globe's Craig Noel and songwriter Frankie Lane with lifetime achievement awards. New this year were the KSDS Jazz-Blues stage, a Latino stage and a contemporary dance "Yo Bravo" stage.
The problem with Bravo is that there's so much going on that you can't possibly see and do everything you want. It's the Lollapalooza of the performing arts world, and you're invariably going to miss something you wanted to see. Not to mention you'll want to sample all the food from fine restaurants around town including Baleen, Blue Ginger, Laurel Restaurant, Chi Chocolat, India Princess, riceJones, Torreyana Grill and more. Then there's the wine and beer from Cinnabar Winery, Monterey Wine Association, Stone Brewing Co. and Thornton Winery, among others. All that gluttony takes time.
The best thing about the event is that you get to check out arts groups that you might otherwise never know about. This year one of the most intriguing surprises for me was a dance troupe called Force of Nature. This modern dance group included two elegant and gymnastic "tree" dancers on stilts, covered with vines, with faces painted green. Another dancer was dressed as Mercury, his whole body painted copper. The other dancer resembled a statue in a fountain, and stood stone still for much of the performance, only to come alive toward the end, with streams of water shooting from her fingertips and the top of her head. I'd never heard of this group before, but I'll be looking for them in the future.
The evening was topped off with pyrotechnics fired off the adjacent building, followed by a crowd-pleasing, eye-catching display (read: skimpy costumes) of high-energy dance and percussion by Super Sonic Samba. The party rocked on under the big tent with the Eve Selis Band.
It was a full night of performance to delight the senses, and if you've never gone, make sure to put Bravo San Diego on your list for 2006. The $200 ticket is money well spent -- much of it is tax deductible, and the funds go right back into supporting local arts groups.