Young dancers jam and pianists improv for bat mitzvah

Twelve-year-old Doria Charlson is the first to acknowledge the many joys dancing has given her. Now the plucky seventh-grader and budding Twyla Tharp plans to return the favor.

To fulfill a community service requirement for her upcoming bat mitzvah, Charlson organized a performance to benefit her dance school, ODC/SF Dance Company.

She’ll also perform with her company, Dance Jam, along with a host of other talented teens, including two ballerinas, one classical and two jazz musicians, and a girls chorus.

Calling it “Young Artists in the Garden,” the event takes place Sunday afternoon at the San Mateo Garden Center. But people should buy tickets early — with seats going fast, it looks like Charlson has a hit on her hands.

“When you’re an adult, you give back,” she says, “and that’s a big part of being in the Jewish community, too.”

Charlson has been dancing with ODC for four years, moving through the ranks, and ultimately invited to join Dance Jam, ODC’s professional teen company. She also studied at the Alvin Ailey studio in New York.

As a bat mitzvah student at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, Charlson is required to perform 18 hours of community service. Aiding ODC was the logical choice. “I wanted to do something I really cared about,” she says. “We talked about ways of raising money for ODC. I realized I had talented friends, so I thought I’d ask if they’d do a concert.”

Charlson wrote a proposal for Rabbi Alan Berg, who was impressed. So was her longtime ODC dance teacher, Kimi Okada.

“I thought, ‘What a great thing,'” says Okada, recalling the day Charlson approached her with the idea. “I was touched that she would want to do that. Like every arts organization, we’re struggling..”

Okada choreographed “It’s a Living,” one of two dance pieces to be performed by Charlson and Dance Jam. The other is “three six zero,” choreographed by Bliss Kohlmyer.

Also on the line-up: the Peninsula Girls Chorus, ballerinas Lindsey Lowrie and Janice Hu; pianist Larisa Klebe; and pianist Sarah Schoenbrun and violinist Zachary Regent, who will perform a jazz improv duet.

“I know all the kids,” says Charlson. “But I had to write letters asking them if they wanted to do it. We got a professional stage manager, and I designed the invitations.”

Charlson’s committment to dance (she commutes San Francisco twice a week for 90-minute rehearsals), prepared her for the discipline required to mount a show.

“Doria is generous,” says Okada. “She understands what it takes to be a dancer, and she’s quite dedicated.”

The experience of producing a show — with a little help from her family — seems to have matured her, just in time for the bat mitzvah-to-be.

“I haven’t been to bat mitzvah classes yet,” she says, “but this brings me in to being an adult.”

“Young Artists in the Garden” begins 4 p.m. Sunday at the San Mateo Garden Center, 605 Parkside Way, San Mateo. Tickets $50. Information: (650) 349-5239.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.