Detroit-born choreographer Leyya Tawil could hear music in just about anything: footsteps echoing on a stairwell; a cello bowed to sound like a foghorn; chimes clacking over an omnipresent drumbeat. She mounted her first public performance at age six by re-choreographing the video to Madonna's "Dress You Up." "Me and my neighbors performed it on her driveway for all the people on the block," said Tawil, adding that they tried to lend an air of authenticity by dressing up as much like Madonna as possible: lace, bangles, bared midriffs, tawdry accessories. "We were six, so we did what we could," she said.
It was an improbable start to an auspicious career. Tawil resettled in the Bay Area eleven years ago and formed her own company, Dance Elixir, in 2003. She currently works with the electronic composer Topher Keyes, who develops a sound palette for each of her pieces — usually from the moment of their inception. But this Saturday she'll appear at the third annual Oakland Arts Clash in an altered format, accompanied by local horn ensemble Damon & the Heathens. Tawil will combine solo material from her repertoire with new improvisations, depending on how the music affects her (the Heathens play a coarse, garage-band form of funk with deceptively simple arrangements, modeled after Iggy Pop and the best ska bands of the '90s). It's only one in a series of mixed marriages that will comprise the Arts Clash, which, in the two years since its genesis, has gotten ever more adventurous with its lineup.
Launched in 2006, Oakland Arts Clash is the brainchild of Dylan McMillan, founder and director of the arts collective Electric Vandals. Now a wizard behind-the-scenes at many productions (including the recent Sins Invalid at Brava Theater), McMillan has been involved in Oakland's art scene since the '80s. In previous lives he was a breakdancer, graffiti writer, and DJ for two well-established multi-genre outfits (the rock band Fungo Mungo and hip-hop group Universal Joints) — a scattered career path that led him to become technical director for Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. He started the Arts Clash as a way of integrating the many scenes that manage to coexist in Oakland; by now it's something of an institution. This year's Clash, held, as always, at Malonga Casquelourd (1428 Alice St., Oakland), will feature Axis Dance Company, breakdance duo Shawnee and Poetic, Antoine Hunter's Urban Jazz Dance Company, Hawaiian performing arts group Halau O Keikiali'l, rapper Dub Esquire, installations by Teilor Good, singer-songwriter Hyim, aerial dance with Karl Gillic, modern African dance by Dimensions Extensions, DJ Isaac Owen Money, and as promised, Leyya Tawil with Damon & the Heathens. Press materials advise that this year's show will have a twist: several performances will happen simultaneously, by merging two seemingly-unrelated groups. Tawil let us in on one such combination; the others, apparently, are top secret. Saturday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. $15. ElectricVandals.com
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