Once upon a time in Moorpark, there was a little girl who loved to dance. Her mother was a professional dancer and teacher, so the girl watched and learned by her side. She dreamed of joining a dance company and traveling to faraway places. One day, this girl followed her dancing dream to the bright lights of stages all around the world. That girl was Rebecca Rasmussen, and now she is coming home as a member of MOMIX dance-illusionist troop to perform the highly acclaimed Opus Cactus at the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks on Friday, Nov. 17.
Rasmussen’s journey began in local studios and schools, from her mother Julia Felker’s studio and Pam Rossi’s Dance 10 to Moorpark High School. She went to Moorpark College and studied ballet, classic jazz and ballroom under teachers who included Dennon and Sayhber Rawles. Rasmussen credits Denise Gibson, one of her Moorpark mentors, with teaching her “what it means to be a great student, dancer and professional. She pushed me to find improvisation, acting and theatrics in my dancing.”
“I danced my heart out at Moorpark College, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Rasmussen recalls, “I loved it. It was a beautiful space to perform in and I had amazing teachers. It was a very special time.”
From Moorpark College, Rasmussen went to the Boston Conservatory to earn her bachelor of fine arts in dance. When she graduated, a friend said she should audition for MOMIX. “What? They’re from another planet,” Rasmussen remembers saying. She had seen MOMIX perform when she was in high school and had never experienced anything like them before. “They were so unique,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow! How do they do it? They’re not human.’ ” But she auditioned anyway. “I wasn’t very confident, but I got in! I was so happy. It was weird going from thinking, ‘this is superhuman’ to doing it.”
That was in 2006 and Rasmussen has been dancing with MOMIX ever since. “I fit in MOMIX,” she says. The company, founded by Moses Pendleton, is based in Washington, Connecticut. “We rehearse in an old barn,” says Rasmussen. “We take off the barn doors and dance in the woods.”
A unique troop, MOMIX is very improvisational. “The dancers create the movement,” says Rasmussen, “but Moses is still the magician behind the pieces. He will come with props and music, then ask us to improvise. He’ll pick [the moves] he likes and play with partnerships.” She adds that it’s not unusual for Pendleton to bring in something unconventional for the dancers to experiment with. “What, we’re dancing with paper?” Rasmussen recalls with a laugh. And yet, on stage, with the addition of lights, music, costumes and staging, it all makes sense.
MOMIX is billed as a dance-illusionist company because, as Rasmussen explains, “We create other worlds.” Sometimes it’s a make-believe place. Sometimes it’s a familiar landscape that takes on unexpected beauty and mystery. For the performance in Thousand Oaks, MOMIX will be bringing the American Southwest to life in Opus Cactus. The New York Times called the work “a sprawling, luscious fantasy . . . a feast for the eyes.” Set to music ranging from Bach to New Age, Opus Cactus features 10 incredible dancer-athletes who combine the strength and power of athletes with the softness and grace of dancers. In Opus Cactus, the troupe performs visually stunning, seemingly impossible feats, using props, including a low-flying trapeze, vaulting poles and larger-than-life puppets. During rehearsals of Opus Cactus, Rasmussen recalls a new member of the troop saying, “Oh my God, it’s so hard!” In the end, they make it look effortless.
At the end of the year, Rasmussen will be transitioning to dancing parttime with MOMIX. Her dancing dream is expanding in new ways. “My next venture is to mentor kids,” she says. She has created www.dancinbecka.com, which includes an online mentorship program. Her advice to young dancers? “Experiment and see as much dance as possible. If you want it, make it happen! No matter what. Go for it!” Happily ever after is up to you.
MOMIX performs on Friday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets and more information, call 449-2787 or visit www.civicartsplaza.com.