El Camino College Center for the Arts presented “An Evening of Dance: Acts of Matter & Keith Johnson/Dancers” with performances on March 2 and 3, 2024 at Marsee Auditorium.

Johnson shared six vignettes from his series which present the same choreography with different music and approaches to the movement, highlighting themes of morality, identity, and relationships. The series, dedicated to the memory of Michele Rusinko (a former professor of dance at Gustavus Adolphus College), is performed in separate solos by dancers Stephanie Liapis, Haihua Chiang, Andrew Merrell, Adrien Padilla, Eliza Loran and Andrew W. Palomares. The program began with “Last,” which premiered in 2022, and “This Was Ordos,” which premiered in 2019. The following pieces in the series — “Dead Boy,” “The Awakener,” “Lightless” and “The Vigil” — made their premiere on the Marsee stage.

Haihua Chiang In SERIES "This Was Ordos" by Keith Johnson - Photo by Colin Harabedian.

Haihua Chiang In SERIES “This Was Ordos” by Keith Johnson – Photo by Colin Harabedian.

The solos played out like an experiment, providing each dancer the space to embody the choreography in a way that best fits their style. Music choices ranged from Meredith Monk’s avant-garde vocals to Chromic Duo’s synth-filled instrumentals, pulling out new tones from Johnson’s choreography. In certain solos, it was easy to forget that the movement was the same as the last dancer as their deviations provided new perspectives.

Each dancer’s flare stuck out, but the most poignant interpretation came from Loran. She fully surrendered to the dance, knowing just when to maintain control of a step or let it flow out of her limbs as residual waves from the previous move. And when she stopped moving, standing still, her presence held just as much weight as when she pushed the choreography forward. Her playfulness with tempo and intensity stood out from the rest.

Adrien Padilla and Andrew Merrell in SERIES "Dead Boy" by Keith Johnson - Photo by Colin Harabedian.

Adrien Padilla and Andrew Merrell in SERIES “Dead Boy” by Keith Johnson – Photo by Colin Harabedian.

Other highlights included Padilla’s free-flowing style that let each movement push him to beautiful moments of instability and Liapis’ ability to seemingly float through some of the more difficult steps.

The second half of the program was the premiere of “Dig” choreographed by Rebecca Lemme in collaboration with dancers Tess Hewlett, Kaelie Osorio and Alex Rix. The performance was primarily meditative and consisted of contemporary movements that ebbed and flowed between precision and reaction.

The set design by Lemme and lighting design by Bryanna Brock added a layer of intrigue to the dance. Overhead lamps hung low to be right at the level of the dancers. At the start, the dancing trio moved around the lights. However, the evasion did not last long as they took the circular lights in their hands, swinging them around their bodies to create synchronized circles. It was a mesmerizing detail that brought full attention to the trio.

(L-R) Alex Rix, in foreground, Tess Hewlett and Kaelie Osorio (in background) in "Dig" by Rebecca Lemme - Photo by Colin Harabedian.

(L-R) Alex Rix, in foreground, Tess Hewlett and Kaelie Osorio (in background) in “Dig” by Rebecca Lemme – Photo by Colin Harabedian.

When the lights lifted and the mixed choreography with the props ended, the narrative became stagnant and monotonous, feeling more like internal research rather than a performance. Each dancer relies on one another throughout the piece, falling into available arms and being lifted into the next section. However, the relationships between the dancers and their characters get lost in translation.

This aside, the individual performances were strong. Some of the most interesting moments were when the dancers looked internally, folding into their own bodies to follow a light or imaginary wind pulling them to the other side of the stage. The external influences crafted in their minds translated to their bodies with a specificity that made each second enticing to watch.

The program shared two choreographers experimenting with differing approaches to choreography. Johnson took a practical approach, playing with external elements to pull new outcomes out of the same choreography, while Lemme took an introspective approach that vested the power in the dancers to dictate the narrative’s outcome. Their approaches were enthralling to watch unravel, reminding audiences of the ways dance can adapt and change to new conditions, whether it be a song or a light fixture.

To learn more about Keith Johnson/Dancers, please visit their website.

To learn more about Acts of Matter, please visit their website.

Written by Steven Vargas for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: (L-R) Kaelie Osorio, Tess Hewlett, Alex Rix in “Dig” by Rebecca Lemme – Photo by Colin Harabedian