More than 100 dancers from all over the map applied to perform in this weekend’s Breaking Ground festival in Tempe. Fewer than one fifth of them made the cut for the production, a project of Carley Conder, head of accomplished local troupe CONDER/dance and part of the family behind longtime East Valley studio Jeanne’s School of Dance. Here, Conder gives GetOut readers an inside take on the show and her locally famous grandmother.

Q: What is Breaking Ground?

CC: It’s a dance festival that focuses on contemporary choreographers and dance filmmakers. We are bringing in artists from all over the country who perform live, and we have two films each night that are interspersed with the live performances. All the pieces are no more than 13 minutes, so that the audience can get a wide variety of styles.

Q: If I love TV shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ is this something I’m going to be able to get into?

CC: What we have in common with those shows is that it’s very highly physical — you’re going to respect the physicality and athleticism of what these dancers are doing. We’re less commercial, obviously; we’re more on the artistic side. But even someone who isn’t trained in the art form has a body and can relate to the physical mastery it takes to do what the dancers are doing.

Q: What are some high points of the show you’re excited to see?

CC: The things we’ve chosen are accessible to an audience that isn’t from New York City or hasn’t grown up around dance.

One choreographer, Chad Michael Hall, was a pretty well-known dancer with Diavolo in Los Angeles. He’s started his own dance company, and this will be one of its first performances. It incorporates film and theatrical devices, where we’re having to drag dancers off stage secretly and curtains are being flown in and out — it’s keeping our crew on its toes.

There’s another young choreographer, Jenny Gerena, an Arizona local, who has such a special talent. She’s premiering a solo which I feel is really unique in its maturity and innovation. It’s neat to see her come full circle and make her own mark alongside the established dancers.

Q: The name ‘Breaking Ground’ isn’t just lip service, is it?

CC: We’re really focused on breaking ground — on looking for people who are pushing boundaries within the field. We want to bring the most current dance-making ideas to the Valley. And to do that, it’s a really competitive application process. We got more than 100 applicants this year, and we picked only 17. As a panel, we kept coming back to that question: Is this breaking ground? Is it showing something new?

Q: Readers may not realize you’re part of an East Valley dance legacy. Tell us about your grandmother.

CC: My grandmother was Jeanne Wright. She passed away about (three months) ago. She owned dance studios in Mesa, East Mesa and Chandler up to the day she died — Jeanne’s School of Dance.

My company, CONDER/dance, was founded at the Mesa location and rehearsed there weekly for the last 10 years. The studio space was generously donated by my grandmother in order to support me as a dance artist and granddaughter. Jeanne Wright also has the dance studio at Mesa Arts Center named after her.

She was very dynamic, such a leader in the community. She was a great example to me to follow your dreams, keep an eye out for opportunities and go after them.

She was such a generous person, and she had a full life. I can’t imagine she had any regrets.

If you go

What: Breaking Ground 2014, CONDER/dance’s annual festival of nearly 20 live dance performances and dance films created by artists from around the world and Arizona

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, and Saturday, Jan. 25

Where: Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway

Cost: $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Discounts available for seniors, students and orders of more than three tickets.

Information: (480) 570-3263 or

Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or

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