By Joyell Nevins
What does a dancer look like? What style do they convey?
The PGK Project is out to prove there is no dancer “type” or one style of dance they can’t incorporate. Their latest performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at the John J. Montgomery Theatre just north of Fashion Valley.
“My dancers look completely different, they move completely differently,” says director Peter G. Kalivas as he surveys a group of male, female, black, white, short, tall, skinny and curvy dancers who make up his troupe. “But that’s the whole point. They reflect what’s real. They’re not here because of a mold they fit into; they’re here because they can do what they say they can do.”
Kalivas understands the dancer stigma — as a man under 5 foot 5 inches and with a solid build, he never seemed to be ‘just right.’
“I was often considered too short,” he said. “I was told I was too stocky or not big enough. It was like the moment you felt inside, you were outside again.”
So back in 1994, Kalivas founded the PGK Project while working with two major dance companies in Munich, Germany.
“I wanted to call it a project because ‘company’ sounds more static,” he said. “A project is always moving. It can be whatever you need it to be.”
And what that is, is what the public wants. Kalivas unashamedly asks people (potential audience members) what they care about, what do they want to see, and what do they expect.
“Some fellow dancers told me I’m selling out,” he said. “I’m not selling out, I’m selling tickets. It needs to serve the public. I’m saying, ‘The public matters.’”
Kalivas has taken this idea from Germany to New York and through several company changes in his own career. The Project took on a new life in San Diego in 2002 when Kalivas moved here for a quality of life change, and to be a part of San Diego’s artistic scene.
Then it took several years of building and growing the Project and its reputation before the first official dance performance. That performance was at DK Hair Salon in Hillcrest in 2009.
A new performance venue
Hair salon? Yes, you read that right. Kalivas realized that there was a whole group of people who didn’t often engage with dance because of where it was located or the price tag that came with it. So he decided to tear down those barriers, too.
“We’re pairing (dance) with a familiar act or familiar space,” Kalivas said.
PGK Project spent the first several years in San Diego doing “audience engagement events” rather than traditional performances. They would set up in the backroom of bars or places like Queen Bee’s in North Park and hold showcases for donations.
“It felt like an open mic for dance,” Kalivas recalled.
Since the first “official” performance at DK Hair, PGK Project has performed in venues as such warehouses, restaurants, and art galleries. When they performed at Art Produce in North Park, each dance was in a different location in the space itself — ending in the front gallery with the audience looking in from the outside through the windows!
“Normally dance is framed by a stage, but (that time) the dancers were framing the environment,” said dancer Alyssa Junious of Oceanside.
The dancers themselves are as varied as the environments they dance in. They come from all across the country — literally Oregon to New York, with some San Diego natives mixed in. PGK Project performers bring a wide variety of training backgrounds, such as tap, hip-hop, African and classical. Some train their bodies through Pilates and yoga; some prefer Crossfit.
“We all have a different emphasis in what we bring,” Junious said. “It creates a different dynamic.”
Another dynamic comes from PGK being a repertory company, so it highlights choreographers aside from Kalivas as well.
“Different choreographers bring a different POV, different styles, different aesthetics,” Kalivas said.
Some of those choreographers come from inside the company. Kalivas notes they go through the same audition process as any of his outside choreographers. Everyone gets the same chance to have input.
“There’s Peter’s work, outside choreographers, and then we have each other,” Junious said. “It’s collaborative and the best of both worlds.”
‘Break It Down’
The Nov. 19 performance actually will take place in a theater. The PGK Project moved back into theater spaces when Kalivas felt like they may be alienating the theater crowd just as they were alienating the non-theatrical crowd in the beginning. Now, the Project uses both theatrical and alternative spaces.
“Break It Down” was first performed at Tango Del Rey earlier this year, but was so popular Kalivas decided to bring it back so that more of the public could experience it. The collection is meant to highlight the joy and fun of dance. The pieces lean more towards happiness and light instead of seriousness and dark.
“We want people to be reminded of how wonderful dance can be,” Kalivas said.
Break It Down will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at the John J. Montgomery Theater at 2470 Ulric St. It will feature choreography by Kevin Jenkins, John Paul Lawson, company member Kymmi Kellems, and Kalivas himself with work featuring Tap with Body percussion.
For tickets or more information, visit thepgkdanceproject.org or call 619-886-7924.
—Freelance writer Joyell Nevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her blog Small World, Big God at swblog.wordpress.com.