AkomiDance produced a very strong program for the Orange County Dance Festival which occurred this past Saturday at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster. The roster included eleven companies and one independent artist from around the Southern California area, and featured two films and eleven dance works. The works varied from political commentary to straightforward dancing, with wonderful performances by nearly all of the large cast of dancers. Set in two acts, the program information was projected against the back scrim and occupied the audience’s time in-between works as the stage crew prepared for the next piece.

Act I began with Fool, choreographed by Anthony Aceves and Marie Hoffman, co-Artistic Directors of AkomiDance. The Fool in a deck of Tarot cards has two meanings; When upright, it can portend beginnings, innocence, spontaneity, and a free spirit. When reversed, i.e. viewed upside down, it may mean naivety, foolishness, recklessness, or risk-taking. The Fool is numbered 0, representing unlimited potential, it has no specific place in the sequence of Tarot cards and is often considered as the Fool’s journey through life and therefore needs no number.

Aceves and Hoffman’s work made interesting and creative use of a rotating set on wheels, which acted as a card frame for The Fool and centerpiece for her/his travels through life. They present an interesting perception of what acting the fool means in our lives. They explore how we all can play that role, or our response reacting to a fool; wittingly or not. The set revolves and moves across the stage, acting as a focal point and venue for The Fool and his fellow travelers. The performers move in and out of the set as they become involved with or react to their innocent follies or their risk-taking adventures. Fool is a very sound work and performed excellently by Christine Hinchee, Damian Kelly, Anna Vogt, Matthew Wiley, and Clair Zabaneh. The music was Tarot by Shane Koyczan, costumes by Amy Walper and set design and construction by Tony Hernandez.

Alan Perez – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Following some technical difficulties, the film entitled When You Were Me began. Choreographed and performed by Alan Perez, and produced and photographed by Christopher Lopez, the film had an introspective and haunting feel as Perez moved in and out of shadows, in and out of focus, or rested his forehead despairingly against a white wall. When You Were Me was not a showcase for Perez’s very strong dancing talents, but a solemn portrait of a particular period in a man’s life.

In Evan Rosenblatt’s work, ShapeShift, a long table acted as a vehicle for his characters to peer into each other’s souls or into their own psyche. It was the table that shifts shape the most, but it beautifully represented a separation or commonality for those involved. They moved across, underneath and around the table as they explored each other. The work opens with a series of slow motion solos and vignettes that aided in creating the tension for what was to come. In one section the music, typing by johnny_ripper, provided a sense that we watching an author create her/his characters in a novel, or in the choreographer’s history.

Evan Rosenblatt & Dancers in ShapeShift – Photo by Vytus Barauskas

There was a beautiful duet performed by company Artistic Directors Bethana Rosenblatt and Evan Rosenblatt to a powerful and romantic song by French icon Edith Piaf titled Le Foule (The Crowd). The other dancers who are equally strong and moved with fearless agility over and around the table were Liza Barskaya and Brance Souza.

In Vain was a male duet choreographed by Kairos Dance Company’s Artistic Director Hazel Clarke and performed powerfully by Anthony Languren and Jodie Mashburn. It focuses on two men who are attracted to each other, but due to social mores, resist succumbing to their desires. The work was strong but felt incomplete and the two men’s story left unresolved. Clarke is a talented choreographer and this reviewer would like to see how their story ends.

BrockusRED in As Memory Slips to Whisper – Photo by Vytus Barauskas

Deborah Brockus is the Founder, Artistic Director and Choreographer of BrockusRED. As Memory Slips to Whisper was inspired by her father’s illness and the resulting memory loss. Her present company is one of the strongest I have seen in a while and they performed this touching work with great precision and clarity. The lighting design played a large role in As Memory Slips to Whisper. Pools of light represented moments of remembrance, and as the work progressed the lighting became dimmer; as distant memories can or, with one’s aging, may fade away. There was a beautiful section with three couples moving in unison and in canon, and groups moving with higher energy to represent those clearer, more potent memories. Brockus’ beautiful cast included Cersha Burn, Micaela de Pauli, Isaac Huerta, Luciana Johnson, Julienne Mackey, Dominique McDougal, and Amir Yorke.

Emergent Dance Company – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Megan Pulfer is the Artistic Director/Choreographer of Emergent Dance Company. She is also a former member of Clairobscur Dance Company and one of the most beautiful dancers that I have had the joy of watching perform. Her talents continued into her choreography of Between Seconds, a group work for seven very talented women. Pulfer used gestures, movements and movement patterns to depict different elements of time; time passing, time slowing down or time stopping.  Here, the use of unison acted as a powerful choreographic tool. Pulfer is an intelligent artist who has created a work that made me feel like I was seeing time as a visible element. The rhythmic beat created by the music and followed by the dancers, presented the consistency of time. Pulfer showed us that no matter how fast or slow time passes for us, it is, in reality, a constant. The cast of beautiful dancers included Paige Amicon, Bridgette Burnett, Stephanie Lin, Jessie Mays, Megan Pulfer, Madison Simons, and Melody Whittam.

Act II opened with a wonderful and intriguing film choreographed by Anthony Aceves, filmed by Sal De La Torre and Nikolas Montelibano, and edited by Aceves. The film was titled ReMEmber and included a host of high school student desks. There was a text that ran throughout the film spoke to a man writing a letter to himself about his self. The line that stood out for me was “Dear me, this is you”. The desks acted as props for the dancers, but they also represented this man’s role as an educator and as a student of life. The film was shot in an open grassy field, taking it out of the classroom and into a full life experience. The very talented cast included Scott Alexander, Dani Furniss, Corrina Gemignani, Tyler jean, Damian Kelly, Katie Marshall, Jessie Mays, Trey Miller, Claire Upton, Amy Walper, and Matt Wiley.

Languidly White was choreographed by Mallory Fabian, Artistic Director/Choreographer of fabe. The work is, however, anything but lacking in spirit, listless or indifferent. Fabian’s choreography is laced with anger at the current situation we find ourselves facing as a species, i.e. climate change, lack of contact with one another, and chaos. Red lighting takes prominence to represent the heat created by all the aforementioned situations.  The movement was very physical, intrusive and confrontational. What was lacking was a clear structure. One section flipped into another without resolution of the one previous, and without presenting a definite direction of where it was headed. Perhaps this work is a part of a longer one, or the seed for another creative idea. Fabian’s movement sometimes becomes messy or a blur by its entanglement, diluting the ‘’real and raw emotion on stage” that she describes in her program notes. The strong cast included Paige Amicon, Christopher Carvalho, Kayla Johnson, Darby Kelley, Tin Nguyen, Shane Raiford, and Brance William Souza.

Shelby Lynn Joyce choreographed an haunting work titled Alethia for SBCC Dance Company. In Greek Alethia is a female name meaning truthful, from the mythological goddess of truth. The literal Greek meaning of the word is, “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.” The characters that Joyce brought to the stage felt ghostly; like solitary figures moving in the midst of other souls who also feel alone. Her choreography and the music she chose, created a tension that increased as the work progresses. A singled-out figure, performed beautifully by Daisy Mohrman, became an unwilling catalyst for the others, forcing everyone to acknowledge each other. It is a beautiful work, and performed with great sensitivity by Jen-Li Barry, Camara Byrd, Daisy Mohrman & Aren Vaughan, with Lennon Chahivec-Schneider, Taylor Gautier, Amanda Ginella, Rachel Johnson, Dallin McComb, Mihrin Popatia, and Marilyn Tsai.

Nate Hodges is a graduate student in the Department of Dance at CSU, Long Beach and the Artistic Director of RhetOracle Dance Company. His work for the festival was titled Sending. Performed with clarity by Jillian Dean, Rochelle Mapes, Katie Marshal, and Jill Riley, Sending was a low key and thoughtful piece, that hinted at looking back, giving support, and family. These four women could have been sisters or friends whose lives have always been connected, and the work’s final pose told us that with this longevity, their relationship held. The work lacked energy from the performers, however, and their presence did not make it past the first few rows of the large theater house. The dance was well constructed, but it felt tidy, too planned out and I saw the creative process rather than the characters.

SIZA in Year One by Lyndsi Zapata – Photo by Vytus Barauskas.

Lyndsi Zapata told it like it is with the section of YEAR ONE that was presented. The honesty that Zapata spoke came across loud and clear, even causing a few members of the audience to walk out.  Zapata is the Artistic Director of the Los Angeles based SIZA which states it is “passionate about exploring social activism and politics through movement”. She did more than explore, she nailed it with both movement that was provocative, confrontational and with text, performed powerfully and without restraint by the beautiful Tyree Marshall. Zapata took on injustice, women’s rights and while very effectively communicating the damage our present political atmosphere is inflicting. The other members of this strong cast included Eva Flores, Alan Perez, Lyla Palmer, and MaijaLisa Miltz.

Dodge, choreographed by Joshua D. Estrada-Romero and performed by members of his group FUSE Dance Company was also provocative, but in a more subtle way. The movement theme was based on moves and gestures seen during boxing matches, but punches never directly hit their mark physically. They did, however, hit them artistically. Costumed in their trademark black, the performers pranced around each other as if in a ring, and with the use of a long, red ribbon, danced around crossing the proverbial “red line”. Tensions built, but war was never declared. A sign of hope from Estrada-Romero? The dynamic cast of Dodge was Kathy Duran, Joshua D. Estrada-Romero, Kaycee Jannino, Rebecca Levy, Stephanie Lin, Phillip Lu, Jessie Mays, Rebecca Montecino, and Katherine Shapersky.

The festival ended with a joyous and energic work entitled Chromotheraphy Club Meeting. It was performed by members of Vicious Circle Dance Company and choreographed by company Director Valerie Cabog. Wikipedia states that Chromotheraphy is “sometimes called color therapy, colorology or cromatherapy, is an alternative medicine method, which is considered pseudoscience.  Chromotherapists claim to be able to use light in the form of color to balance “energy” lacking from a person’s body, whether it be on physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental levels.” I did not get all that from this work, but I did enjoy it. What I witnessed was a dance about the rainbow of humans, the multi-colors of sexual orientations and what is now referred to as gender equality. I also saw a cast of seven dancers who were having a wonderful time dancing Cabog’s movement mixture of dance styles referred to as jazz-funk. They were Mychal Harris, Sunwoo Hong, Brittany Johnson, Carolos Rivas, Victor Sanchez, Andrew Tiamzon, and Haley Weishaup.

Marie Hoffman and Anthony Aceves should feel good about the second OC Dance Festival as it was full of strong works and beautiful dancing. Props to Technical Director / Lighting Designer Chris Caputo who beautifully gave each of the 11 dance works its own environment and look.

Feature photo: SIZA Dance Company, courtesy of the artist.

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