For many years Highways Performance Space and Gallery, led by Executive Director Leo Garcia and Artistic Director Patrick Kennelly has provided a venue for both inspiring and established artist to present their work in a safe environment. On Friday, June 23, 2023 it was Los Angeles based movement artist Derrick Paris who joined that long list of artists with the premiere of his powerful and very personal – but universal – work Send(ing) Love. This was a somewhat raw production that laid bare the many pluses and minuses of falling in love, or not, via a mixture of dance, music, theater, and spoken word.
The set consisted of a television set sitting on top of a large red rug, a heart-shaped box and two colorful patch quilts with pockets hanging on opposite sides of the stage. Popular love songs from the 1960s were heard as the audience made their way to their seats. It was primarily a young audience with a sprinkling of seniors, and many appeared to be friends or colleagues of those in the show.
The five characters in this evening-length work evolved through several personalities while managing to remain themselves in the process. They were friends, lovers, enemies, rivals and outsiders who were first introduced as somewhat lethargic friends entering one by one only to end up in layered heap. There seemed to be some importance for the white envelopes sealed shut with red hearts that lay about, but it took a while for their relevance to be known.
Each section reveals a different form of love. One person is in anguish due to what appears to be the loss of a relationship. Another is frustrated due to the inability to express their feelings to the person they admire. There is the expression of self-love, enjoying being alone while still longing to be held created with a mixture of pedestrian movement and contemporary dance. The dancing was stark, direct, sometimes in a group unison, but always brief and unembellished.
The heart-shaped box revealed rose pedals, a symbol to some of romance and passion, that were sprinkled around a woman (Abriel Gardner) and then eaten by the others as they approach her one by one.
Paris and the other artists that he surrounds himself with are very talented. He understands how to put a storyline together and to continue a central theme without exhausting its use. The theme here was the opening of each of the five envelopes and the reading by of the letter inside by one of the characters. He found humor in one such reading by having the character, Keilan Stafford stuff the pages he found inside his mouth so that when he read the expletives, they were almost inaudible. Paris saved the last envelope for himself and it was an extremely personal and moving letter from Paris to himself. It expresses his strengths, his misunderstanding of his merits, telling him to carry on, that he was worthy of being loved and strong enough to withstand rejection.
Earlier I used the word raw because Paris strips away the layers of physical skin to expose the inner functions of these characters fears and desires. The work is not without fault, and there were a couple of times when my mind began to wander. Send(ing) Love was, however, but it was very engaging and I became very involved with each character.
Send(ing) Love was choreographed and directed by Derrick Paris. The performers and collaborators included Abriel Gardner, Annalise Gehling, Mason Gray, Derrick Paris, and Keilan Stafford. The music was an original composition and edited by Paris. The Lighting Design way by Kate Mason and the Set Design was by Paris.
To learn more about Derrick Paris, please visit his website.
For more information about Highways Performance Space and Gallery, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image by Maya Umemoto-Gorman