Founded by Kate Hutter (Mason) and Michelle Mierz (Jolly), the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company (LACDC) is now in its thirteenth season, performing works by a wide range of dance artists that include Gregory Dolbashian, Laurel Jenkins, Micaela Taylor, Kevin Williamson, Rebecca Lemme, Holly Rothschild, Kate Hutter, Nina McNeely and others. Presented on Dance at the Odyssey 2018 at the Odyssey Theatre in West LA, RIFT included works by New York based Nathan Makolandra; Genevieve Carson, artistic director of LACDC; and Stephanie Zaletel, the founding artistic director of LA based szalt (dance co.).

I asked Carson what inspired the title RIFT. She explained that, in her mind, a rift occurs in each dance work, but in very different ways. For NOMAD.LORE. the rift “is in the space/time continuum that takes the audience into a different universe”; in her piece, Stimulaze, rifts occur within the communications and relationships of the people involved; and in Zaletel’s summer, the rift pertains to a fracture that occurred in her life following a personal loss.

NOMAD.LORE. choreographed by Nathan Makolandra, had its LA premiere on last year’s program PORT: LA/SF at the Los Angeles Theater Center. For the cast, the work has aged well. They look wonderful performing this dance with its fusion of contemporary modern, jazz and release dance styles. It is a tale of travelers in another time and space, seeking truth and/or knowledge, and how that knowledge defines who and what they are. The dance ends as it begins with a solitary figure, Hyosun Choi, slowly moving forward with her face shrouded by her long straight hair. At first, she is watched and studied by the others but at the end she travels alone.

LACDC in NOMAD. LORE. – Choreographer Nathan Makolandra – Photo by Robbie Sweeny

The dance loses its way, however, when it becomes immersed with dancey movement phrases. These sections appear fun to dance, and Makolandra places gestures and manipulations on top of the movement in an attempt to tie everything together. His partnering is inventive, and there are very intricately constructed movement phrases, but Makolandra’s strongest talents with storytelling lie in his duets and solos.

NOMAD.LORE. is enjoyable primarily because of the strong performances by Christian Beasley, Kate Coleman, Hyosun Choi, Lenin Fernandez, Jamila Glass, JM Rodriguez, Ryan Ruiz, Drea Sobke, and Tiffany Sweat. The original music is by the Irish indie folk group New Villager and the costumes were designed by Sami Martin Sarmiento.

Stimulaze (excerpts), choreographed by Genevieve Carson in collaboration with the dancers, also appeared last year on PORT: LA/SF. There is a cause and effect that occurs throughout this beautifully made and very musical work. Four people inhabit the same space and their interactions cause different reactions both one-on-one and to the group. The work opens with a solo performed with great ease and control by JM Rodriguez who is quietly interrupted by Tiffany Sweat, causing Rodriguez to suddenly collapse to the floor.   A dancer, Ryan Ruiz, hurls himself about in a frenzy as his partner, Drea Sobke, looks on with an impassioned concern. Once she moves in to console him, however, she is infected with his sense of disorientation. Later, all four dancers vie for being out front of the others; first pulling each other back into line before the “rift” in the group causes one man to briefly go out and promote his individual ideas.

LACDC in Stimluaze (excerpts) – Choreographer Genevieve Carson – Photo by Robbie Sweeny

The dance involves intense drama as well as light humor. Stimulaze (Excerpts) investigates the interweaving of relationships. It looks at the communications and miscommunications between people, and the change that is or can be the result or consequence of an action one takes. The beautiful score that gels together Bach, Chopin and Mozart with original compositions by Robert Amjärv also exhibits this cause/affect, action/reaction idea. A classical score is intersected by one of Amjärv’s that cause the first to have moments of distortion, as if in an echo chamber. A classical music phrase collides into or harmonizes with an electronic score that suddenly produces a futuristic melody. I look forward to seeing how Carson develops Stimulaze (excerpts) into an evening long work.

I have often written that Stephanie Zaletel is not afraid of stillness and in her hands, stillness becomes a very active strength. I do not know how this fits into our current society where so many want everything to move rapidly or to occur instantly. People do not seem able or willing to sit quietly or pay attention without their world moving at a blinding pace. With her new work summer, Zaletel asks one to look, to see and to hopefully feel. She causes one to ask, “why are these dancers simply lounging in positions that suggest staring out at the ocean”? Or, “is that person actually whispering to the other? What are they saying”? If one settles into Zaletel’s tempo, she/he begins to understand.

LACDC in summer – Choreographer Stephanie Zaletel – Photo by Robbie Sweeny

The dance is dedicated to a close friend of Zaletel’s who suddenly passed away last summer. This work allowed me to feel that I was seeing, not just feeling, time. Time passed, it stood still, and it leapt silently forward. Zaletel explained to me during a later phone conversation, that the several blackouts between sections represent periods in her life that she cannot recall. While I am not a strong fan of the use of blackouts, Zaletel’s explanation caused me to rethink my reaction to them.

Guest artist Lenin Fernandez is wonderful in summer. For me, he represented Zaletel’s friend. He has a masculine sensuality, and with a powerful ease, he quietly demands one’s attention. The entire cast of 13 dancers maintain a beautiful sense of calm, stillness and loneliness throughout the work. One haunting section occurs near the end of summer when four men move quickly through unison and canon phrases, while a line of nine women slowly walk along the perimeter. Here, fast-paced lives co-exist with others in slow motion. Fernandez continues to be heard jumping as the lights fade out, a signal that though Stephanie’s friend is gone, his memory lives on inside her heart.

LACDC in summer – Choreographer Stephanie Zaletel – Photo by Robbie Sweeny

summer is performed to an original score by Louis Lopez. He incorporates urban sounds of traffic noises with a haunting guitar and other electronic music. At one point there are electronic blasts that made me think of gun shots or mental blasts strong enough to feel physically.

The beautiful cast of summer included Christian Beasley, Genevieve Carson, Hyosun Choi, Kate Coleman, Lenin Fernandez, Jamila Glass, Tess Hewlett, JM Rodriguez, Princess Mecca Romero, Ryan Ruiz, Drea Sobke, Tiffany Sweat, and Angel Tyson.  This dance is one whose starkness may cause some to feel uncomfortable. Zaletel does not, however, force one to experience her personal emotions. She allows the audience to consider their own.

The L.A. Contemporary Dance Company performs of RIFT continue at the Odyssey Theatre Feb 2 & 3 at 8pm and Sun, Feb 4 at 2pm. On Feb. 8 & 9 at 8pm, Dance at the Odyssey presents Naked: an exploration of the nude human body through dance theatre by Corina Kinnear. For more information and tickets, click here.

Feature photo by Gema Galiana

To view the LA Dance Chronicle calendar of performances in and around Los Angeles, click here.