This past Sunday,Congress presented Volume VII of their salon style collective performances in partnership with L.A. Dance Project & association with Margot Station. Congress, meaning “step together” was first born in LA by brilliant minded friends Denna Thomsen and Zak Ryan Schlegel in November of 2018. Collectively, the have worked with powerhouse artists such as Ryan Heffington, Sigur Rós, FKA Twigs, institutions such as the Joffrey Ballet, The Juilliard School, and big brands such as Reebok, and Gucci just to name a few. After seeing Congress Volume II back in March 2019, the epic evening unifying cross genre dance and conversation has grown from a small supportive hub at its home at The Sweat Spot to the culmination of masters celebrating today. While Congress has always celebrated the artists who struggle, the talent that goes underappreciated, the voices that go unheard, but Volume VII had a special sentiment of teary unification as the audience handled movement bound around drag queen abolishment, transphobia and cruelty, and gun violence.

Congress VII - Body Talk - Denna Thomsen and Zak Ryan - Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Congress VII – Body Talk – Denna Thomsen and Zak Ryan – Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Before each performance, Thomsen and Schlegel would come out to the stage and speak about the injustice dancers face on a daily basis. Whether that be financial, the process of auditions, call sheet categories, and contracts, the audience moaned and clapped in a way only impoverished artists could understand. Both Thomsen and Schlegel introduced each and every choreographer/collective by name with warmth, love, and friendship which was an appreciated surprise asking them “what has dance taught you.” In this way, we didn’t get what the dance piece was about, but we got the essence of what is important to the choreographer which is much more effective and memorable.

Congress VII - Body Talk - Danny Axley's "Birds on the Brim" - Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Congress VII – Body Talk – Danny Axley’s “Birds on the Brim” – Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrr)

Danny Axley’s piece “Birds on the Brim” performed by Ryan Spencer, Maija Knapp, Adrian Hoffman, Andrea Bess, Angel Mammoliti, Kenzie McClure, Gabriela Cataldo, and Brooke Shepard was like watching a live music video set. With scrunched elbows, claw-like fingers, and jello spinal cords, I felt like I was watching the birth and death of an ancient bird’s life on another planet. Everything so cool, everything so particular, and everything so bold and gruesome in the best possible way. Crawling on their hands and knees, opening their mouths wide, and exuding something primitive, I wanted to cling onto the idea that this was not a new concept, or something I have never seen before. And while that may be true, it did not matter. I was hooked from the first beat.

Congress VII - Body Talk - Jobel Medina's “Solo-ish” - Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Congress VII – Body Talk – Jobel Medina’s “Solo-ish” – Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Jobel Medina’s piece “Solo-ish” was performed by Alyson Van, Jordyn Santiago, Brandon Mathis, Jake Moyle, Genna Moroni, Jas Lin, Marcella Lewis, and Jobel himself. By far my favorite performance of the evening, Medina entered with red wide legged sports pants and a black “I’m a con artist” shirt from the Congress Volumes merch. In sneakers and pulled back hair, he began a series of movements with no front and no back, just free almost improv action. When Medina moves, you can feel him show up for his body and show up for the art of dance. It is almost like he is protecting and preserving movement, like he is both mother and father to the history of what was and what is to come. As Medina swirled around himself, to the floor, to the sky, heavy breath, and racing heart, he let his long hair go as he’s joined by the other seven performers and music by Ezra Furman. Confetti was thrown about, and a sign to remind all of us that it is just a dance. That dance can exist as a blip on the radar and still make an impact.

Congress VII - Body Talk - JA Collective's “Nico Has My Megablastoise” - Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Congress VII – Body Talk – JA Collective’s “Nico Has My Megablastoise” – Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Ja Collective’s piece “Nico Has My Megablastoise” was performed by Aidan Carberry, Casey Murray, and Christian Smith. Ja Collective considers themselves movement architects, and it is easy to see why. With precision and craft the three performers, interwoven by their own hands, heads, arms, and legs, pulled off shapes most designers only dream of. As fast as they got into a position, they got out of it almost faster. In counted steps, auditory slaps and dare I say music, a creation reminiscent of a fraternity step dance was born, and yet somehow, was not that at all. Ja Collective masterfully linked the ethics of dance as math, and I felt like I was watching Laban theory, Cunningham, and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in one. Above all, Ja Collective reinstalled the power of repetition without repeating identical steps. The compounded fever of each head turn, and meticulous movement washes over you like a powerful wave, and you are left floating in the water wondering “what just happened?” and “can I do it again?”

Congress VII - Body Talk - Samo's “Track of Time: A Layers Presentation” - Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

Congress VII – Body Talk – Samo’s “Track of Time: A Layers Presentation” – Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)

A favorite of the night, no doubt, was the incomparable Samo Soto whose piece “Track of Time: A Layers Presentation” was performed by Toyin Sogunro, Danzel Thompson, Enock Kadima (aka Brotha E), Jeremy Taylor (aka Teaspoon), and Jeremiah Haynes (aka Supaman). I was immediately brought back to 1995 in New York City, with large suit jackets and lose fitting seamed pants, the dancers popped in large postures, and moved with daring, courageous, and loud movements. With music by master’s at Work mix, all five dancers created individual personalities as hype men for each other almost. That rush before you do something scary, before you step out on stage, before you stand up for yourself. That is what Samo gives you, he gives you that “let’s do this” rush, and you relax into the conclusion, that dance cures all.

With other performances by Nina McNeely, Justin Conte, Ryan Heffington, and Jillian Meyers, Congress VII left the audience feeling mad, rebellious, powerful, and defiant. It also streamlined creative congregation, community, inspiration, and development of self. While other showcase evenings of dance can be stuffy, selective, and exclusive, Congress feels like a big celebration of every artist’s dreams, accomplishments, and aspirations…and not just of those performing. At Congress you are seen, you are heard, and you are valued no matter what.

For more information on Congress, please visit their website.

For more information on L.A. Dance Project, please visit their website.

This article was edited on May 8, 2023 to correct its title.

Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Work by Justin Conte – Photo by Justin Daashuur Hopkins (@justindaashuurhopkins) and Carter Ross (@thecarterrrrr)