This article was edited 11:37am August 27, 2020
Because of the hard work and sacrifice of thousands of women over many decades the right to vote is something we take for granted today but true equality is still to be achieved. Choreographers Victoria Brown and Sarah Rodenhouse have taken on this subject in honor of Women’s Equality Day and the centennial of Women’s voting rights.
Within the confines of a dance studio two large moveable walls, each set on a pivot point, dominate the room. A mirrored surface on one side allows for double images of the working dancer but when seen from the other side becomes porous and we can see clear images of another dancer as if through a scrim. Utilizing the prop walls to full advantage gives a unique and sometimes magical look to the working area. Intriguingly designed by Erin Cuevas and Jana Masset Collatz the “Walls” are a highlight. All the camera work by Nathan Kim is excellent and well thought out. Depending on his position and the position of the walls and dancers a multitude of layers are created. Mirrored images, shadow images, live images all melded together creating a choreography all it’s own.
Leah La Grange begins the piece facing the mirrored wall as if a reflection and a barrier to her longings. The choreography is a contemporary mix of modern and jazz with a preponderance of reaching, lunges and strong but simple movement. No credit is given for the music but it could be described as generic “House” music, as if it is the background and not the driving force. I found this to be true of the music throughout which gave little more than a tempo and the slightest of melodies. Something stronger with a hook to latch onto would have been a more compelling choice.
Joining with similar choreography was dancer Shelby Davis who could be seen through the secondary porous wall. As the piece develops each dancer has solo moments as well as duets and group choreography. The third segment introduces Nicole Hagen and the final dancer to join is Arianna Santisteven. There is no distinction of style from section to section and the movement though generally well executed becomes repetitive. However with the ever morphing walls and the fluid movement of the dancers a mood is created. At one point the walls construct a narrow path that forces the dancer to crawl through as if being birthed. And there is a moment of great beauty when Shelby Davis is encased in what appears to be a starlit box. The inventiveness of the walls and the way in which they are used is the strongest aspect of the piece.
What is lacking is a firm hold on the story or the idea the choreographers are trying to convey. Angst dancing and an interesting use of the set pieces is not enough when the intent is not clear. The actual choreography never ventures from a basic and often simple style and with a lack of compelling music we are left with too little.
The story of the Suffragettes is timelier than ever as women still fight everyday for equality. In watching “Expansiveness” I had no sense of this whatsoever. Telling the story and staying clear about the idea is essential to bringing in and keeping an audience with you.
When the performers came together for bows there was a tangible sense of joy at what they had accomplished and a feeling of camaraderie among the dancers and choreographers, which spoke to the very point they were trying to convey. As strong and accomplished women, together we can do anything. This is the story that was missed.
Much appreciated however is the character within this company in attempting to create live dance and theater for themselves and for us, against the odds of today’s travails. This is in the spirit of the women who came before them and for all who will follow.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
To visit the MashUp Contemporary Dance Company website, Click HERE.
Featured image: MashUp Contemporary Dance Company – “Expansiveness: Changing Perspectives” – Screen capture courtesy of the company.