By Carrie Schmeck
Summer Odell’s Artesan Dance Company
Great things come from Redding, and Summer Odell, the artistic director and choreographer of Artesan Dance Company whose humble beginnings and grand visions have launched her company onto stages as far away as France, aims to prove it.
Just back from Los Angeles where her work is being included in the development stages of a dance-driven feature film, she says, “Big things can be birthed in Redding. I don’t want people to think you have to go to a big city like New York to see something amazing. I want people to know Redding produces what should be in New York.”
When this confident 30-something brunette leans forward in her seat and describes her journey, one can’t help but be taken in by her passion, warmth and belief that doing the next small thing might swing wide the doors of fate. She makes it seem easy, given the gateways she’s walked through, but is quick to note her successes come only through dreaming, discipline and staying open to opportunity.
Odell started her company in 2006. After experimenting with choreography on herself and two other dancers, she realized her gift for bringing different dance styles together. “I’m really fascinated in how things that wouldn’t make sense can connect,” she says. Though trained in modern dance, she uses dancers with classical backgrounds, then employs a toolbox of styles to create cohesive productions. “I’m not into forcing things,” she says. “I just help bring to life what’s already there.”
For her very first show, she dreamed of incorporating B-boy or breakdancing, an early and somewhat gritty street style. She wondered where she’d find male dancers in Redding, but pushed ahead with her vision. When a young man asked to use her studio to practice street dancing with his friends, she jumped at the chance, but made them a deal. “I told them, ‘I’ll give you studio time if you’ll take a ballet and modern dance class.’ I figured there is no way they’d show up.” Seven did, and she chose five for her first show, Fusion, at the Cascade Theater in 2009.
That show caught the attention of someone who knew someone, and before she knew what was happening, Odell sat across from a French choreographer making plans to teach workshops and choreograph a fundraising production in France. “I didn’t think I’d be in Paris within a year of starting my company,” she says, but her personal philosophy of work and preparedness lends credence to the axiom that chance favors prepared minds. “It’s a continual thing in taking responsibility for my own discipline and creative process,” she says. “I always have 20 shows in my head, ready to do if the time comes.”
Her creative processes start with tiny sparks. A concept. An idea. “Maybe a piece of music makes me think of a word so I look it up in the dictionary. Then another song connects and it starts to build. It’s like falling in love,” she says. “Every idea is possible. It’s wonderful. When you start putting it on its feet, it’s like a relationship where you really can’t do anything else for awhile. It gives you the fortitude to go through the hard and high points, working together until you have an incredible show.”
Odell makes sure to note that ego has no place in her work. “To be successful, I have my point of view and goal for sure,” she says, “but I have to be open to how things play out because I’m working with human beings. I might have ideas, but the people are the tools and gifts I have to work with.”
What she has achieved so far, she says, is the difference between sitting back on your heels or being poised on the balls of your feet, ready and prepared. “Be faithful with the small,” says this self-proclaimed cultural ambassador for the North State. She especially wants area young people to know, “You don’t have to live small lives just because you live in a small region. Dream big and create New York quality right here.”