Taking the Leap

UO professor Brad Garner premieres Strings! with his new dance company at Oregon Contemporary Theatre

Brad Garner
Brad Garner of GARNERDANCES premieres new work at Oregon Contemporary TheatrePhoto by Jennifer James-Long

For professional dancer and choreographer Brad Garner, inspiration comes directly from community.

“I’m inspired by community and the relationships among members of a community,” says Garner, whose dance company GARNERDANCES premieres Strings! An Evening of Dance at Oregon Contemporary Theatre June 17-18.

“I’ve always been intrigued by human behavior — that interaction between people, and how people change in different contexts and group dynamics,” Garner says.

Garner has an educational background in psychology, and was on track to a career in social work until he stumbled into a college dance class and got hooked.

“The way I work, the way I create, is a kind of therapy,” Garner asserts. “In performances, too, there’s just an optimism. The work isn’t bright and shiny, but it shows the beauty of humanity.”

For this weekend’s show, Garner brings in some heavy hitters from the local dance world to collaborate: Shannon Mockli (UO dance faculty), Laura Katzman (UO dance MFA alumnus), Mariah Melson (UO dance BA), as well as Suzanne Haag, Antonio Anacan and Cory Betts of Eugene Ballet Company, all to help execute the full-length work Strings.

Accompanying music includes Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Jason Kao Hwang, Ayman Fanous and Bon Iver.

“These artists represent perspectives from the 1600s until today and both Eastern and Western musical approaches,” Garner says.

The performance explores themes of support and trust. And as Garner leaps into the unknown, self-producing and incurring all the associated expenses, including space rental and paying his dancers, the metaphor isn’t lost on him. “Can I cultivate a show? In mid-June? After the faculty and students have left?” he wonders.

Though Garner is a tenured professor in the UO School of Music and Dance, he says he’s purposely chosen to establish his newly minted company away from the so-called “ivory tower” of academia. Because sometimes, you just have to take risks. “It’s important to model courage,” he says. “It requires courage to live your life and to love others.”

Garner is married and has two children in high school. But the dream of launching a contemporary dance company called to him. And the time is now.

Strings is a metaphor for community, for harmony, for the strings that connect,” Garner says. “I’m willing to take a leap. I hope it encourages you to leap as well.”

GARNERDANCES presents Strings! An Evening of Dance 8 pm Friday and Saturday, June 17-18, at Oregon Contemporary Theatre; $12, $10 students & seniors, info at octheatre.org.