Saturday, April 13, 2019 was the second night of performances for the 7th Annual Los Angeles Dance Festival, co-produced by Brockus Project and The Luckman Theatre at California State University, Los Angeles. Deborah Brockus has long been one of this city’s most active supporters of dance and the producer of several dance festivals. It was wonderful to see that her hard work over the years has now paid off with the festival being presented is such as beautiful theater as the Luckman. Designed by the Luckman Partnership, Inc., the Luckman Theater seats approximately 1,500, and although the theater was not full, there was a very sizable audience in attendance, which should prove to the larger venues in LA that there is an audience for dance.

Deborah Brockus receiving award from the City of Los Angeles – Photo by Cheryl Mann

The Luckman portion of the month-long festival featured 20 LA based dance companies in three completely different programs. Each evening offering a pre-show performance by local non-professional group, the San Pedro Ballet, and students from the Dance Departments of Chapman University and California State University, Long Beach. Also featured were the exquisite works by Los Angeles based visual artists Gilberto Godoy, Denise Leitner, Cheryl Mann, Joelle Martinec, Marie Elena Martingano, and Taos Papadakis.

The pre-show performance was by students from the Chapman University Dance Department and 7 Los Angeles based companies (in alphabetical order) Arrogant Elbow/Sarah Elgart, Backhausdance, BrockusRED, HD Theater, Invertigo Dance Theatre, Kybele Dance Theatre, ROSANNA GAMSON /WORLD WIDE. As with all shared programs, the works varied in dance styles, content, and level of artistic talents. The concert was, however, a very strong showing of LA’s diversity and strength as a result of that multiplicity.

Rosanna Gamson has been in the forefront of dance in Los Angeles since she arrived in the 1990s and founded Rosanna Gamson/World Wide in 2000. Quartet for the End of Time, choreographed by Gamson with the performers, was a stunning and haunting work that grabbed one’s attention from the onset. A lone male figure (Spenser Theberge) appeared out of the darkness dressed in black with his face painted white, one eye accentuated with a black diamond; his lips blood red. Clown face does not aptly describe the look. It was more sinister, like The Joker in Batman films. He stopped and twirled his long braid that hurled him into a beautiful frenetic solo.

Theberge was soon joined by three others (Cody Potter-Brunelle, Bret Easterling and Stephanie Zaletel) in similar make up and wearing dark grays and browns. Each character had a chance at speaking their private truth to the world, partnerships were formed and then rejected, and a brief frenzied quartet promised an approaching doom. Gamson paints a stark, lonely and discouraging future, but with a sense that no one will be deserted or left behind when the quartet moved reluctantly into an unknown future. Quartet for the End of Time was powerfully performed by Theberge, Potter-Brunelle, Easterling, and Zaletel.

As Memory Fades to Whisper was a very beautifully performed work choreographed by Deborah Brockus, the Artistic Director of BrockusRED. Using a fusion of contemporary dance and jazz, Brockus wove her dancers through a series of groupings that incorporated wonderful lifts, unison phrases and a gorgeous section near the end with four couples traversing across the space in canon. For this reviewer, my eye was constantly drawn to the performance by the tall and stately Ava Gordy.

The work investigated how memories are collected throughout life and later come and go within our minds. Sadly, they often fade away with age. The rich pastel colors and the lights shifting and fading into black that wonderfully expressed those reflections were designed by Evan Nie. The work suffered at times, however, from extremely rough music editing that jarred the trained ear. The cast of very talented performers were Leah Hamel, Hailey Transue, Ava Gordy, Cersha Burn, Daniel Moore, Robert Gomez, Blair Pope, and David Michel.

HD Theater is a newly founded company which presented Ground rules, choreographed and performed by Haley Heckethorn and Joseph Davis. The premise of the duet, a complex relationship between a man and a woman, has been hackneyed throughout the history of dance, but Heckethorn and Davis found a new twist at the end. Expressing current social themes, the woman rejected the man’s aggression and dominance, stepped away from a love/hate relationship and moved on. This was conveyed by the simple action of Heckethorn leaving the space and returning with a strong, self-secured posture, and wearing stylish high heel shoes. She retained feelings for her former partner but was no longer willing to play the role formulated for women so long ago by previous generations.

Rosanna Gamson1 Photo Cheryl Mann (L to R) Cody Potter-Brunelle, Spenser Theberge, Bret Easterling, Stephanie Zalatelin "Quartet for the End of Time" - Rosanna Gamson/World Wide BrockusRED 1 Photo Cheryl Mann BrockusRED 4 Photo Cheryl Mann HD Theater1 Photo Cheryl Mann HD Theater2 Photo Cheryl Mann Sarah Elgart1 Photo Cheryl Mann Sarah Elgart2 Photo Cheryl Mann Sarah Elgart3 Photo Cheryl Mann Backhausdance1 Photo Cheryl Mann Backhausdance2 Photo Cheryl Mann Invertigo1 Photo Cheryl Mann Invertigo2 Photo Cheryl Mann Kybele Dance Theater in "DediKodu" by Seda Aybay Kybele Dance Theater in "DediKodu" by Seda Aybay
(L to R) Cody Potter-Brunelle, Spenser Theberge, Bret Easterling, Stephanie Zalatelin "Quartet for the End of Time" - Rosanna Gamson/World Wide - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Each night during intermission there were site-specific works performed in the Luckman Theater’s outside plaza area. On Saturday, a mesmerizing work by Sarah Elgart/Arrogant Elbow titled Confessions conjured up people trapped within the confines of their transgressions and the freedom received via atonement.  Sarah Elgart is a master of the abstract and she always requires that the viewer bring her/his full attention to a performance of her work.

Three dancers, Elizabeth Finfgeld, Sam McReynolds and Carissa Songhorian. were trapped within white material wrapped around three of the plaza’s huge columns. Their movements reflected an internal struggle to free themselves of personal demons. From the top of a nearby stairway, Lavinia Findikoglu, dressed in all white but entombed within a brown cocoon, slowly rolls down the stairs to free herself.

Once released, Finfgeld moved in front of a large industrial fan and her arms transformed into large angel-like wings freeing the others from their torment. Confessions had spiritual overtones without any religious connotations one might take from the work’s title. Rather than a heavenly vision, the angel may have been a symbol of our decision to truly face our personal turmoils.

Back in the theater, the second half opened with an excerpt from Beyond the Noise choreographed by Walter Matteini with Ina Broeckx. Although this work was intriguing to watch and beautifully performed by Backhausdance members Ellen Akashi, Tawny Chapman, Samuel DeAngelo, Arnie Kilgore, Katie Natwick, Kaitlin Regan, Megan Seagren, and Santiago Villarreal, like most excepts of dances, without reading the offered PR synopsis, it was difficult to know what inspired the work or where it was headed.

Beyond the Noise was full of beautiful and intricate lifts and dynamic performances by Ellen Akashi and Katie Natwick. It was clear that there were intense and complex relationships between couples, but the why or the results were not revealed. I have written before that trying to review an excerpt from a dance is like trying to relate the full story of a long novel after reading only a couple of chapters. I can only speak to what was put before me.

Snow White & Eve was also an excerpt form a longer work by Laura Karlin titled Formulae & Fairy Tales. Karlin, the Artistic Director of Invertigo Dance Theatre, benefited here by the fact that I have seen previously performances of other sections. Throughout the dance, Karlin brings froth the oft used symbol of the forbidden fruit, the red apple. Anyone who has read or seen the fairy tale Snow White or knows the biblical tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, would recognize the importance of that symbol. Here, however, Snow White’s prince charming was Eve (performed by Jessica Dunn and Hyosun Choi). Both slept after biting into the apple, but it was their joining of forces (and the passage of centuries) that allowed them to rescue each other and openly fall in love.

Karlin uses humor, drag queen type high heels aglow with silver glitter, and her signature ability of inventive lifts to bring these fairy tale, stereotyped women into the present-day. The delightful and talented cast of Snow White & Eve were Cody Brunelle-Potter, Hyosun Choi, Jessica Dunn, Spencer Jensen, Dominique McDougal, and Luke Dakota Zender.

Originally from Turkey, Seda Aybay, the Artistic Director of Kybele Dance Theater, is a very prolific choreographer and of the works that I have seen, DediKodu was one of her best. According to the program, dediKodu means ‘gossip’ in Turkish but Aybay divided the word into two parts, dedi meaning ‘said’ and kodu meaning ‘set’. With this play on words, she created a powerful work filled with tension and beautiful lifts, highlighted by superb performances by her cast of dancers: Christian Espinel, Genevieve Zander, Omar Canedo, Caitlin Hefflin, Donte Essien, Amanda Tran, Samantha Chin, Rachel Walton, and Seda Aybay.

DediKodu had Aybay’s signature stage filling movement, but unlike in previous works, she has discovered how to let the meaning of the work be clearly perceived while showcasing the incredible talent of her dancers. Aybay is still the central figure in this piece but in DediKodu she stepped outside the action to ponder how the other characters’ actions were affecting her own. In doing so, Aybay gave herself the opportunity to see her work through the eyes of the viewer, to edit and to insure that her vision was realized. As in life, we sometimes must make a serious inspection of ourselves to see the truth.  Here, that self-examination paid off.

The Los Angeles Dance Festival continues with master classes at the Brockus Project Studios (616B Moulton Avenue, LA 90031) and free community classes throughout Los Angeles.  Also, part of the LA Festival is FRINGE which runs April 26, 27 & 28 at the Diavolo Performance Space located at 616 Moulton Avenue, LA 90031. Like those at the Luckman Theatre, all three nights will provide different programs, featuring 24 companies.

For more information about the Los Angeles Dance Festival and tickets for FRINGE, click here.

For information on The Luckman Fine Arts Complex, click here.

Featured photo: Kybele Dance Theater in “DediKodu” by Seda Aybay – Photo by Cheryl Mann