The inaugural performance of the Foothills Dancemakers took place in Pasadena this past Saturday, June 15, 2019 bringing together four companies in one concert. The program included choreography by Benita Bike, Nancy Hauser, Nikolaos Doede, Hilary Thomas, Nancy Evans Doede, and John Pennington performed by members of Benita Bike’s DanceArt, Nancy Evans Dance Theatre, Lineage Dance Company and Pennington Dance Group.

Each company presented two works and the professionalism of the programing was crystal clear. What so beautifully wove these differing styles together was the music. For example, Per Andreasson followed by Frederic Chopin and Heitor Villa -Lobos, into Max Richter and then Philip Glass. Clear consideration was taken by the four company directors to musically connect the sometimes-opposing themes. A rhythmic driven dance was followed by one of designed perpetuity or happenstance preceded struggle. Also, because of the care taken with programing, the movement and choreographic styles, although diverse, were not in conflict.

Benita Bike’s On Beat 3 was a delightful opener that clearly showcased the talents and musicality of Sarah Gertler, Clare Kiklowicz, and Trudy Niess. Performed to Tin Play by Per Andreasson, this rapid-fire dance required fast footwork, articulation of arm and hand gestures, and stop on a dime balance. The well-designed costumes were by Diana MacNeil.

Nancy Hauser was a member of the Hanya Holm Dance Company before forming her own company in Minneapolis, MN. Everness, choreographed in 1978, now lives on in the bodies of the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre dancers Katrina Amerine, Noel Dilworth, Ashleigh Doede, Karina Jones, and Jenn Logan. Set on the company by Hauser’s daughter Heidi Hauser Jasmin, Everness is truly a classic filled with the brilliance of simplicity. The movement and orbiting designs appeared unassuming, but any dancer watching this work understood their difficulty.

Everness opened with a center stage solo performed with great sensitivity by Katrina Amerine. It set up the air of quiet serenity while delicately introducing the circularity of Hauser’s design: a hand gesture, a slow turn or the drawing of a circle with a lifted leg. As Amerine began to turn in place center stage, she was joined by the rest of the cast, all in beautifully made pale blue dresses by Costume Designer Lynn Steincamp. They spin with half closed eyes like sleeping dervishes before breaking off into cosmic patterns of never-ending cycles. The dance ended similarly to its beginning, telling us that it was destined to start anew and continue throughout eternity.  The music that helped create the sense of everlasting was by Frederic Chopin and Heitor Villa-Lobos, composers whose work indeed is timeless.

Hilary Thomas presented an excerpt of Waking In The Mourning, a tribute to the late artist Luc Leestemaker with whom she collaborated on numerous projects for Lineage Dance Company. She choreographed the piece to music by Lesstemaker’s favorite composer Philip Glass. The work by Glass that Thomas chose was one of his less repetitive works and it beautifully complemented her somber yet positive dance.

Through much of Waking In The Mourning, three women remained connected by two long blue scarfs. The center figure (Teya Wolvington) appeared to represent the person who would soon pass or who had recently departed, the scarfs representing their personal connections. One saw the hesitance to let go and the resistance to leaving loved ones behind. I’m certain that the entire work explores Thomas’ personal and working relationship with Lesstemaker. The cast of Waking In The Mourning was Brittany Daniels, Caterina Mercante, and Teya Wolvington. The costumes that continued the theme of intertwining relationships were designed by Caterina Mercante.

John Pennington has choreographed a wonderful duet for the very talented Andrew Palomares and Edwin Siguenza, both members of Pennington Dance Group. With gentle circling of their heads, quiet caresses and floor work that only hinted at a sensual interaction, Encounter #1 demonstrates one potential result of two people meeting. In this case, two men respond to a physical attraction, perhaps have sex and then go their separate ways. The encounter was sensual but far from explicit. It was filled with tenderness, but Pennington left it for us to envision our own ending to their story. The inviting music was by Noto & Sakamoto.

Act I ended with Hilary Thomas and Teya Wolvington performing an excerpt of Thomas’ Midnight to 12:01, a work that took its inspiration “from a life lived on the edge”. This particular section appeared to be about addiction. The addict’s dependency on her drug of choice was conveyed in the opening image with Wolvington attached to Thomas as in the old adage “monkey on my back”. Throughout the piece, in spite of their efforts to detach, they never were able to escape. The work was intense, and I was left with a sense of hopelessness as Thomas shifted the positioning at the end so that the drug became the prominent one carrying the addict.

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Lineage Dance Company in Waking In The Mourning - Photo courtesy of the artist

Act II opened with the west coast premiere of Plugged, choreographed by Benita Bike. At first, the dance appeared to be another pure movement work performed in tie-dye unitards to the soothing sounds of ocean waves, bird calls and whale songs, but then Bike hit us with an O’Henry style twist. The wonderful music score by Dean Wallraff shifted to familiar industrial sounds as the all-women cast each put on a silver arm band, choker or waist band just their movements took on those of mass production assembly lines.

The sound effects throughout section three of Plugged brought us into current times. Automobiles in traffic, different ring tones of cell phones and emergency sirens filled the air and assaulted our senses. It was the point of Bike’s new work to demonstrate how civilization has moved from being one with nature to rapidly destroying it with what we so proudly call progress. Through movement, Bike painted a picture of the toll this progress, and the sounds that accompany it, have taken on our minds and bodies. Bike’s Plugged homes in on how tied to technology we are but how unplugged from nature we have allowed ourselves to become.

The dancers in Plugged were Liza Barskaya, Rachele Donofrio, Sarah Gertler, Clare Kiklowicz, and Trudy Niess.  The lively tie-dyed costumes were by Diana MacNeil.

Nancy Evans Doede took us back into the realm of beautiful classical lines to abstractly express the relationship between twin sisters. The two excerpts of Doede’s Le Gemelle (The Twins) were performed wonderfully by Katrina Amerine and Ashleigh Doede to the music of Antonio Vivaldi and Claudio Monteverdi. Via her choreography, Doede demonstrated the twins struggle to create their own identity apart from one another, and the movement became taut as they resisted falling back into their twinness by trying separate paths.

The twin sisters eventually reconcile their differences demonstrated by Doede’s creation of lyrical unison phrases intertwined with individual solos. These two performers worked well together, but they do need to make eye contact more often. The sister relationship was not always apparent.

The final work on the program consisted of three sections from John Penningtoin’s Company of Orbs. The back curtain opened to reveal seven brightly lit orb lamps and the stage was quickly filled by a playful and energetic trio featuring Danae McWatt, Edwin Siguenza and Tom Tsai. This was followed by the lovely Li Rothermich entering wearing a large orb on each arm. During her light-hearted solo, Rothermich performed circular movements while wearing the globes on her arms and feet, sitting on them and maneuvering them into spinning and circular patterns.

As Rothermich left, the space became a playground of orbiting planets performed by Becky Chang, McWatt, Amy Oden, Siguenza, and Tsai. Pennington’s work was beautifully crafted, and the dancers’ energy expressed their joy of performing it.  The music was by William Duckworth.

This first concert of the Foothills Dancemakers demonstrated how companies can work together to create a cohesive evening of differing works. The programing felt as though we were moving from one page to the next of unrelated stories made cohesive by a very thoughtful process. My biggest criticism was one that I have often stated, that viewing excerpts of a dance robs the audience of experiencing the full meaning of a work. The artist’s complete choreographic vision is poorly by this process, causing one to feel like meaningful scenes from their story have been ripped out.

For information on Pennington Dance Group, click here.

For information on ARC Pasadena, click here.

For information on Benita Bike’s DanceArt, click here.

For information on Nancy Evans Dance Theatre, click here.

For information on Lineage Dance Company, click here.

Featured image: Nancy Evans Dance Theatre in Everness choreographed by Nancy Hauser – Photo courtesy of the artist.