Spring Arts Preview 2002: San Diego Dance Theater’s new frontman Terry Wilson loves a challenge

Always upbeat, Terry Wilson’s positive playlist is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

And those who tell her what she can’t get over are met with her positive attitude.

“I like a challenge,” says Wilson, who became artistic director of San Diego Dance Theater a year ago.

“People from my dance career told me that I would never have a full-time job, that I would never be a professional dancer. I don’t like being told that. There’s a rebel inside of me that’s like, ‘Oh, yeah? Look at this.'”

The San Diego Dance Theater is a mainstay in the contemporary dance community, best known for Trolley Dances, an annual production created by former artistic director Jean Isaacs.

The nonprofit celebrates its 50th anniversary with a concert today at its Liberty Station headquarters – but it nearly missed the half-century milestone.

Before Wilson became artistic director, she was a former company dancer, then served as a board member from 2016 to 2020.

“I became Jean’s associate director because of some unfortunate things that happened with his health,” Wilson explains. “I wanted to support the legacy of San Diego Dance Theater and my devotion to Jean led me to a natural transition to the position of Artistic Director.”

But when Wilson accepted the leadership role, the company was in jeopardy. The widespread impact of the pandemic has nearly crushed dance schools and performance companies, as well as any sports or fitness organization that has engaged in physical contact.

“There was a lot of panic,” Wilson recalled. “There was no money coming in, and the only way to pay the rent was to write grants.”

Wilson investigated COVID relief funding, but assistance such as the US Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program was better designed to support large indoor concert venues.

“They are very different from artistic scholarships. We had to ask a financial person to send the documents that showed the dramatic changes in our budget.

Pending acceptance of the grant, which was eventually awarded, operating expenses remained the same for months.

“It was a state of desperation,” Wilson recalls.

Terry Wilson is the new Artistic Director of San Diego Dance Theater.

(Devin Blaskovich/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

“We have lost our general manager. We couldn’t support his salary or our rent. Our advice has backfired. John has retired. It was a revolving door, and the people who had to leave were one of the biggest challenges. We had a daily conversation because we didn’t know who would do what.

Wilson took on tasks that usually fell to others, including cleaning the floors and windows of the Light Box Theater.

“I’m cut from the fabric that you do what you have to do to make something happen, instead of thinking, ‘I’m the art director and I want to make art,'” she says.

“No job is too small for me and I think it’s working for now.”

Wilson was a little girl who couldn’t sit still when her family moved from Canada to Michigan.

Saturday dance classes in a church basement directed her energies and exposed her to tap dancing, jazz ballet and tumbling.

When Wilson moved to California, she attended Palomar College and took every dance class available.

Isaacs offered him a scholarship and in the 1980s Wilson began dancing professionally for Isaacs, McCaleb & Dancers, which Isaacs co-directed, while earning a psychology degree from San Diego State University. .

In the 1990s, Wilson returned to Michigan to pursue a master’s degree in dance from the University of Michigan on a full scholarship. While in graduate school, she attended a modern dance lecture given by choreographer Twyla Tharp, who asked, “Does it really matter to us if people understand? If you want to run a dance company, you’ll have to understand that.

“It hit me,” Wilson says.

Liberty Station's Dorothea Laub Music & Arts Center is home to the San Diego Dance Theater.

Liberty Station’s Dorothea Laub Music & Arts Center is home to the San Diego Dance Theater.

(Devin Blaskovich/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

“As an artistic director, you get to choreograph, but you also have to think about the audience experience. We care deeply about what we do and hope our art touches the hearts of our customers. What sticks with my audience is important to me.

In addition to directing the San Diego Dance Theater, Wilson is a dance teacher and co-chair of visual and performing arts at San Diego City College. She says her experience at City College has shaped her to be a leader, and she’s especially proud that a number of her students have transitioned from the classroom into a career in dance. She also teaches introductory dance at the University of California, San Diego, which she describes as a history class.

History is important to Wilson – she spent years researching the beginnings of modern dance in San Diego.

Learning about those who made San Diego Dance Theater successful inspired the theme for SDDT’s 50th anniversary concert titled “Belonging: A Place For All.”

The production pays homage to programming from the past as well as new works.

It’s a show that reflects Wilson’s many considerations.

“Things can’t be too long. There should be a hint of comedy somewhere and it needs depth, a moment that takes you deep into your own experience with whatever is presented on stage. You have to think about how things go, one dance into the next. You want to take your audience on a journey of emotion, joy and passion for dance. »

The repertoire includes “Rhapsody in Blue,” originally directed by Isaacs and performed by past and present dancers from the company. There will also be works by Wilson, co-founder George Willis, Katie Stevinson-Nollet and last year’s Young Choreographer’s Showcase winner Odessa Uno.

“The early art directors wanted the same thing in San Diego that I want now in 2022,” Wilson says.

“I want people to know there’s a place to dance here and there’s a place for everyone.

The community itself is rich and valuable and that is something close to my heart. It’s so simple. I like to dance. And that brings me to where I am now.

San Diego Dance Theater presents “Belonging: A Place for All”

When: 2h30 today

Or: Light Box Theater, 2590 Truxton Road, ARTS District, Liberty Station

Tickets: $15 to $30 plus shipping

In line: sandiegodancetheatre.org

A VIP reception from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Hideaway Terrace of the Monsaraz Hotel includes a special drink, appetizers, valet parking and reserved seating. $125 per person.

Luttrell is a freelance writer.

Colleen D. Ervin