Thirteen years ago, Rina Perri was on tour in Edinburgh, Scotland, with Los Angeles-based Diavolo dance company. Like the rest of her colleagues, she was performing highly physical, acrobatic movement, seven days a week. Dancing with Diavolo was a dream come true for Perri, but her body was in constant pain. Her back and neck ached, and she suffered increasingly immobilizing migraines. At the end of that summer’s tour, Perri and a friend set off to explore the Scottish Highlands. They had gotten no further than Fort William when 26-year-old Perri suffered a massive stroke.
“I wasn’t supposed to make it,” she told me last week over a latte at Coffee Cat, lowering her voice slightly. “It turned out the pain had been coming from blood that was pooling in my head. When I had the stroke, they discovered nine blood clots in the veins at the base of my brain.” It turned out Perri had Antithrombin III deficiency, a rare genetic disorder in which the blood can become unusually prone to clotting. Dancing hard had little to do with it, although dehydration had exacerbated the condition. “So when I woke up from the coma,” she continued, “I had paralysis on my right side. I couldn’t speak. I had brain damage. And when I could finally travel to get back to the U.S., the neurologists told me that I’d wind up in a wheelchair and that I needed to find another career.”
Today, Rina van de Kamp lives with her husband Mark in the Santa Ynez Valley, where she runs a successful Pilates studio as well as her own dance company, Daughter of Zion. Last weekend, she performed a solo at Center Stage Theater, and this weekend she presents an evening-length program at her own studio theater. It’s a different life from the one she was told she would live. “I had to choose not to be in a wheelchair,” van de Kamp told me. “At first, I was nonfunctional. I couldn’t take care of myself. I slept 20 hours a day. My communication was really impaired-I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t figure out how to express it. This was supposed to be the sweet spot of my career: age 24-32. Instead, it was my recovery. So I was very quiet for a few years. I got pissed off, depressed. For a while I looked at it like I was stuck, and then I just said, ‘No. I’m not going there.'”
Less than a year after the stroke, she sat down and wrote out a list of everything she wanted. “I wrote that I wanted my own company,” she said, “dancers, a lighting designer, and my own black box theater.” One of her first moves was to call Julie McLeod, director of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance and also a dance instructor. “I told her, ‘I don’t know what I’ll be able to do-I’ve had a stroke,'” van de Kamp recalled, “and she said, ‘I don’t care-get down to the studio.'”
That was 1996. Six years later, van de Kamp found herself on stage at the Lobero Theatre performing alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov. The same year, she founded Daughter of Zion, a dance company that has since developed to incorporate what she calls “low-flying aerial work.” “I’d been interested in aerial and circus work since 1988, but I didn’t know anyone who did it,” van de Kamp explained. “But creative ideas aren’t ‘one only’; they always happen in a cluster. I knew someone else must be doing it, so I went online and did some research.” She discovered choreographer Terry Sendgraff, the creator of the low-flying trapeze, and went to San Francisco to take Sendgraff’s workshop, which involved working with ropes, bungee cords, harnesses, trapezes, hoops, and silks. Fueled with inspiration and new techniques, van de Kamp returned to the Santa Ynez Valley and soon struck up an artistic collaboration with friends E. Bonnie Lewis and Ken Gilbert, codirectors of DramaDogs theater company and creative partners in Daughter of Zion since 2004. Two years ago, van de Kamp finally secured her own Santa Ynez warehouse space and has transformed it into a black box theater. In 2007, Daughter of Zion toured to Guatemala and to Greece, where they will return this year.
This weekend’s show, The Time in Between, incorporates choreography by van de Kamp and Lewis, with creative input from all of the performers. “We truly work collaboratively,” van de Kamp said. “Very few people know how to do this. We totally respect one another; we trust one another and each other’s artistic vision.” The title of the show was taken from the idea that the brain takes time to form memories of events, but it could as easily refer to the period of recovery after a set-back. Standing as she does at the other end of recovery, van de Kamp is triumphant about what she has achieved. “It took 11 years for that list to come together, but I’ve got everything I said I wanted,” she said. As for the work itself, “We’re not creating from something that’s already been done,” she said. “It’s really new, inventive theater.”
Daughter of Zion presents The Time in Between at Studio DoZ (3630 Sagunto St. Suite G, Santa Ynez) on Friday, January 18, and Saturday, January 19, at 8 p.m. For more information, call 698-9188 or visit daughterofzion.net.