“Choose to Challenge”, MashUp Contemporary Dance Company’s Women’s International Dance Festival 2021 a celebration of women in dance, aired virtually March 5th through the 8th with varied programs each day.   On Saturday, the 6th I viewed a collection of choreographic pieces danced and choreographed by the women of MashUp.

The dance world has adapted quickly to this time of pandemic shut down by moving with ease and alacrity into the virtual world. MashUp has jumped into this world and upped the game by adding excellent production values to each piece, most specifically with the use of expert lighting and cinematography.

Aptly titled  “Identity” opens the evening.  Six beautiful women wearing simple slips are found seated on metal chairs in a large warehouse.  Muda, the choreographer, has created a sense of isolation and the question of self worth as no dancer interacts with another even when moving in unison.  The well-executed contemporary choreography ranges from lyrical to harsh with moments of beauty enhanced by the excellent cinematography of Nathan Kim.  Music is by “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” The dancers are Emmie Bauer Sanchez, Brin Hamblin, Maritza Navarro, Ashley Rubenstein, Rachel Turner and Danielle Yasuda.

“The Tub” also by Muda ranges far away from the conventionality of “Identity.”  Here we watch dancer, a nude Danielle Yasuda posing and moving in and around a bathtub.  Is it a fear of drowning, losing oneself?  The motive is blurry and the piece is static and interest wanes, as there is little actual dancing.  Music is by August Wilhelmsson and Oliver Tank with cinematography by Eve Cohen.

Shelby Davis - MashUp Contemporary Dance Company - Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett

Shelby Davis – MashUp Contemporary Dance Company – Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett @kellymustaphaphotography

Muda’s choreography is again featured in “Fixation.”  The fixation seems to be the long hair of the two soloists Melissa Schade and Rachel Turner.  Six semi-nude, long- haired women pose statically, bent at the waist, hands on the floor and hair falling forward within the piece to little effect.   The music is primarily a tempo by Kygo. The choreography is an uninspired riff on lyrical contemporary.  The motive is unclear, perhaps it’s a love affair but we will never know.

“All’s Well That Ends” finds two women in a junkyard dressed in masculine clothing and looking as if they have just had a fistfight or perhaps a lovers quarrel.  This piece incorporates hip-hop and contemporary dance and is aggressively and well performed by Grace Helen Horrocks and Jolie Ponchetti.  Director/Choreographer Annie Grove brings energy and interesting steps to the piece.  The effective music is by As Above-Rainbow Kitten Surprise.

Choreographer Tess Hewlet’s  “Standing Guard” is a lovely work.  Her dancers dressed in flowing tunics acquit themselves well with the difficult yet flowing choreography.    I was transported by the music of Silver Mt. Zion and the ease of movement including the demanding floor-work.   The dancers were Sakura Amano, Delany Davis, Cienna Menville, Rachel Odebunmi and Reese Taylor.   The cinematography was by the talented Nathan Kim.

Donovan Woods’ song “It Will Work Itself Out” underscores the strong and very interesting choreography of Mackenzie Martin.  Attention is paid to the lyrics, the rhythm and the accents of the tune something that is often missing in contemporary choreography. The dancers dressed in black and white, seem to be trying to help each other through or perhaps they are all the reflection of one struggling individual.  Whatever may be, Martin attains a high level of emotional connection not only with her dancers but with the audience as well.  The dancers are Danielle Burdick, Samantha Chavez, Gabriella Dominguez, Michaela Moore and Madi Thomas.  Once again cinematographer Nathan Kim does a superb job.

Darkly contemplative is “At Arms Length” choreographed and danced by Natalie Allen and Nicole Hagen with compelling lighting and videography by Alex Laya.  Shot in edgy close ups, the effortless dancing and smooth music slowly pulled me into its spell.  This is lyrical jazz dancing on a high scale.  The music or the fantastic vocal, which still rings in my head, was “Falling Leaves”  by Clare Maguire.

Catalina Jackson-Urueña - MashUp Contemporary Dance Company - Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett

Catalina Jackson-Urueña – MashUp Contemporary Dance Company – Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett @kellymustaphaphotography

Innovative and fun is “A Trio” an ode to house dance culture.  We enter a Disco where three dancers are grooving to the House music by Moderat.  It’s fun but not particularly interesting until the dancers begin to move as a connected trio.  This is a great idea that develops as it moves along with fast starts and stops and quirky, clever choreography.  With a take on hip-hop and the freedom of club dancing this piece takes you for a ride.  Though too long it’s still a lot of fun.  Choreography is by Amy O’Neal who also dances along with Satori Folkes-Stone and Ardyn Flint.  Nathan Kim does justice to the camera work again.

Billie Elish with TroyBoi shows up with her tune “My Boy” for this piece by choreographer Monika Felice Smith.  A hybrid of hip-hop styles this feels like something we’ve seen before.  The tune is repetitious and slow.  Smith does good work with patterns and staging and her dancers work hard but the energy is missing.  The dancers are Carly Dizon, Chiara Gonzales, Annie Grove, Lauren Grundman, Grace Horrocks, Maci Montez and Cassidy Ratliff.  Nathan Kim is the cinematographer here too.

“Mom I Can Hear You’ is danced and choreographed by Hannah Millar.  Set to a soundscape by Jonsi and Alex Somers and shot by the reliable Nathan Kim this falls short.  Millar seems to be talking and signing to her Mother but we cannot know this.  It’s clear she feels intensely but unfortunately the contemporary choreography is unimaginative and the dancing is adequate at best.  Melodic music and a clear focus might make all the difference for future works.

Also in this category is Chi Si Chasm by choreographer Waeli Wang.  The dancers may be excellent but we can’t tell as they are asked to do very little beyond reaching.  Shot in close up and in limited light this becomes more of a film piece with a soundscape, than a dance.  The performers are Katie Huang and Samantha Lin.  Soundscape is by Andrew J. Tarr.

Maryana Rae choreography for “Amen” has some nice moments but is lacking in originality.  Danced with sincerity, Emmy Ham does her best but ultimately is outmatched by the awkward choreography.  The appealing music is by Amber Run Ft & The London Contemporary Voices.  Again it’s Nathan Kim doing a good job with the cinematography.

“De-Eschatology” is a wildly imaginative piece from Mignolo Dance, choreographed and danced by Charley and Ariel Santiago.  Two dancers entirely encased in Saran Wrap are found sitting on metal chairs in a parking structure.  Breaking free of these bonds that bind us as women is the clear message here.  The choreography is nimble and witty as set to classical music by Saint Saens, a laudable choice that adds to the quirkiness of this funny yet gritty work. Mignolo Dance is a company to watch. Apt camera work is by Brian Curry.

A mental breakdown seems to be the cause of deep emotional stress for dancer, choreographer Geena Moroni in “Take 5.”  Unfortunately there is nothing new or innovative here.  She works hard in a contemporary angst style and is an adequate dancer but this is a one-note piece. More nuances would be welcome. The original music score was by Adam Starkopf with lyrics by Genna Moroni.

Nicole Hagen - MashUp Contemporary Dance Company - Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett

Nicole Hagen – MashUp Contemporary Dance Company – Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett @kellymustaphaphotography

While not new or particularly unique “Quarter Til” is a pleasant diversion.  Choreographers, Diana Schoenfield and Eugenia Rodriquez who also dance bring a clean contemporary style to their interpretation of “September” by Aoyuni.  With ease of movement we get a sense of nostalgia as summer moves into fall.  Nathan Kim is the able cinematographer.

“Nowhere” is an absolute kick!  This for me was the highlight of the festival.  Dancer/Choreographer Jessie Lee Thorne finds herself along the side of a highway in a broken down car.  Through a fanciful act of mime she hitches a ride with an old man, turns on the car radio and off she goes in a wild romp down the road.  Her style is an exuberantly joyful mix of hip-hop and musical theater.  The music music, which perfectly suits the mood, was “Makeba” by Jain.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Stephanie Heckert - MashUp Contemporary Dance Company - Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett

Stephanie Heckert – MashUp Contemporary Dance Company – Photo by Kelly Mustapha-Kellett @kellymustaphaphotography

The final work of the night is “Fragility” beautifully choreographed by Madi Hicks.  This was a lovely soothing way to close the night.  Well-rehearsed and smoothly executed an ambience of ease is created which is upended by the descent into madness near the end. Immaculate floor work, skillful technique all get showcased here along with Hicks imaginative staging.  Music: The Consolations of Philosophy by Max Richter and Emissary by Keaton Henson and Ren Ford; the cast of “Fragility” included Abigail Ruiz, Catalina Jackson-Urueña, Megan Kneson, Nicole Hagen, Shelby Davis, and Stephanie Heckert; the Videographer was Nathan Kim.

Well-organized and well-produced “Choose to Challenge” is a worthy tribute to Women in Dance.  I look forward to seeing the development of these young choreographers as we move through this pandemic into a new world.

To visit the MashUp Contemporary Dance Company website, click HERE.

[Note: This review was edited on March 31, 2021 at the request of the company.]

Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: MashUp Contemporary Dance Company – Photo courtesy of the company.