The L. A. Dance Project (LADP) 2019-2020 season includes L.A. Dances at the company’s beautiful building on East Washington Blvd. founded by French dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied. Thursday, October 3, 2019 was the opening night of Program B featuring works by Shannon Gillen, Charm La’Donna, Emily Mast & Zack Winokur, and the late modern dance icon Bella Lewitzky. The series runs through October 25 and again November 14 thru 24 at 8PM.
RUN FROM ME was choreographed by Julliard and Tisch School of the Arts/NYU graduate and former German based Johannes Wieland Company member Shannon Gillen. The work appeared to be an exploration into the schizophrenic mind of a disturbed woman; her personae portrayed by Rachelle Rafailedes and Daisy Jacobson. The work was physically violent, dangerous and extremely repetitive.
Two hanging lamps were manipulated to increase the tension and aid the viewer to focus on one or the other persona or to highlight the conflicts her illness caused within her relationships. If you enjoy watching four people beat up on one another, then you will enjoy Run From Me. Honestly, I only wanted to look away.
The full cast included Doug Baum, David Adrian Freeland Jr., Daisy Jacobson, and Rachelle Rafailedes, The very appropriate lighting design was by Barbara Samuels and the music was by Fieldhead.
Charm La’Donna grew up in Compton, CA. and at the young age of 17 toured with pop star Madonna. She credits music video director and choreographer Fatima Robinson for encouraging her to seek her own career path. Because of a few similar lifts, La’Donna’s work KORA suffered briefly from our memory of the previous work, but it soon recovered to became an clever introspective investigation into two very different women.
Three mobile panels acted as a backdrop and place for the dancers to disappear behind. At first the panels were decorated with designs of foliage and the relationships with the woman (Rachelle Rafailedes) were quietly combative and the movement confrontational.
Musician and composer Toumani Diabaté, is a Malian kora player. His beautiful score aided in creating a wonderful juxtaposition between what we heard and the tension we witnessed onstage. While standing still, a subtle but provocative head movement signaled an internal thought. It was a private reflection that we felt rather than heard or clearly understood.
A sudden shift in lighting and the rotation of panels brought forth an entirely different arena and cast. The painted scenes of home interiors. A woman sat on her couch with a man kneeling on the floor resting his head in her lap. From her body language and expression, it was not clear that she was comfortable. The movement shifted with the panels to reflect a lighter mood and friendlier relationships.
Kora is an intriguing work; one that should be seen. The cast included Doug Baum, Nayomi Van Brunt, Anthony Lee Bryant, David Adrian Freeland, Jr., Mario Gonzalez, Daisy Jacobson, Rachelle Rafailedes, and Gianna Reisen. The versatile set was by Njideka Akunyili Crosby and the elegant lighting was by François-Pierre Couture.
KINAESONATA was choreographer by Bella Lewitzky for her company in 1970. Re-staged with great care, precision and love by former Lewitzky company member Walter Kennedy, the work reminded us of the great talent that was Bella Lewitzky and why she was Lester Horton’s muse.
Here, Lewitzky created gorgeous movement and even when a dancer stopped suddenly from a fast-paced phrase, the pose continued to exude motion. Set to Albert Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 22 (performed by South Korean musician HyeJin Kim), Kinaesonata was one of Lewitzky’s more musical works. In the original, the stage was free of sets and the dancers wore beautiful solid colored leotards with bare legs. Sadly, for this iteration of the work, Scenic and Costume Designer Charles Gaines did not trust Lewitzky’s work to stand on its own. Side panels of scrolled sheet music and a backdrop of a magnified score forced one to work hard at ignoring the oversized musical notes in order to see the dancing. A colleague who had not seen the work said, “Oh. He had them dancing in them music.” Perhaps, but even though it was visually pleasing at times, it was difficult to see the work amidst all those notes.
The elegance and strength of Lewitzky’s work stands alone and needs no superficial decorations to improve upon or update it. Kinaesonata is ageless, one of Lewitzky’s major works and it should be treated as such.
The dancers, who without having a background of training in Horton technique, or having ever seen Lewitzky’s work, did an amazing job. Janey Taylor, former member of New York City Ballet, brought a true sense of power and elegance to her performance of Lewitzky’s solo. The lovely Patricia Zhou appeared comfortable in this style and exuded a wonderful joy of moving. The rest of the very talented cast included: Doug Baum, Naomi Van Brunt, Anthony Lee Bryant, Mario Gonzalez, Daisy Jacobson, Rachelle Rafailedes, and Gianna Resien. The lighting was by Charles Gaines and François-Pierre Couture.
The evening concluded with SPLIT STEP, a collaboration between visual artist Emily Mast and stage director Zack Winokur, with music by composer Evan Mast. Stage lights on portable stands circled the outsides of the stage, which along with a room full of theatrical fog, created a sense claustrophobia and a foretelling of disaster. The movement was primarily aggressive with obvious Pina Bausch overtones of repeated body clashes. The somber costumes by Mast and Winokur and the dark lighting by Christopher Kuhl evoked memories of ash covered streets following the 9/11 attacks on New York. The catastrophic future it predicted, however, was far more final.
Again, the cast of dancers (Doug Baum, Nayomi Van Brunt, Anthony Lee Bryant, Mario Gonzalez, Daisy Jacobson, Gianna Reisen, Vinicius Silva, and Janie Taylor) saved the piece with their excellent performances. Was Split Step the end of civilization as we know it? What relationship did the work have with its title? A lone male figure left behind as the others wheeled out the light stands, left us with a clear visual of devastation, but it was the why that remained elusive.
I truly appreciate what Benjamin Millepied and the LAPD organization bring to this city with L.A. Dances. The dancers are amazing and the space is gorgeous. Like with other repertory companies, however, commissioning works from the “hot” choreographers of the day does not necessarily produce sustainable art.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, October 7, 2019.
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Featured image: LA Dance Project – “Kinaesonata” by Bella Lewitzky – Photo: Ella Rose