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Artists celebrate weekend of dance at Balboa Park

This weekend, more than 75 regional dance companies and solo dancers comprising more than 700 artists will descend upon Balboa Park to participate in three days of performance, lectures and workshops.

The Celebrate Dance Festival, now in its ninth year, is a panoply of ethnic heritages, abilities and dance styles -- including ballet, ballroom, flamenco, hip hop, jazz, modern, swing, tap dance and much more. Performances take place in the 600-seat Casa Del Prado Theatre and on two outdoor stages. And it's all free and open to the public.

Festival organizer Eveoke Dance Theatre has always presented the event as a gift to the community -- until recent years bearing the entire cost. But lately the organization has received financial support, through some fund-raising and grants from local government. This year Eveoke received a $10,000 grant from Supervisor Pam Slater and a $2,000 grant from Supervisor Greg Cox to produce the event.

"In a year where everybody's funding was getting cut, they upped ours by $500 over the last year," said Eveoke and festival producer Chris Hall.

Balboa Park also kicks in the facilities for free, helping to defray some of the $40,000 to $50,000 cost to produce the event.

Now, many of the participating artists are paid, an impossibility in the festival's first years. And the event that's billed as the largest dance gathering west of Chicago attracts more than 10,000 people throughout the weekend.

Festival highlights include performances by Jean Isaacs' San Diego Dance Theater, Lower Left Performance Collective, Mojalet Dance Collective, Urban Tribal Dance Company and Tijuana's Ricardo Peralta Danza Performa. Free workshops will turn audience members into participants, including Kathryn Irey's three-hour workshop on creative movement and Lower Left's workshop on contact improvisation. Eveoke's lively hip hop workshop and demo is always a popular segment.

Spandan Dance Troupe & Sharavati Sathe's Kathak Troupe present traditional Indian classical, folk and fusion dance at the annual Celebrate Dance Festival. The three-day festival starts today at the Casa del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park.

Eveoke also will present three works for the festival: a performance from its haunting and critically acclaimed show "Mothers," and two newer pieces set to music and spoken word by socio-political poet Ursula Rucker.

Though it may be the driving force behind the festival, Eveoke isn't interested in being in the spotlight as organizer. The group has much loftier goals.

Eveoke hopes to promote and expand the dance community as a whole in San Diego. In the lobby of the Casa Del Prado Theatre, a dance information center provides brochures, program information and upcoming events for every group involved.

"We make a promise to the groups: We're going to produce you, and we're going to promote you," Hall said. "There's a real big push to use the festival as a way to expand the dance community, and we take seriously the effort to make the festival a gestalt that is greater than all of its little parts."

Known for its grassroots social activism and political art, Eveoke is also intent on bringing diversity and accessibility to an art form that is, though elemental, often marginalized.

"We didn't want to put any kind of obstacle in front of anybody for any reason," on either side of the curtain, said Hall. "No matter what level you are, no matter what type of dance you do, no matter what kind of style it is, no matter how old you are, no matter how able bodied you are -- if dance is important to you, you are as important as anybody else. And that's something that over nine years we've really struggled to achieve."

PROGRAM: Celebrate Dance Festival

Cost: Free

Dates: Aug. 20-22

Time: Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Location: Casa Del Prado Theatre, Balboa Park

More information: www.eveoke.org

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