On November 22, 2020, I attended the virtual debut of Entity Contemporary Dance’s film Transparent/see: A Continued Conversation and it was clear early on that choreographers Marissa Osato and Will Johnston had taken this work’s subject seriously, done the necessary research, and worked tirelessly to create a powerful art/activist work.  The company looked strong and extremely well-rehearsed down to the detail of the repetitive gestures of the guest student ensemble from Chapman College. It was also apparent that great care was taken in the videotaping and editing process.

Transparent/see, which premiered at The Montalbán in Hollywood in March 2019, was inspired by “The True Cost” a documentary directed by Andrew Morgan that exposes the human and environmental costs of the global “fast fashion” industry  supply chain. Both the film and the dance are about the clothes that we buy and the people who work overseas for less than living wages to make them. It’s about that and the negative affects these industries have on our world. They also expose the role we, the consumers, play in this destruction by our frivolous purchasing tastes and power.

Entity Contemporary Dance in "Transparent/see" - Photo by Vince Horiuchi

Entity Contemporary Dance in “Transparent/see” – Photo by Vince Horiuchi

Based in Los Angeles as a company-in-residence at Edge Performing Arts Center since 2016, Entity Contemporary Dance was founded in 2009 by Johnston, Osato and Elm Pizarro with intentions of connecting Southern California’s Contemporary and Hip Hop dance communities. This connection is seen in the choreographers’ movement vocabulary, but it is so artfully infused as to be its own newly formed style. One could also detect remnants of the Release Technique, but again this was woven into the movement as to not appear simply as classroom exercises placed together. Refreshing to see!

As powerful as the company members’ performances were, my eye was constantly drawn to the guest ensemble whose riveted attention was on their duties smoothing or measuring out fabric, cutting it with scissors, and threading needles before sewing. They performed these repetitive movements for almost the entire hour while seated in rows of chairs that lined the sides of the stage and did so with the same precision it took the company to perform their technically challenging roles.

The work opens with a marvelously performed solo by Karen Chuang which seamlessly transitions into an intricate unison phrase; a phrase that introduces the company and quickly draws our attention to the physical demands of the garment workers. A hard-to-please consumer (performed with excellence by Derek Tabada) begins carelessly ripping open plastic bags to rummage through the clothes inside. He clearly has no idea what he is looking for, nor does he care how he mistreats the garments, tossing aside the ones he rejects. He tries on the shirts, sweaters, pants and scarfs; looks at himself in an invisible mirror and is never truly satisfied with anything. He discards these items as wantonly as he rips open the bags. Tabada quickly becomes the character movie goers love to hate.

Derek Tabada in Entity Contemporary Dance production of "Transparent/see" - Photo by Vince Horiuchi

Derek Tabada in Entity Contemporary Dance production of “Transparent/see” – Photo by Vince Horiuchi

Laced within Osato and Johnston’s choreography are rapid fire gestures of the garment workers seen on the sidelines. Amazing percussive and beautifully executed torso, arm and leg work that focuses in on the struggles of those involved in the “fast fashion” industry chain.

Duets share the stage with a trio that morphs into two identical trios in opposition to different duet. Individual salespeople try to entice the oblivious consumer during inventive duets that incorporate the chosen garment – such as a sweater or scarf. This goes on (a tad long, but still intriguingly) until the man is totally cocooned inside what appears like hundreds of garment items. This submersion of the consumer becomes a scene of revenge by both the workers and the entire industry. And indeed, the guest ensemble members finally leave their endless duties along the sidelines to confront or awaken the consumer to their sacrificial work attempting to meet his endlessly changing demands.

The final scene involves the entire cast seated in two rows to simulate a fashion show run-way. The consumer, the bags of garments and a tailor’s manikin are then propelled atop a large pallet on wheels as if it was a model displaying the latest fashions. This connection to the fashion industry, which has a history of exploiting its models, was an nice touch.

Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to see this video or to attend a future live performance of Transparent/see. I for one would enjoy seeing it again live.


Marissa Osato Will Johnston
Marissa Osato - Co-founder/Director - Entity Contemporary Dance - Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Directors/Choreographers of Transparent/see are Will Johnston and Marissa Osato. The extremely strong company members include Kent Boyd, Karen Chuang, Emily Crouch, Shiori Kamijo, Angel Mammoliti, Grayson McGuire, Eugenia Rodriguez, Diana Schoenfield, Derek Tabada. The Guest Ensemble consists of students from Chapman College.

The Videographer who masterfully recorded Transparent/see was Vince Horiuchi; the video was edited by Will Johnston, and the immensely powerful and drama driven score was by Kurtis Sprung. Julian Mendez’s Costumes were perfect for this work. They were totally uniform but allowed us to see the dancers’ bodies execute the choreography. The stark but absolutely commanding Scenic Design was by Melanie Waingarten, and the stunning Lighting Design was by Teresa Porterfield. The Technical Director was Alec Guthrie.

Entity Contemporary Dance in "Transparent/see" - Photo by Break the Floor Productions

Entity Contemporary Dance in “Transparent/see” – Photo by Break the Floor Productions

Following the video showing, there was a highly informative Q&A session hosted by Osato and Johnston. The moderator was company member Karen Chuang who posed questions to panelist Andrew Morgan, Director of “The True Cost”; Gordon Renouf, Co-founder/CEO of the organization Good On You; Eleanor Amari, Director of Artists for Global Good; and Dana Trans, Sustainability Brand Strategist, as well as questions from viewers. There was a second Q&A session with the artists which I was unable to attend.

To visit the Entity Contemporary Dance website, click HERE.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Entity Contemporary Dance performing Transparent/see – Photo by Vince Horiuchi