If there’s one thing that the pandemic has offered artists, it’s time, space, and thoughtful meditation to retrieve what was once lost within themselves and their practice. This was evident in Odeya Nini’s work A Solo Voice produced by Performance Practice for their LAX Festival at Mission Street Studios. Performance Practice has always spotlighted artists who honor the longevity of featured length works, and the gentle re-connection with contemporary performance. Their first night, November 8th, of LAX Festival did not disappoint.
Odeya Nini gave us a quiet entrance from stage right, in dim blue light by Chu-Hsuan Chang, with a burnt coral sleeveless one piece that hung loose on her body. Before movement began, she gave us carefully carved breath as sound, accompanied by gentle rolling arm movements. The audience instantly relaxed, settled into their seats, and uncrossed their arms. Nini seemed to unite as all with one commonality we have in all our differences; the dance of lungs contracting. Eventually, after quite some time, Nini introduced a wooden flute vocal sound one could easily mistake for an actual wooden flute somewhere offstage. Her movement became wider, and deeper as she stepped toward the audience making eye contact, and then back again. She began using her arms, fingers, and upper body both on a longitude scale and latitude scale as we followed the physicality of her textured harmony in real time. Her vocal composition was familiar and traditional, and yet somehow otherworldly. Even though we’ve heard voice and movement together before, her combination was fresh, inviting, malleable, and pure.
The unexpected occurred when Odeya Nini stopped sound and movement all together and laid completely parallel on the concrete floor. She began to put breath in specific parts of her body through inhale and exhale. First the chest, then the stomach, and down through the abdomen. This rolling through the body created a movement series so small and so subtle, that its impact began to grow. With such a quiet atmosphere, the aura of gentle breath work was louder than any instrument.
Nini eventually did bring on a harmonium, which she placed center stage, as she crouched behind it. She released meditation tones one would hear in a yoga chant or sound bath. The addition of something other than her own voice and movement, provoked and soothed what lingered in the air prior. The audience sat in a world of only Odeya Nini for so long, that any other instrument seemed jarring, even the dreamy sounds of a harmonium. She kept her audience fixated on her slow hand movements as she moved the accordion block in and out, and back and forth; a direct reflection of her breath work only moments before. As the harmonium played out, another musician Archie Carey, sat stage left with a bassoon. While Nini’s harmonium faded out, we were left with the looping sonorous sounds of the stately bassoon.
Gathering a long fishing line of white yarn, Nini handed one end of the yarn to a member of the audience and began to unravel the ball as she stepped backwards towards another viewer on the opposite end. She then looped the yarn around the 2nd audience member’s finger and began her trek of web weaving through the entire crowd. Slowly ducking, squatting, and stepping over persons so each member had a part of the string to hold. While we all felt connected to her, we were now connected to each other. With so little connection to other people this past year, the yarn symbolized a kinship. Nini reminded us that we only need to unravel what we keep so tightly wound in order to bring together our shared experiences.
By the end, nobody was without a piece of the yarn to hold. Sitting, holding, and waiting for Nini to reach everyone, she made her way back to center stage as the bassoon faded out. The stage went completely dark, and we were all left in an abandoned darkness of nothingness. No music, no voice, no movement, just simple stillness over the course of several minutes. Any other sound glitch, such as a voice outside, or a cough from the corner, became a part of the sound of silence. And it was beautiful there.
To learn more about the Performance Practice LAX Festival, please visit their website.
Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Odeya Nini in A Solo Voice – Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Performance Practice