Presented at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on May 13, 2023, Blue13 Dance Company performed five pieces in an evening length show that explored daring artistic choices all in the name of humanity. In an effort to reimagine American dance, Blue13 shifts perception using highly energetic and theatrical modern dance inspired by the classical and cultural art forms of the Indian subcontinent.
Prior to entering the theater, audience members were asked to participate in the show by answering three questions on a piece of paper that later got used in the performance. Excitedly, I scribbled down my answers to thought provoking questions such as, ‘What’s underneath the surface?’ and ‘What did you miss the most?’ I then found my seat with great anticipation of how my own contributions would be used within the show.
Entering the theater, a brightly lit stage showed the letters A B and C drawn boldly in chalk across the floor of the stage. With the house lights still up and audience members still finding their seats, dancers dressed in muted tones entered the space in silence as they graffitied the stage with the answers that guests had previously written down. Suddenly, I was greeted by a dancer offering me a piece of chalk and inviting me onstage to contribute to the floor’s poetic chaos of writing.
The first piece presented was Restless Autumn. Restless Spring. choreographed by artistic director Achinta S. MacDaniel, associate artistic director Jon Paul, and the multi-faceted dancers Bella Allen, Emi Carr, Alisa Carreras, Chelsea Correa, Brenan Gonzales, Shea Hancock, Arjun Kochhar, and Hayden Rivas. This portion of the show drew me in immediately as the dancers used spoken word directives that informed the movement they were executing. Not only were the performers excellent in their transitions and athletic ability to perform the movement, but their commitment to the intensity and use of voice was compelling. The dancers moved seemingly effortlessly to the fast paced and disruptive sound score by Jon Paul featuring Speaking in Tongues, Volumes I-IV, and Sheila Chandra.
The next portion of the show followed a brief pause which began with the dancers sweeping the floors as they entered in bright, silver, sparkly pants, an exciting shift of tone from the previous piece. This performance highlighted the dancers ability to maintain an upbeat energy using classical Indian dance within a modernized format of performance. The dancers, Bella Allen, Emi Carr, Alisa Carreras, Chelsea Correa, Atticus Dobbie, Brenan Gonzalez, Shea Hancock, Presley Hawk, Janae Holster, Arjun Kocchar, William Okajima, Hayden Rivas, Esi Samuels, Moira Saxena, and Felisya Soqui-Garcia performed McDaniel’s Shaadi Medley with dynamic joy.
After another brief pause, the next piece, Dear Mr. Khan began with the dancers entering the space from behind the audience, dressed in ethereal white hoop skirts that went down to the floor. The dancers showcased yet another shift in dynamics as they embodied an almost angelic nature throughout this piece. With the performers dancing through the aisles, there was an intimate and powerful nature behind the movement. As the dancers arrived on the stage, a projection of black and white graphics appeared behind them, enhancing the beauty of the costumes. This performance was full of ensemble and solo work which were done with amazing rigor and seamless transitions. It was incredibly impressive to see the dancers navigate these large skirts as they moved with such speed and range of motion. I found myself mesmerized by the dancers as they created beautiful imagery with their bodies, the projection, and one another.
Up next was a preview of a new work titled Sounds Like Whoop. Looks Like Flash. which was my personal favorite from the evening. In a more theatrical sense, the stage was set with furniture and props to represent a home. The dancers enhanced the scene with their commitment to character, exaggerated movement, and clarity in storyline. This piece spoke to the internal turmoil within family units that struggle with addiction, outward appearance, and disabilities. I am anxiously anticipating the premiere of the work in its entirety as it is surely a powerful and emotional statement of art.
Finally, the show ended with 1947 an honest performance speaking to the liberation and brutality of India’s independence from the British. The performance began with bright and lively music, costumes, lighting, and movement performed in classical Indian nature. Midway through, the tone became somber in every aspect, speaking to the lives lost during this time in history. The dancers navigated the shift in energy perfectly and shared vulnerable exchanges with one another and the audience. Every choreographic choice including the lighting design and costume design positively impacted the authenticity of the storytelling of this work.
Blue13 Dance Company’s versatility, commitment, and honesty is what kept me on the edge of my seat the entirety of their show. Achinta S. McDaniel’s choreography, Jon Paul’s sound scores, and Brandon Baruch’s lighting design created the perfect atmosphere for each story to be told. Blue13 Dance Company’s work was intelligent and powerful, surely taking the cultural stereotype of Indian dance and turning it on its head.
To learn more about Blue13 Dance Company, please visit their website.
For more information about The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Rebecca Lee for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Blue13 Dance Company in Dear Mr. Khan – Photo by Sean Daniels