by Joshua Taylor
They have been called “Fresno’s leading contemporary dance company” [Donald Munro, Fresno Bee] and “a beautiful, insightful group with an incredible talent for pushing beyond the norm.” [Broderic Beard, Associate Producer of Woodward Shakespeare Festival] Since 2010 they have been entrancing audiences with their unique blend of aerial and modern dance, and hot off the heels of their hugely successful Rogue show Acts of Affordable Care, the FresNO Dance COllective (often abbreviated to NOCO) has huge plans to continue rocketing through the central valley and beyond, helping expand the culture of dance through performance, education, and outreach.
It started as a dream by Artistic Director Amy Querin, a sparkplug of a performer who often refers to herself as “Amy Querin – Taco Supreme” to help others pronounce her last name, back in 2010. Since then, they have managed to find a way to sustainably pay eighteen local performers year round, something which Querin is especially proud of. Additionally, they have performed at every Rogue Festival and various other venues both in and out of the central valley. They like to use the phrase “NOCO Empire.”
The company (they call themselves “NOCOs”) consists of sixteen dancers and aerialists, four directors, and the board. The four directors (Amy Querin – Artistic Director, Terese Cardamon – Assistant Director, Zachary Garcia – Rehearsal Director, and Nicholle Debbas – Aerial Education Director) system is new to the company, but they’ve found that having a leadership of many helps to honor their name as a collective. Their most recent Rogue show had ten choreographers, and this kind of sharing of responsibility and collective creativity is at the heart of the company. Nicole Debbas states that the diversity of voices in the creation of their work is what sets them apart as a company. “[It’s] really different from what people are used to,” and “[it] keeps things interesting.”
I had the good fortune of being able to do the lighting design for NOCO’s 2015 Rogue show Acts of Affordable Care. The piece was an intense, thoughtful meditation on the concept of “care as currency.” In began with Querin in soft spotlight announcing, “We’ve always had the same assignment – we are born, we die, and in between we are given this big piece that we are allowed to take care of,” and ended with just about the entire audience tearful and enraptured.
Many called it NOCO’s best piece yet, which is high praise coming from their record of highly powerful pieces throughout the years. Last year’s Raw Meat and Dignity was called “gorgeous and moving” [Donald Munro] and “passionate and devastatingly sad” [Broderic Beard].
NOCO isn’t limited to performing at the Rogue Festival, though. Just last year they put up a new show called Summer Soirée at the Fresno Art Museum in collaboration with a Fresno Philharmonic string quartet. Summer Soirée was the winner of the People’s Choice award in the Fresno Bee’s Annual Top 20 Cultural Events list for 2014 (Raw Meat and Dignity was on the list as well.)
In fact, NOCO isn’t limited to traditional performances at all. They often make appearances at formal events and parties. Last year, they attended a gala where all guests where greeted in the foyer by an aerialist suspended in midair offering them a glass of champagne. They’re even in talks to perform an aerial routine above a private pool this summer.
In terms of what’s to come, Querin states that they’ve managed to succeed in all of their five-year plan goals, and are steadily working toward their ten-year goals, the apex of which being to host a home season. “I’ve always said that I won’t feel like I have a ‘real’ company until we can produce a successful home season by our 10th year.” No need to fear, for NOCO is well on their way. With plans to host a second Summer Soire, lead and develop Fresno’s aerial training and practices, and even host an annual dance concert, NOCO is not only a “real” company, but a hugely successful one.
Beyond the performance aspects of the company, NOCO maintains one of their goals as spreading the culture of dance through education. Every week, they offer a variety of classes at California Arts Academy including aerial, dance, and morning yoga. All of their classes are available for any level of student, beginner through advanced. They also often perform at elementary schools, trying to get kids interested in dance. Zachary Garcia states, “If we can light that fire in a child to follow their dreams, we’ve succeeded.”
Perhaps the best way to understand NOCO is through an anecdote about Amy Querin. On her lunch break, she found herself running down to California Arts Academy to obtain a hoop so that NOCO could test the feasibility of a performance request. She launched into the studio, keys and mail in hand. On her way out, breathless, she pauses for a moment to open a letter. It was a donation to NOCO from a fan. Before even seeing the donation amount, Querin found herself in tears, her heart swelling at the mere fact than someone was so touched by their work.
Not only is NOCO the most passionate and powerful modern dance company in the valley, but they’re also a group consisting entirely of some of the kindest human beings you’ll ever meet.
For more information, contact Amy Querin at amy@nocodance[dot]org or visit their website at www.nocodance.org.