General Info > News Releases > Archived Releases 2007-08 > 2007-10-25: Best Friends celebrate 20 years together

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, October 18, 2007

1000 Hensley Creek Road, Ukiah, CA 95482

Contact: Ross Beck, Director of Public Information & Marketing, 707-468-3012,

Photo Caption: Veteran Co-Directors of Mendocino College Repertory Dance Company’s November production, “Roaring Twenty: 20 years on the move!” Leslie Saxon West and Susan Era perform using a trampoline.

Best Friends celebrate 20 years together

by Carole Hester

Celebrating the art of dance in performance, education and training, the Mendocino College Repertory Dance Company is presenting a look at the past 20 years and forward to future dance programs.

The show is the brainchild of co-directors Leslie Saxon West and Susan EraLeslie Saxon West and Susan Era.

Saxon West said, “Susan and I have been together since the beginning. She is one of my best friends and my right and left arm!”

The powerful duo has collaborated on many successful events through the years. “Behind the Masks” was a multi-faceted project that involved many community members and organizations. This project was inspired and developed by Saxon West while on sabbatical.

After spending a year researching Native American masked dances of the Northwest Coast of British Columbia, Saxon West returned to Ukiah to choreograph, “Journey into the Mist,” a tribute to the arts of the Northwest Coast Native peoples. As part of this collaboration, David Boxley, a Tsimshian artist, came to Ukiah and performed many traditional masked dances. The Grace Hudson Museum participated by exhibiting historical artifacts from this area. Mendocino College Art Gallery exhibited contemporary Northwest Coast Native art.

Also good examples of collaborative events with these two talented women and the community surrounding the college were Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS.”

The two have put together several children’s shows which they call, “Symphony of Movement,” which included, along with Ukiah Symphony Orchestra, “Peter and the Wolf” and “Carnival of the Animals.”

Saxon West first founded the Mendocino College Repertory Dance Company in 1987. However, she and Era met in 1980.

“Susan signed up for a dance class I was teaching at the time and we immediately became friends,” explained Saxon West.

“She had moved here from the Bay Area, where she studied the dance of Modern Dance pioneer, Isadora Duncan. Susan took my dance classes, which were far from Duncan technique, and she introduced me to the vocabulary of Duncan dance, which was an inspiring time in my dance career. At that time I was also teaching in Lake County and had founded the Lake County Spring Dance Festival. Susan taught me several Duncan dances, which we were going to perform together in the Festival. One of them was the Partner Waltz. Several days before the performance, Susan fell and sprained her ankle, so I performed Duncan’s Partner Waltz by myself!

“Susan has a special talent for choreographing musical theatre, knowledgeable of how to work with all kinds of people with varying experience and skill levels.”

The two have collaborated on several important Mendocino College Repertory Dance Co. productions. Last year they worked on Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” together.

Susan Era reflected on her many years associated with Saxon West.
“I have been thinking a lot lately about how many years ago when I first came to Ukiah with three small children and did not know anyone, it was Leslie who encouraged me to share my Isadora Duncan Dance experience with her and other women…and that is how it all got started.

“I had been teaching children's dance with SPACE, and loved working with Laurel and those beautiful children, but Leslie's encouragement opened new doors for me to share my love of dance with other adults. I not only performed Duncan favorites with Leslie in Lake and Mendocino Counties but also took classes in modern, ballet and tap through the college for many years.

“During this time I was raising a family of four fabulous children and working full time at Social Services. People would always say to me, and still do, ‘how do you do it Susan’ Well, first I must always say, because I have such a supportive husband! Then I explain that expressing one’s art form is a way to share with my family, friends and community what is really important to me. For me, dance is an expression of who I am; my thoughts, feelings and values. Working on creating dance with Leslie and my fellow dancers is a joy and truly a blessing in my life!”

Both women are grateful for their families, “especially our husbands – Alan West and Frank McGarvey. Anyone who has been involved with the performing arts knows the amount of time that it takes away from our family. Alan has not only been supportive at home but has worked on our technical crews many times throughout the years. I could not have done it without him,” explained Saxon West.

The two are co-teaching a new class at the college next semester, called “Women Dancing: Dance for Joy.” According to Saxon West, it is a dance class for women who are in middle and late life who want to move in a relaxing, joyful environment.

Saxon West is Chair of Mendocino College Dance Department where she has taught the last 25 years. Era is Deputy Director of Adult and Aging Services for Mendocino County.

“Roaring Twenty: 20 Years on the Move” is the 20th anniversary of this company and performances are Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at Mendocino College Center Theatre, 1000 Hensley Creek Road, Ukiah. Tickets are available in Ukiah at the college bookstore and Mendocino Book Company; in Willits at Leaves of Grass, or call (707) 468-3079. General tickets are $12 and $10 for seniors, ASB cardholders and children 12 and under.

This diverse group of dancers hails from Lake and Mendocino Counties.

In the past 20 years the dance company has built a repertoire of dances and dance events, the strongest and most memorable of which will be highlighted in this years show. One notable dance is, “Cocoon,” choreographed by Willits dancer and instructor, Jenna Byrne.

"’Cocoon’ is a stunning dance done with six women dancing among long pieces of silk that hang from above. It is certainly one of our most visually memorable pieces and we are looking forward to it gracing our stage one more time," said Saxon West.

Tickets will also be available at the door. For more information, call (707) 468-3079.

Created: October 25, 2007 @ 03:34 PM
Last Modified: October 25, 2007 @ 03:38 PM


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