Most dance companies have a signature movement style, and a repertory defined by their spin on modern, jazz or ballet. Charles Anderson, founder and artistic director of Walnut Creek's Company C Contemporary Ballet, is more curious than that. By mixing and matching works from esteemed choreographers, he devises unique programs for the audience that pose ambitious challenges for his twelve ballet-trained dancers.
"What you get when you come to see Company C is a really wide range," said Anderson, who danced with New York City Ballet. "You get something funny, you get something deep, you get something that's gonna challenge you." It's an approach that earned his seven-year-old company a spot on Dance magazine's "25 to Watch" roster for 2010.
Company C's spring program connects all the dots. It opens with Beautiful Maladies, a ballet Anderson choreographed to a suite of Chet Baker ballads. On the surface, eight lovely young people dance to Baker's soul-stirring music. But at a deeper level, Anderson said, "it tells the story of a relationship through two couples, but not two separate relationships; more of the universal relationship."
The company also takes on Twyla Tharp's Surfer on the River Styx, inspired by Euripides' The Bacchae and staged by former City Ballet and Tharp dancer Ben Bowman. "She didn't supply any kind of narrative ...," Bowman explained. "Where you see that theme come into play is in the final section, which is about trying to convey a sense of redemption after all of this frenetic movement."
Backed by Donald Knaack's percussive score played on gas cans, wrenches, and found objects, Surfer isn't typical ballet-company fare. "It challenges you on what is music, what is dance," Anderson said. "If you stop and break down the movement, it's a little bizarre. But if you're just watching it, it's brilliant. It's extremely athletic — that thing is going!"
The evening bubbles to a close with boink!, an effervescent cocktail set to Juan García Esquivel's swinging lounge tunes. "It's really fun," Anderson said. Fun to watch, but not easy to dance: Created for San Francisco Ballet by Val Caniparoli, who also staged it for Company C, boink! demands high spirits, emphatic energy, and some devilish footwork. It's a sparkling nightcap on a diverse evening of dance.
Company C performs Saturday, May 8, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 9, at 2 p.m., at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre (3301 Lyon St., San Francisco). $18-$40. 415-392-4400 or CityBoxOffice.com. The company moves to Lesher Center for the Arts (1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek) on Friday and Saturday, May 14 and 15. 8 p.m., $18-$40. 925-943-7469 or LesherArtsCenter.org