By Scott MacClelland
“When I’m here I’m working all the time,” says Fran Spector Atkins, founder of SpectorDance in Marina. When she’s not here, she’s traveling the world, soaking up how other cultures express themselves artistically, especially through dance. Yet, as with most in the field, New York “remains my spiritual home,” she says. She visits the Big Apple frequently. “I go there as often as I can because of the culture.”
Spector Atkins took a BS in occupational therapy at Boston University, an MFA in dance and choreography at Mills College and a certification in Laban Movement Analysis at New York’s Laban/Bartenieff Insitute of Movement Studies. This background serves her especially well as a choreographer and teacher of young dance students, a primary function at her spacious SpectorDance studios. Yet she is not content to be only a teacher. Twice a year she hosts Choreographers Showcase programs that include works by other artists while engaging many of her senior students. These events show the community how vital dance can be for both professionals and aspiring young dancers.
To underscore that point is the premiere this weekend of East West, a new multi-media dance program that takes on the serious problem of gang violence and murder that lies heavily on Monterey County.
Spector Atkins conceived the work as universal, even drawing the parallel between the “west” of West Side Story—set in what used to be known as Hell’s Kitchen (now where Lincoln Center is)—and “east” referring to the east side of Salinas where so much of this gang violence plays out. “I realized it looked like yin-yang. Even people not directly affected are part of a whole,” she says. “The title actually has lots of levels of meaning for me. In many ways, that geographical divide is what causes a lot of problems all over the world.” For East West, Spector Atkins has established a collaborative relationship with Rancho Cielo, a residential learning and social services facility for at-risk youth on the rural east side of Salinas, the National Steinbeck Center and its executive director Colleen Bailey, media specialist William Roden (a long-time colleague) and dancers Jones Welsh (pictured, left) and Ann Marie Talmadge. “Collaboration is the strength of the piece,” Spector Atkins says. “I’m honored to have spearheaded the project but collaborating with so much talent is what gives it life.”
Established in 1996, SpectorDance reflects Spector Atkins’ wide and deep history of work all over the country and abroad. She has been artist in residence at Brown University and Oberlin College. Her choreography has been seen in Denmark, Egypt, England, Israel, Italy, Guam and Taiwan. She has received numerous awards and her work is currently funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, James Irvine Foundation and the California Arts Council. She has been selected to make a presentation on East West at the next pitch-session of APAP/NYC, the global performing arts conference and marketplace, in January.
Spector Atkins calls the changes in Monterey County during the last 25 years “dramatic.” About SpectorDance, she says, “You have to think about mentoring others; a school isn’t necessarily what keeps an organization going. The scope of SpectorDance is capable of a high level of professionalism,” adding “I’m always looking for people who are passionate about the arts.”
Generous in her support, Colleen Bailey of National Steinbeck had this to say about Spector Atkins: “Fran Spector’s work is intelligent and creative. She is exceptionally successful at blending artistry and scholarship in her work. Often inspired by the landscapes and people of Monterey County, her choreography is beautiful, even as she explores complex issues such as social justice and coming of age in a violent world. Fran’s collaborative work is of the highest caliber.”
Photos by William Roden/New Dawn Studios