Gotta Dance! Meet John Malashock

| October 4, 2011 | 0 Comments


John Malashock of Mission Hills is a dance entrepreneur.

To meet John Malashock, that lean, limber, sunny man, you really might think right away, “this guy’s a dancer!” Voila! His dance company has presented dramatic, thrilling dance for near 25 years. John lives in Mission Hills with his wife, Nina. Their son, Duncan, 28, is a visual artist in Brooklyn.

We talked:

LW. By now, the name “Malashock’ is synonymous with “dance!” in San Diego. Tell us about your own entry into the world of dance?

JM: It still seems a bit unlikely to me. Nice Jewish boy from La Jolla gets interested in theater, studies it in college. Tries dance to help his movement skills on stage; falls in love with dance. Joins a dance company right after graduation, and never looks back! Hit the big-time in New York with Twyla Tharp’s company in the early 80s and toured the world; returned to San Diego. Started creating my own work here and, again, never looked back. I’ll never forget my humble beginnings, though. I took my first dance classes at La Jolla High – and now I’m staring my 40th HS Reunion in the face!

LW: What did it take – passion, practice (!) – to develop your skills? Where in the process does student become professional?

JM: It’s impossible to thrive in a field as tough as professional dance without drive, inspiration, discipline, talent, and a GREAT need to express yourself through your art. As for the leap from student to professional, dance is handed down from experienced dancers and dance makers. Class work is important, but dance is learned through the creation and performance of choreography; there’s no shortcut to becoming a great dancer. Becoming a pro is largely a function of creating your own opportunities – by putting yourself in the proximity of the most talented artists you can find. Luckily, with Twyla Tharp, I worked for five years with one of the world’s best, along with a company of dancers that was, at that time, unrivaled.

LW: Then, and now: who – or what – inspires you?

JM: I get jazzed by discovering new music; seeing incredible performances; unfamiliar territory; or riffing ideas with a collaborating artist. The best inspirations seem to come when I am least looking for them. Being open to possibilities is the best inspiration of all.

LW: Were you always committed to the modern genre? What makes you go for a certain presentation? The theme? The physicality? The music?

JM: Modern dance just worked for me. There is more crossover now between the art and entertainment sides of dance, and now I allow myself to feel like…creativity is just creativity, despite its genre or labels. I think I’ve been known as a pretty serious yet accessible artist over the years, but I love using enjoyable music and telling human stories with dance. Right now, one project I’m working on is a ‘dance musical’ with composer Yale Strom, about the life and work of artist Marc Chagall. “Chagall” will be substantial as an artistic project, yet entertaining as theatrical spectacle. Our current show, Malashock/RAW, pushes emotional and physical boundaries, but is energizing, varied, and personal.

LW: Your dancers today must be highly advanced, to properly interpret & present your choreography? Besides the (obvious) physical ability, what qualities do you look for in your dancers?

JM: Technical ability, of course, but that only goes so far. I have lost interest in many technically strong dancers. I need dancers that can adapt to my unique style and demands; ones that bring something more than the simple willingness to do what they are asked. When Pina Bauch, the late, great choreographer, was here a few years ago, she would say “…look for the shy ones. There is often more to find there.” That resonated with me. In Malashock/RAW, I have plumbed the depth of my dancers to come up with some pretty unique characters.

LW: How would you describe yourselves and your work? Introduce yourself?

JM: I’m kind of a normal guy. I love projects around the house (a 1929 Tudor); enjoy traveling to new places; love good food and wine. Describing my work? A question that should get easier, yet, somehow, it only gets harder. Maybe because I am always trying to vary my approach; that keeps me interested in creating new work. While I think I’m consistently musical, dramatic, and physically dynamic with my choreography, it is the way that I can mix dance with other art forms that keeps the whole process alive for me.

LW: By now, you must be a pretty accomplished businessman, marketing exec, fund-raiser? The “arts” are the last place in the world to be “in it” for the money!

JM: Years ago, I heard a (sort of) joke that a successful working artist is someone who “…continues to practice their art professionally and remains less than 50 percent bitter about the rest of their life.” Sacrifice is the flip side of living a life in the arts, but I’ve been pretty lucky. Next season is our 25th Anniversary! Many of my peers marvel that I have kept a nonprofit dance company going for this long. They say, “It’s an incredible accomplishment just to have survived all this time.” And I say, “Yeah, but I’d like to be remembered for something more than just surviving.” I have to assume that the quality and innovation of our work is the real reason we have stayed healthy. I’m pretty good with a computer, and I try to bring artistic creativity into the office as well as the studio. It takes a lot of administrative work to make this organization go. I am very clear, however, that our success is a result of the shared effort by our incredibly talented staff and volunteers.

LW: Artistic collaborations, partnerships; they’ve deepened and expanded your work?

JM: Blending dance with other artforms has been a constant source of inspiration to me. Earlier this year, I did “The Floating World” at the San Diego Museum of Art with video artist Tara Knight and fashion designer, Zandra Rhodes. It told of a dance company on tour and was a real feast for the senses. I’ve created works with the Symphony, the Opera, KPBS-TV, La Jolla Music Society, UCSD-TV, and collaborated with many composers, visual artists, and writers.

LW: You’re dancing yourself, these days?

JM: I’m not performing anymore, but I do shake it around when choreographing and teaching. I love our gorgeous studio in Dance Place San Diego at Liberty Station. This summer, I spent too much time in our office so, when I finally got back into the studio to create a new work for Malashock/RAW, it was like a mini-explosion of movement coming out of me.

LW: Malashock Dance has scheduled a major work in October?

JM: Malashock/RAW is the wild side of Malashock Dance! This show will be edgy, energetic, dramatic, sexy, and – well, raw. The dancers really stretch their wings; it allows an opportunity to expand the ‘choreographic voice’ of the organization. I’ve created a new work for this show, and there are also new works by Michael Mizerany (our associate artistic director) and the directors of Lux Boreal from Tijuana (Henry Torres and Angel Arambula). We will present it at the Mandell Weiss Forum Theater at the La Jolla Playhouse, October 20, 21, 22.

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