Julia Adam Dance
Julia Adam Dance at Tara Firma Farms | Credit: Nathan Carlson

We are all attempting to wrestle with the ubiquitous invasion of AI. Its use in many art forms, from writing to filmmaking to musical composition in many genres, is a bit alarming. Now, one Bay Area choreographer has become even more committed to engaging with the natural world instead of being enthralled by technology’s tricks.

Julia Adam, a former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, started making work for that company eight years before her retirement in 2002. She went on to have a successful career creating dance works across the country for such troupes as Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Memphis.

“My initial desire to move out of the constraints of the opera house, the challenges of audience engagement, and the sterile environment of the urban setting is now more prevalent,” explained Adam. Eleven years ago, she founded her eponymous company, Julia Adam Dance, as a means for audiences to experience dance in a profoundly different way.

Tara Firma Farms
A family-style dinner precedes Julia Adam Dance’s performance at Tara Firma Farms | Credit: Nathan Carlson

Adam and her husband Aaron Lucich formed an artistic partnership to update a social ritual of decades ago: dancing and dining under the stars. They were seeking a format that combined their interests. Lucich, a producer, farmer, rancher, and agricultural activist, said, “Much of what has influenced our path — the food, the agriculture, the environmentalism — [has been] driven by my intolerance with what we have been willing to accept as normal.”

Adam offered, “Walking through the world on cement with screens in our hands, losing our connection to the earth and each other, confirms that what we do is needed now more than ever.”

This summer, Julia Adam Dance will perform VISCERĀLIS — a fusion of dance, music, food, and community — for the company’s 11th season. The performances, July 12–21, are at Tara Firma Farms at the southern edge of Petaluma.

The choreographer felt compelled to explore her feelings after seeing a multimedia performance that was marketed as being totally immersive. “All this AI,” Adam responded, “this excitement about virtual reality and all this stuff. I just asked myself, ‘My work is the antithesis of this, right?’ It’s completely a visceral experience, and you don’t want to be immersed in virtual reality but in reality, like that in nature. Feel the cold, see the art, eat off the land — that is this whole immersive thing that we do. So the extension of this dance to let you feel, and not think, is what I’m trying to do.

“When you come [to VISCERĀLIS], you are obviously sitting on a hill. You’re not even on concrete. You’re on a chair that was built by somebody, but you’re on the earth. You’ve got the wind and the dust. The food is absolutely made from the cows that graze the venue to cut grasses. Anything that’s grown here that we can use, we use. Also from the farms surrounding us. It’s all local, so you really are eating off the land that’s right here.”

Tara Firma Farms
Julia Adam Dance at Tara Firma Farms | Credit: Nathan Carlson

This unusual experience begins with a multicourse dinner served family style on enormous wooden tables. One pleasure is sitting with people you’ve never met before and discovering that the sweeping views make everyone relax into a communal frame of mind. The food, prepared by a team of chefs working in an outdoor kitchen, is not only delicious but healthy as well. There are a variety of wines, beers, and nonalcoholic brews to imbibe.

After dining, the audience can grab cups of hot chocolate or bone broth to sip during the performance on an open-air stage. Adam’s cast of six dancers are world class, with four being members of Houston Ballet. Her choreography for her own company bears little resemblance to what she performed as a classical dancer in works by Marius Petipa or George Balanchine (or even in more contemporary works by Mark Morris).

Adam reflected, “It’s always hard as an artist. You can’t know ahead of time whether you’re going to be successful. That’s the gamble. You just keep doing it and doing it and hoping that someone will understand what you’re trying to do. It’s funny because sometimes I step outside of myself to observe myself choreographing. I’m at a point where I’m not going to fight the way that I make art. I’m letting myself, especially in this one, give myself permission to just feel it rather than judge it.”