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SALTA dance collective puts a spotlight on the experimental

on January 17, 2014

“Whenever I’m facing you,” Christine Germain tells the crowd. “I want you to snap your fingers and make noise.”

Then she dances.

As she twists and twirls, leaps and strikes acrobatic poses, her audience complies with her commands, creating waves of sound that roll throughout the room or pop from side to side as Germain jumps and completes a half-turn.

Blink your eyes, and for a moment you may forget that you’re not in a smoky Greenwich Village club of the 1960s, but in cheery Arbor Café in Temescal.

Germain’s performance is part of a monthly series organized by SALTA, a dance collective formed in 2012 by seven young women seeking an East Bay alternative to the dance scene in San Francisco, where many dancers can’t afford to live and often have trouble finding a venue to perform. For choreographers and performers interested in blending live music, live film, props, theatrics and audience participation into their work, the collective offers both an audience and an open mind.

SALTA gets its name from the Aesop fable “The Boastful Athlete,” in which a man returns from a journey to the Greek isle of Rhodes, bragging that he had completed a long jump that no man could ever surpass. A bystander remarked “Hic Rhodus, Hic Saltus” –Here is Rhodes, jump here! Put your money where your mouth is.

“Hic Oakland!” Maryanna Lachman, a co-founder of SALTA, says with a chuckle. “Let’s be in the East Bay.”

“We’re not looking to other institutions to give us opportunities to dance,” adds fellow co-founder Olive Blackburn.

Each month, SALTA hosts a performance in a different space. Art galleries, cafes, even in private residences, SALTA will perform anywhere.

“Every place is a totally different environment,” Lachman says, “but its kind of nice because then all those people that have a relationship to that space come as well as the normal crowd…sort of a knitting together of different communities.”

Lachman and Blackburn say the performers are often a mix of people they know and people they don’t. They like to showcase friends’ work, but they are also often contacted by dancers whose work they have never seen. SALTA gives dancers the rare chance to show unfinished pieces to an audience.

For their next show, at the LoBot Gallery on Campbell Street in West Oakland, SALTA will set up in the gallery’s expansive multipurpose room to present four simultaneous performances, giving their audience the chance to circulate and become immersed in the carnival-esque space. Although the show will not feature SALTA’s trademark donation-based bar, the price of admission is a donation to the “Free Boutique,” where, as their website states, “Everyone eats and shops for free.”

The SALTA collective is exploring the idea of opening a studio or permanent performance space. But in a city changing as rapidly as Oakland, finding the right spot requires extensive consideration, particularly for a group overtly conscious of their relationship to the city’s gentrification.

“We’ve always called ourselves dancer-curators or performer-curators,” Lachman says. “[We’re] trying to form the environments that we want to perform in.”

Image: SALTA performances showcase dancers often accompanied by live music or interacting with their audience. Photo credit: Chani Bockwinkel.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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