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The Dancer

Victor Temple and New World Ballet, plus a few art shows

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Dance is the only art in which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made.  - Ted Shawn

The performance of a fine dancer triggers admiration. Beholding an entire company dance with all the grace, elegance, power and strength necessary offers art's most desired effect: transcendence. One's self is absorbed by the alchemy involved in typically lead-footed humans transforming into creatures unbeholden to such trivialities as gravity or the laws of motion as we understand them. To pass through life without experiencing such a gift would be a loss. Fortunately, Humboldt County doesn't suffer such deprivation, thanks in part to Victor Temple, artist director of Arcata's nonprofit New World Ballet.

Now, Victor's life story so far could already fill a couple books, but here's the condensed version: Temple arrived in Arcata several years ago via former ballet director Nadine Cole, whom he visited at the behest of Karen Brown, then-director of the Oakland Ballet, where he'd ended up following four years teaching dance in China -- he'd been invited there after his work with the Dance Theatre of Harlem impressed them. Cole asked him to take over her position at New World Ballet, which he did. Temple's goal has always been twofold: To continue working toward developing a ballet company that rivals any big city troupe and to build community through dance as much as possible. The journey hasn't been easy, but neither was being a 12-year-old African American boy in ballet class all those years ago. (He'd joined when a girl he had a crush on suggested he should take dance to improve his athletic skills -- the crush waned, but his love for ballet only grew). In 2007, members of the Bay Area-based Black Choreographers Festival acknowledged Temple as a "next wave emerging artist," inviting him to return the following year. "My work was featured," he said, "but I couldn't go. I didn't have the money." Things are looking up, he quickly added. Thanks to continued community support, "Now we have the money." Temple expects more local and regional touring in New World Ballet's future.

When not teaching, choreographing or directing at New World Ballet, Temple has spent his time lecturing, demonstrating and volunteering in schools from Petrolia to Hoopa. "I want to inspire all the other artists," he said, lamenting the loss of arts programs suffered by so many schools. His need to give back -- including by offering an upcoming week of free dance classes -- stems at least in part from his own experiences. "If it hadn't been for scholarships and other people looking out for me, I would've fallen through the cracks," Temple said. His work may not cure all the world's ills, he continued, but hundreds of students have been exposed to the arts and a world of music in ways they wouldn't have otherwise experienced. Dance, like all arts, not only explores what it means to be human, it aims to improve the human condition. Without art, we are lesser -- hence the peril when we deny it to our children.

For Temple, the dream to make New World Ballet on a par with the great West Coast dance companies continues to manifest through performances at Earthdance, Reggae Rising, full-length productions at the Van Duzer and the scoring of two new instructors: Kevin Atkinson of the Oakland Ballet and Jocelyn Rudig of Liss Fain. "My dancers are on track for training with San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre," he said. And all this isn't just about making great dancers, but about training kids to be great people. "The amount of discipline in classical ballet is unlike anything else." That discipline better prepares children for adulthood, both onstage and off. For the trepid, learning dance "the right way," might seem too steep a challenge. "Some people think I'm mean," Temple demurred. "I'm not mean. It's ballet that's mean."

In a town known for its hippie leanings and belief in multiple education options -- check out the number of charter schools per capita -- the idea that a "right way" exists could be anathema, but Temple feels A-town's savvy keeps growing. He's hoping to see increased city and continued community support for the burgeoning art scene forming in the Old Creamery Building, which holds not only New World Ballet, but also Shoshanna's Redwood Raks World Dance Studio and Arcata Playhouse. Sponsor opportunities await at humboldtdance.org/donor.

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More chances to support the artistic endeavors of young people await at Arts! Arcata, Friday, Feb. 12. Arcata Arts Institute students Kim Wright, Treyce Meredith and Liam Sanborn-Peterson display recent photos at Arcata Photo Studios. It's true that photography doesn't always get as much respect as other forms of art -- painters in particular are likely to sneer at snapping pictures as requiring far less talent than capturing images with oil or watercolor. Certainly the proliferation of digital cameras and Flickr pages suggest that anybody with the slightest understanding of light and composition can call his- or herself a photographer. But what isn't discussed so often is what a photo can do better than a painting: provide an immediacy of moment. DaVinci's "Mona Lisa" remains timeless, but Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" is exactly the Great Depression in 1936. Rather like poetry vs. prose.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg describes it thus: "If you read a great poem aloud -- for example, ‘To a Skylark' by Percy Bysshe Shelley -- and read it the way he set it up and punctuated it, what you are doing is breathing his inspired breath at the moment he wrote that poem." When you look at the best photos, it's as if you're seeing through the eyes of the photographer, roused by that same split second in time.

Other shows of note: A rare opening at Merryman's Moonstone Beach House happens Saturday, Feb. 13. Semi-local artist Stefan Elliot (he divides his time between Costa Rica, Martha's Vineyard and here) kicks off a single-day solo exhibit at 1 p.m. with cocktails and appetizers, then continues through the evening with live music by Likwefi and local brews at 6 p.m. and an after-party until whenever.

Coming Thursday, Feb. 18, 4-6 p.m. in HSU's Reese Bullen Gallery, the grand opening reception for Art of Brian Sproul, an installation based on the amazing work of the longtime Arcata resident of who died in 2008. The show runs through March 12.

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