A Malibu-based dance company headed by an adjunct Santa Monica College professor is making history, as it will be the first group of Americans in nearly two decades to perform at the annual UNESCO World Congress of Dance.
LA Dances will perform at the international gathering November 9-13 on the Mediterranean island country of Cyprus.
“The U.S. hasn’t been involved with UNESCO for about 18 years,” said Rebecca Yewell-Witjas, artistic director of LA Dances. “We will be the only Americans performing artistic work there. We are very excited.”
LA Dances is a partnership between SMC and Pepperdine University in Malibu that Yewell-Witjas, who teaches at both institutions, started last year.
It is a member of the International Dance Council, which was founded in 1973 as part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO’S global efforts include promoting cultural diversity and promoting freedom of expression.
A member of the council’s advisory board, Yewell-Witjas wanted to start a dance troupe that would reflect UNESCO’s mission. With the help of some friends and colleagues, she was able to gather a group of talented dancers that includes SMC and Pepperdine students.
The World Congress is the largest gathering of dance specialists worldwide, and participation is by invitation only. Last year’s congress was attended by 450 specialists from 40 countries.
Comprised of dancers ranging in age from their early 20s to their 40s and professionals as well as students, the troupe itself is as diverse as its mission. The group won its spot in the competition with its submission of a DVD audition, titled “White Light,” containing hip hop, ballet, and modern dance to the theme of Bach’s 3rd Brandenburg Concerto.
Yewell-Witjas credits SMC entertainment technology professor Michael Eggert, who filmed the DVD, as the cinematic “genius” that helped them nail the audition.
An experienced choreographer, Yewell-Witjas has spent most of her life studying and performing in New York City. After receiving her master’s in dance from UCLA, she founded two professional dance companies and did choreography for the stage, television, and film.The dance troupe has raised about $60,000 from public grants and private donations to pay for travel, food and lodging.