Formerly a building that housed power equipment for the nearby electric railways, the Ivy Substation in Culver City is now a 99-seat theatre where Deborah Brockus, founder and Artistic Director of BrockusRED, premiered her evening-length work DUST: Permutations on the Unknown. The performances ran July 5 and 6 at 8:00p.m. and July 7 at 2:00p.m.  It was the 4th of July holiday and one that proved to be a difficult time for southern Californians who experienced two major earthquakes in two consecutive days. A new work focusing on our relationship with Mother Earth was therefore exceptionally meaningful and timely. Indeed, the first earthquake hit during BrockusRED’s opening night, forcing the audience to vacate the building until it was safe to return inside.

In the theater lobby prior to the performance and while we all stood surrounded by the beautiful work of visual artist Richelle Gribble, Brockus explained that this was just the birth of her new work, and after viewing DUST, it did include several areas where it needed to grow, fill out and mature.  Collaborating with Composers Peter Askim and Zac Greenberg, Brockus’s choreography was occasionally overpowered by ever shifting projections of Earth’s oceans, deserts, forests, different patterns and textures in nature, as well as the soaring film-like music score. That said, there were many solid moments offered by Brockus and her cast of five highly skilled dancers Julienne Mackey, Hailey Transue, Robert Gomez, Daniel Moore, and Blair Pope.

Dust took on a complexity of subjects: the planet, climate change, geologic time and nature’s multitude of geometric shapes. Brockus divided the piece into four sections: Oceans, Patterns in Nature, Organization of Groups, and Our place in Time and the Cosmos. Oceans opened with projections of Earth as seen from space, moved in closer to reveal glaciers and oceans while the sound of waves washed over us. Onstage, a long Aqua colored piece of material became moving waves that supported dancer Julienne Mackey who rode the waves, swam, disappeared and reappeared before finally sinking beneath the surface. She was replaced by Hailey Transue whose body was entangled in rope and plastic bottles, highlighting how humans have endangered all forms of sea life by discarding our trash into the oceans.

Costumed in earth tones, there were lovely duets, trios and solos reflecting the movements of water and air, but also times when the dancers appeared to be filling time while the music roared dramatically through the theater and the screen was filled with beautiful moving pictures of our planet.

Brockus came back into focus during Patterns in Nature with intricate patterns that echoed those projected on the screen. Flowers bursting into bloom, and the wonderful shapes created by nature. Blair Pope demonstrated great control as he performed a solo filled with beautiful sustained movements. Brockus aptly incorporated phrases danced in canon to shape the space into some of the natural formations and textures projected behind them, and the dancers strew rose petals as they created a complex circular formation.

IMG_3770 IMG_3765 IMG_3766 IMG_3761 BrockusRED - DUST
BrockusRED - DUST by Deobrah Brockus - Photo by Emerson Chen

The strongest section, Organization of Groups, opened the second half of DUST. Here, Brockus dressed her cast in bright red and demonstrated her talent in creating space devouring movement, wonderful lifts and group sections that showcased the talents of her strong cast of dancers. She provided a glimpse into different cultures and how people are drawn into social groups and how conflicts arise.

As the visuals behind them shifted to desert scenes, the dancers quietly reappeared dressed in their original earth tone colored costumes, bringing the focus back into nature. Mackey excelled in a solo of static and erratic movement that morphed into a wonderful duet with Blair Pope that was filled with both tension and tenderness. There was a very nice duet between Robert Gomez and Daniel Moore that built upon Brockus’ theme of love for each other and the planet.

Our place in Time and the Cosmos was where the choreography, the music and the visuals came together in the clearest manner. Brockus’ movement became smaller, quieter again the projections of our vast universe filled with constellations, planets, suns and a seemingly endless horizon. By doing so, she demonstrated what she spoke to during her pre-show presentation, that earth is but a spec of dust within the ever-expanding galaxy.

Brockus was correct when she related to her audience that DUST was just the birth of her new piece. It does not yet hold up as an evening long work and she needs to bring certain sections up to the level of the music and visuals. The group sections came across as under rehearsed as unisons were not in sync. I was not impressed with the score overall. Certain sections sounded like they belonged in a Hollywood movie, whereas the dance was more down to earth.

The Lighting Designer for DUST was Evan Nie, who created beautiful textures, designs and varying environments for Brockus’ characters to inhabit.

I applaud the effort Brockus put into this work and the chances that she took. I look forward to seeing how DUST ages.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, July 10, 2019

To learn more about BrockusRED, click here.

To learn more about the Ivy Substation in Culver City, click here.

Featured image: BrockusRED – Photo courtesy of the company.