Even on the stillest of days, a garden is alive with movement. And an event coming to Sherman Library & Gardens on Oct. 16 aims to explore and celebrate the abundant liveliness of nature through the medium of dance.
For one day only, the Corona del Mar botanical garden presents “Garden Flow,” an immersive experience in which audiences can watch contemporary dancers perform moves created exclusively for Sherman Gardens and inspired by its flora.
Artists from Orange County dance company Backhausdance will assemble in the Central Garden and then split up into small groups that will meander throughout the property. Guests will then choose a group to follow and are free to change course throughout the evening, participating in a promenade performance.
The event sprung from conversations between Jenny Backhaus, founder of the dance company, and Sherman Gardens Education Director Catherine Dickinson, who collaborated to bring an outdoor performance to the property.
“There’s going to be vignettes in many locations in the garden,” Backhaus explained. “It’s a choose your own adventure — where do you want to walk? Dancers draw your attention almost like you’re in a secret garden.”
Because the garden, its layout and the plant species therein are crucial to the movements and attitudes the dancers adopt as they move about the space, performers engaged in a monthlong residence that included weekly trips to the gardens.
Dickinson said she and others were eager to host the dancers and see how they became inspired by their surroundings.
“It’s always interesting to bring creative people into the garden,” she said. “They see it in a different way and then I start to see it differently. It’s about bringing in a different perspective.”
During a rehearsal Thursday, dancers in groups of two and three dispersed throughout sections of the garden to practice movements together and discuss which elements of a dance would be rehearsed and where improvisations might be made.
“After you break apart, how are you?” Backhausdance associate artistic director Amanda White coached a couple in the Shade Garden. “Is it tentative? Are you electrified and connected to each other? Or is there a little more push and pull? How much tension do you want to put into that?”
Dancer Samuel DeAngelo explained each performer has a space where he or she curates movements, setting the tone for others who will follow their lead while in that area. Dancers also practice how to navigate tight areas, low-hanging plants and clusters of audience members.
“This entire space is filled with gorgeous, beautiful plants,” said DeAngelo. “But they are also structured in an otherworldly fantastical kind of way. There’s a lot of room and space to play with those different ideas.”
Scott LaFleur, executive director of Sherman Library & Gardens, said Thursday “Garden Flow” is part of a coordinated effort to bring more visual and performing arts into the garden space.
“The three pillars of our organization are history, horticulture and the arts,” he said. “This is an important piece of our rapidly expanding arts programming.”
While plans have been in the works since May, a recently established $20,000 arts grant created by Orange County District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley, and won by Sherman Gardens, allowed organizers to incorporate lighting and sound into the evening and to reduce ticket prices to further expand access.
“The grant definitely helped us do more,” LaFleur said.
Dancers have prepared two separate performances for the day of the show — a free afternoon performance for guests of the gardens, made possible by the grant, and a ticketed evening performance that begins at 5:30 p.m. with a preshow reception at on-site restaurant Cultivar.
Tickets cost $40 for members and $50 for nonmembers. VIP tickets, which include the preshow reception and a postshow dinner at Cultivar with a performer meet-and-greet, cost $150 for members and $200 for nonmembers.
Sherman Library & Gardens is located at 2647 E. Coast Highway, in Corona del Mar. Visit thesherman.org or call (949) 673-2261 for more information.