Albert H. Fulcher | Contributing Editor
The dancers moved with grace, poise and strength, employing the natural architecture of the parking garage at the Hazard Center Trolley Station to bring a message of the plight of the homeless. Intriguingly, the dancers used the staircases, benches, walls and other surroundings at the station to tell a remarkable story through dance.
The performers at the station were taking part in the Trolley Dances, which has provided live art for the community in San Diego since 1999. What began as a simple concept is now a yearly event that has brought in more than 1,450 performers to nearly 55,000 people in the community.
The Trolley Dances are the brainchild of Jean Isaacs, artistic director of the San Diego Dance Theater. On Oct. 5, the dancers began the performances — as is their annual custom — at the Hazard Center Trolley Station, before hopping on the trolley to provide tours in conjunction with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), and making their way through several locations with performances at each stop.
While working in Switzerland, Isaacs got the idea after going on a guided tour where a different type of art performance from dancers, painters and symphony musicians greeted them at each stop. She was especially drawn to a dance with the use of a 600-year-old stairway.
“When I got back, I was faced with putting together a season for my company of dancers and looking at the cost of the theater, it was prohibitive. So what if I do something like I just saw in Switzerland?” Isaacs said.
Isaacs went to MTS and they easily gave her permission to start utilizing the trolley system to bring live dance to the community of San Diego.
“The first couple of years, it was beautiful,” Isaacs said. “One dance was on the track, one on the trolley and it started to pick up over the years. We had about 20 people on the tour, but the tour was way too long.”
Now Trolley Dances serve about 2,000 to 3,000 people a year. Through this vehicle, the program has become site specific, with the beginning of this season bringing the first tour for around 50 K–12 students, many who have never seen a live performance in their lives.
“The idea is to bring the dance out away from the theater and into the communities for people that have never seen live performing dance. It’s pretty exciting,” Isaacs said.
MTS was in its infancy when Trolley Dances started and Isaacs said they have grown alongside it. She said she’s excited about the expansion because it provides them more stage settings for the dances and brings outreach to many more people that have never experienced live performances.
“I think it’s an important part of our community,” Isaacs said. “It’s also very good. I could never afford a set like this. I’m going to keep doing it until someone tells me I can’t do it anymore.”
The Trolley Dances project is funded by the city and county of San Diego and the California Arts Council. To learn more about Trolley Dances, visit sandiegodancetheater.org.
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at email@example.com.