Peter G. Kalivas was first known for his explosive, athletic style of dance. Then he was known for his choreography.
But, in this economy, it might be his business model, not his dance moves, that people begin to mimic.
“We get this rehearsal space for free,” he says, picking up his bag and heading out the door of The Dance Conservancy in El Cajon.
A young-looking 46-year-old with a nose ring, Kalivas is a hustler. In exchange for the free rehearsal space for his dance company, The PGK Project, he teaches a few classes at the conservancy. And he hasn’t paid for a performance space in years. Instead, he approaches business owners and pitches a PGK Project production as a marketing tactic and opportunity to reach potential clients. He says it’s a pretty easy sell.
“It starts with me putting on a nice shirt, walking up to someone and saying, ‘Hey, can I take over your space?’” Kalivas says.
But the real difference between his company and most others in town is the sheer number of performances he’s involved with. Instead of relying on one or two big events a year—what he calls the “traditional model”—Kalivas puts on lots of smaller performances in free or more affordable venues.
“We diversify,” he explains. “Small investments here, small investments there.
“We don’t have access to big performing-art centers like that,” Kalivas continues, pointing at the dormant East County Performing Arts Center across the street. “For me, this is a way of preserving my company for the long-term. As a small nonprofit, every dollar counts.”
Like most nonprofit dance companies, The PGK Project relies to an extent on grant funding, but Kalivas says he never lets that source rise above roughly 30 percent of his overall income. He doesn’t want to be dependant on grants, and he thinks the central product of any dance company—the performance—should do the heavy lifting. Plus, on top of ticket sales, Kalivas likes to bring in a few extra bucks through his signature raffles that happen at each event.
The PGK Project has been around for almost two decades, but Kalivas really got the ball rolling in the last few years. Alongside special, one-night performances, Kalivas runs the recurring “4x4xFloor” dance event at Bluefoot Bar & Lounge plus two ongoing series, “Dance Moves in Temecula” and “San Diego Dances.”
Kalivas says “San Diego Dances,” in particular, has caused him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about dance, from the choreography to marketing.
“I started thinking, How can I bring dance to the people?” Kalivas says. “If I move the dance to where people already are, then I think I have a better chance of capturing them.”
The roving biannual dance festival kicked off in 2009 in a hair salon in Hillcrest. From there, it’s traveled to a community center in Golden Hill, a huge wine bar and shop in Mission Hills and, on March 25 and 26, it’ll move to a dance sports center in Kearny Mesa.
When you walk into a crowded salon where the only stage is a narrow strip of floor with your audience on all sides, Kalivas says, it changes the whole choreographic approach.
“I want to challenge the idea of where’s front and what’s back,” he says. “I want to get rid of all that.”
Another aim of “San Diego Dances,” and most all of Kalivas’ programming, has been to get other local professional dance companies and choreographers involved. He invites local artists to perform alongside his dance company and commissions them for their work. He says he was tired of seeing some of the city’s bigger arts-and-culture organizations— like ArtPower! at UCSD and the La Jolla Music Society, where he’s currently the scholar-in-residence—consistently relying on out-of-town companies to provide San Diego with a contemporary dance experience.
“In one way, it is attempting to serve the community, but in another way, it’s not serving the community at all,” he says.
So, Kalivas has taken on that task. He was a young, struggling choreographer once, so he knows how important it is to get paid. Now he’s the go-to presenter, especially for emerging dancers and choreographers. But it’s not a completely selfless act. He knows that each dance company or performer brings in his or her own audiences, and those audiences have started merging and growing.
“Every ‘San Diego Dances’ show has sold out,” he says.
“The festival has doubled our audience since 2009—it’s absolutely doubled our audience. And every space we’ve used has been able to show an increase in clientele because of our performance there.”
The days of a professional dancer strutting out onto the elegant, well-lit stage of a big theater and performing for people who’ve paid $40 or $50 for tickets aren’t feasible for the average dancer anymore, Kalivas says. But twirling around amid wine bottles where the audience is exposed to dance and a little product placement on the business’ behalf—that’s the future of dance, at least according to Kalivas.
“The traditional model,” he says, “I just don’t think it responds accurately to a contemporary world.”
“San Diego Dances in Kearny Mesa” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26, at Infinity Dance Sport Center (4429 Convoy St., Suite 288, in Kearny Mesa). Omo Ache’ Afro Cuban Music and Dance Company, Sabor Mexico Theatrical Dance Company and The PGK Project will perform. $20-$25.