Della Davidson, a UC Davis dance professor and innovative choreographer who merged body movements with narrative elements to tell multimedia stories onstage, died March 13 of complications related to breast cancer, her family said. She was 60.
A leading figure in the Bay Area dance community for many years, Ms. Davidson joined the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance in 2001. She established and served as artistic director of the Sideshow Physical Theatre, the department's resident professional company.
She used text, film, music and video to create multidisciplinary performance forms that bridged the gap between dance and theater. Working with an ensemble of dancers and actors, she specialized in "dance theater a way of telling stories in dance," said Lynette Hunter of UC Davis.
"She created dance that was incredibly fluid and quite unexpected in its movement," said Hunter, a professor of performance studies. "It was very exciting to watch."
Ms. Davidson created more than 40 works. Many of her pieces tell ironic stories about women and their position in society, including "The Ten P.M. Dream" and "Fierce/Pink/House." Others reflect on death and the fragility of human existence, including "The Desire to Return to the Safety of Day."
"Dance is so good for conveying those kinds of deeper emotional places that are within us and hard to express sometimes in words," she told The Bee in 2003.
Ms. Davidson received many funding grants and awards, including the Isadora Duncan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography by Dance Bay Area and the 1990 North American Choreography Award. In 2003, she was named a UC Davis Chancellor's Fellow and received a $25,000 award for excellence in professional achievement.
Born in 1951 in El Paso, Texas, Ms. Davidson grew up in many states as the daughter of a General Motors regional manager. A striking woman who stood more than 6 feet tall in heels, she studied ballet in elementary school but turned to modern dance after discovering that her height made it difficult to find classical dance partners.
She apprenticed as a choreographer and graduated from the University of Utah. She earned a master's degree in dance and theater from the University of Arizona and studied at the Alvin Ailey School and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.
She served as co-director of the San Francisco Moving Company with choreographer Ellen Bromberg before forming the Della Davidson Dance Company in San Francisco. She lived in Sacramento since 2001 with her husband of 25 years, Mark Reiff.
"She was really interested in themes of life and the power and conditions of women," her husband said. "She used space in such a way that you can see her works again and again and again, and there's always something new to see."