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“The music was really cool, and when you heard ‘Homegrown’ on the radio you always hoped maybe you knew someone playing,” said longtime San Diegan Jane Krikorian. “We all listened to KGB.”
“Homegrown,” a project of KGB-FM radio in the 1970s, held annual contests for local bands to write and record locally themed songs, many of them about particular neighborhoods. Winning tracks were produced and released on vinyl. But with a 2017 city-wide median age of 34, the project had long fizzled out before the majority of San Diego’s current population was even born. It’s reserved for nostalgia and used record stores.
And … ballet?
The San Diego Ballet launched its own project last year, also called “Homegrown.” This year’s version, “Homegrown II,” is a showcase of dances set to selections from the KGB-FM “Homegrown” archives, plus additional pieces choreographed from rising dancers within the company, often choreographing or stepping into leadership roles for the first time, the evening explores the many layers of being “home-grown.”
“For the San Diego ballet, I do think it’s important that we don’t just do lip service to the fact that we’re a local dance company,” said director Javier Velasco.
The eight KGB-FM “Homegrown” albums are, at turns, impressive, cheesy, catchy, weirdly relevant or painfully stuck in the past. San Diego’s neighborhoods are constantly in flux, gentrifying and transforming, so lyrics written about these places in the ‘70s seem more archival than any sort of enlightening tourism tool.
Ballet set to popular music is not out of the box, insists Velasco.
“When ballet started, back in the 1600s, the popular dances of the time were polkas and minuets and things like that. That was the music the dancers were used to hearing, so that was the music the dancers danced to,” he said. “When [our dancers] go to a club, they dance to the same music everybody else does. They have that vocabulary in their body already.”
Today’s dancers may not be dancing with their friends to the likes of “Lakeside Lady” at any hot Gaslamp clubs, but the closing act of “Homegrown II” features ballet movements set to a dozen songs from the KGB-FM record series.
The first act of the project explores this titular theme not through neighborhoods, but by way of building choreographers within the San Diego Ballet community.
“A dancer could basically go through their entire training and career without ever having had to choreograph anything,” Velasco said.
The company’s new producing director and dancer Matt Carney said Velasco scouted two choreographers — himself and Zoe Marinello-Kohn — to produce two separate original works. Carney’s piece, “The Silent Town,” is an exploration of a tumultuous life of loss and love, and features the work of composer Alma Mahler. The music is one of her first compositions since her allegedly controlling husband, composer Gustav Mahler, stopped forbidding her from writing.
Similarly, Marinello-Kohn’s piece, “Hysteria,” portrays strong female archetypes, the ways in which women perpetuate societal limitations on each other, and also the ways in which women band together to support one another. Marinello-Kohn achieves this through vignettes of several distinct themes, such as shame, dependence and expectations.
“It’s such an interesting term because women were described as hysterical for reasons that now we take for granted as being normal,” Marinello-Kohn said of the way she’s reclaiming the title. “I wanted to use that word to convey this idea that we’re not out of control. And that goes along with the idea of shame,” she said.
Empowering choreographers like Marinello-Kohn and Carney from within the company is an important part of the process.
“You do grow up a bit when you become the choreographer,” Velasco said. “You have to step out of yourself.”
“Homegrown II” will be performed at the White Box Live Arts Theater in Liberty Station for two performances, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.
Related: It took until the fourth “Homegrown” record released in 1976 before a woman appeared on any of the albums.
More dance happenings this weekend: