Brenda Way helps San Francisco's ODC notch 51 years of beautiful movement with spring and summer shows.
ODC Dance Company member Allie Papazian
When eviction looms for an arts organization, extraordinary measures can sometimes come together in the most remarkable ways. Such was the case in 1980, when the renowned contemporary dance company ODC, led by its founder and artistic director, Brenda Way, and the board purchased a building at 3153 17th St. It now houses the ODC Theater, and 2022 marks more than five decades for the group.
Brenda Way, second from left, in the studio
“We became deeply embedded in the community in a way we never could have imagined,” says Way. “The early collective leadership model gave way to a professional staff, and yet the participatory spirit of our early days continues to frame our notions of success in today’s greatly changed culture.”
ODC Dance Company members Cora Cliburn and Miche Wong.
In 1971, Way launched the company in the Midwest as the Oberlin Dance Collective. But the company dug new roots in California in 1976, when it arrived in the Bay Area; the company’s name became ODC. Way, a trained dancer, was accompanied by 16 dancers, painters, writers and other artists who were equally enthusiastic about future possibilities. During the first year in its new location, the company established an annual performance season, a training school for dancers and a program that showcased local choreographers. To Way’s surprise, all of these events became cornerstones of the organization.
Today, ODC hosts an ODC Dance Commons down the street from the theater, which has been expanded, and has partnered with Rhythm & Motion, an exercise dance program, to provide up to 200 classes.
ODC Dance Company members Brandon W. Freeman “Private” and Rachel Furst
“From ODC’s scrappy and idealistic early years to the fully realized and deeply inclusive form of our current organization, the foundational values that prompted our beginnings have sustained us—curiosity, generosity, perseverance and risk-taking,” says Way. “We’re celebrating both the great joy of returning to the stage after two years in isolation and the possibilities that we envision for our organization going forward. It gives this moment great poignancy and great cause for celebration.”
To honor its long history, the celebrations kick off with Dance Downtown (through April 10), where Way will present two choreographed works—Investigating Grace and Speaking Volumes—that showcase the company’s inimitable style. Events continue with ODC’s contribution to the Island City Waterways biennial event (May 21 and 22), ODC Theater’s State of Play festival (June 2 to 10) and a celebration of dance in the Summer Sampler (July 16 to 18 and July 23 to 25).
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO BY RJ MUNA; PHOTO BY: ESZTHER DAVID; PHOTOS BY RJ MUNA