The Heritage Square Museum consists of five Victorian Homes, one chapel and one drug store with a soda counter. It looks like the set for “Meet Me in St. Louis” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” and lends itself to that era. I have seen the space utilized for dance events before but because of the specific era represented by the architecture of the houses they were not as successful as this evening’s performance by Blue13 Dance Company.

Founder/Choreographer/Artistic Director Achinta S. McDaniel was very savvy in her choice of material to be presented at this particular venue. According to the program: “Meeting at the intersection of technology, disruption, inclusion, and diaspora, each performance of Soliloquy is an exciting and unique adventure. McDaniel seeks to interrogate the ways in which technological connection coupled with isolation has specifically impacted people of the global majority and women. Audiences…affect the narratives. You may peer through a window to witness clandestine trysts, sit for a dinner with a quarreling family, or even choose who dances the final solo.” The contemporary movement vocabulary which the company employed was perfectly juxtaposed with the auras of the houses and open-air spaces in-between. Within the homes, completely furnished in period furniture and decoration, we were treated to various scenarios that illuminated the differences between then and now.

The opening reception was held in the Drugstore at the back of the property. Among the pills, unguents, poultices and oils, the audience gathered with the performers to meet, share news, get to know one another, and celebrate. Which is pretty much what happened within the walls of the pharmacy since its inception. Drinks were served and snacks were passed as the group intermingled. The music was lively, and the performers broke out into movement more than a few times, finally forming a fully realized choreographic number on the stools and between the counters. This was a relaxed warmup of what was to come, and it was wonderful.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum - "Soliloquy" - Photo by KT Madden.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum – “Soliloquy” – Photo by KT Madden.

The program was over-lapping and ambitious as different scenarios were being acted out in all of the spaces at the same time. The program states: “No one will experience everything.” And this proved true in the most entertaining way. As there was always some scene being played out in any of the houses that included movement, acting, and drama.

One of the first scenes had a group of performers on the front lawn of the ‘Perry House’ with elaborate collars that were decorative, large, cumbersome, and restrictive. Throughout the piece the women had to deal with these collars causing pain and angst until symbolically they all took the collars off. The relief was palpable, dramatic and visceral. Upstairs through a window we could see a man and woman in passionate embraces and seemingly caught in the middle of a volatile, amorous engagement. The houses and the era they represent saw incredible restrictions placed on women in terms of behavior and individual freedoms. With this opening number McDaniel freed her dancers from these societal bonds and allowed them their own voices to comment and channel, if not celebrate, the women and people who came before who inhabited this place.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum - "Soliloquy" - Photo by Slade Segerson.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum – “Soliloquy” – Photo by Slade Segerson.

After entering the great house, we settled into the parlor where performer Kaya McAfee changed into a pink gown and set random guests in chairs where they could comment and compliment her movement in silent dialogue. The gown, the portraits on the wall, the ornately embroidered cushions on the chairs, all added to the narrative of McAfee’s communication with the observers. McAfee was in control and set the stage for her own interaction with the guests, seating them where she wanted and communicating with them how she liked. Whereas the original woman of the house would have had to adhere to her husbands’ wishes and desires and would not have been able to act on her own impulses. After that we were ushered upstairs to the bedroom where we witnessed Alisa Carreras in an intimate solo holding one end of a black rope with the other end tied to another older woman’s wrist. The woman was an audience participant and had grey hair giving the feeling that Carreras was treating her as a more mature loved one, as Carreras was serious and sad trying desperately to keep the other woman with her through the use of the rope but lamenting that ultimately, she had to let it go.

Carreras then retrieved the rope and the crowd left but I stayed to see what would happen next and the event was repeated but with an entirely different feeling than before. This time she chose a younger woman and tied the rope to her wrist. Carreras then went through the same choreography but this time it was transformed into a playful seductive romp as she enticed the woman with her gestures and body movements. She was flirtatious and sensual and owned the behavior as her right. It was a fabulous double-take on the choreography and testament to Carreras’ acting ability.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum - "Soliloquy" - Photo by Slade Segerson.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum – “Soliloquy” – Photo by Slade Segerson.

Then we went downstairs to the dining room where we watched a dinner party unravel. The elegant glassware and table setting with the fireplace and wall decorations created the background to the spectacle that unfolded between Alisa Carreras, Presley Hawk, and Tokie Wang. The audience participants were treated to misplaced napkins, errant tableware, fits of hysteria, and musical seating arrangements. The hysterics and emotional turmoil would never have been allowed in this very public room, but here it was on display and served to dispel any notion that women were meant to be silent sufferers with no avenue of expression available to them. Much of the evening felt like an exorcism so that the female and male ghosts could finally rest peacefully knowing that their lives were finally understood within the confines of the social mores of the times in which they lived .

The evening progressed as we moved to the Hale House and then the Shah House, the Octagon House and the Ford House. There was a brief dance lesson on the gravel roadway where we learned choreography that would be employed at a later time. This was taught by Hayden Rivas, Colleen Melhuish, Adarsh Satish, Nate Riel, and Joy Veluz. Mention must also be made of Jenna Wu-Cardona and Adrianna Vieux who rocked the Shah House and brought an entire Tennessee Williams play to life. Wu-Cardona has a face so pliable in contortion that it made me think of Clayface, a nemesis of Batman.

At one point, as emissaries of hospitality, Jayde Woodard and Emmy Cheung introduced themselves to us and made sure we were comfortable and attended to. Which brings me to a few words about ‘Community.’ It was truly a coming together and a participation of community throughout the entire evening. There are other local dance companies I have seen that bludgeon the audience with the cry of community. They slather it over the audience as if saying it enough will magically make it come true, yet they do not make the effort it takes to engage the audience as a community. They think their show is enough. It is not what you do that makes the community, it is how you do it. It is the inclusion of everyone, not just your own loyal mailing list or in-group of friends that support your work. It is the outlier, the stranger to your practice that, feeling included, makes a community. It is the effort and energy to accept all and have all participate without judgement on who they are or where they have come from. Blue13 did just that.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum - "Soliloquy" - Photo by Slade Segerson.

Blue13 Dance Company at Heritage Square Museum – “Soliloquy” – Photo by Slade Segerson.

At the end of the evening, we all were herded into the Chapel where a ‘band’ was playing ABBA and we all spontaneously joined in the nightclub dance scene. Even the Associate Artistic Director Jon Paul was tearing up the dance floor with his headset on. I really must commend Jose Jose Arrieta Cuesta for being such a good sport. During a magnificent waltz he asked me to dance and even though he is in his prime as a dancer, he graciously let me lead as we flew through the crowd. Earlier in the evening we had participated in a dance mime where one of the dancers was chosen to be the focus of the last dance. That dancer was Ryley Clement who performed an emotionally powerful solo.

I am afraid that I am leaving some out but there is not enough room to regale the reader with every nuance of the entirety of the evening’s events and scenes. Suffice it to say that the mojo of the Victorian Houses in Heritage Square was acknowledged, transformed, and blessed as it was brought into the 21st Century.

Performers: Ryan Amato, Jose Jose Arieta Cuesta, Braylon Browner, Alisa Carreras, Emmy Cheung, Ryley Clement, Presley Hawk, Kaya McAfee, Maiko Okajima, Simone Peterson, Andrea Rodriguez, Ryan Simone Smith, Felisya Soqui-Garcia, Adrianna Vieux, Tokie Wang, Brian Wong, Jayde Woodard, Jenna Wu-Cardona.

Supporting cast: Hayden Rivas, Myra Joy Veluz, Nate Riel, Adarsh Satish, Colleen Melhuish.

For more information about Blue13 Dance Company, please visit their website.

Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Blue13 in Soliloquy at The Heritage Square Museum – Photo by KT Madden.