On Sunday afternoon, September 25, 2022, ARC Pasadena brought in LA’s resident accomplished talent of choreographers and dancers. ARC performance space has been indispensable to keeping Southern California’s local talent alive. It is a community space for creating movement art and continuing to support gifted artists. This event reminded me of community, love for one’s craft, and nurturing those around you. The Foothills Dancemakers presentation brought in four home-grown dance companies and a historic modern solo. California has had a strong influence in modern dance with legendary pioneers such as Lester Horton, Alvin Alley, Bella Lewitzky, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn just to name a wondrous nostalgic few. This event confirmed that modern dance is still so relevant, paving its way in the LA area, and necessary for the future of dance performers.

Each choreographer briefly introduced before their pieces before they were performed.

Foothills DanceMakers - (L-R) Hilary Thomas, Nancy Evans Doede, Benita Bike, John Penningon - Collage by LADC

Foothills DanceMakers – (L-R) Hilary Thomas, Nancy Evans Doede, Benita Bike, John Penningon – Collage by LADCs

Pennington Dance Group

Goodman Dances

Pennington Dance Group - Danae McWatt in John Pennington's "Goodman Dances" - Photo by Denise Leitner

Pennington Dance Group – Danae McWatt in John Pennington’s “Goodman Dances” – Photo by Denise Leitner

The opening piece was choreographed by the esteemed modern dance luminary John Pennington and music by famed Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky. Goodman Dances started off on stools towards the back, followed by four dancers providing distinctive solos in heavy darkness. An interesting and lighthearted take to Alex Zemlinsky’s music, Mr. Pennington’s choice was to construct different moments of love. Feelings such as, love gone wrong, or gifts of love to one who doesn’t appreciate it; the viewer could, however, choose to create their own meanings. These storytellers chose to wear masks, a product of Covid times, and therefore the body and eyes were the player’s primary tools for communication. In general, the dancers found it difficult to stay grounded in their placement as per the work dictated, causing some scattered footing, but they persevered with their narratives. The first to begin was lengthy Becky Chang in a green flowing chiffon creating a nice use of the space. The airy costumes were designed and built by Jim Tsou. Danae McWatt, followed in beige, her quintessence portrayed a nostalgia of swaying Isadora Duncan energy, while Andrew Palomares was fun and flirty with the audience. Edwin Siguenza, whom I have seen earlier this year, has grown exponentially; it was a pleasure to watch the use of his hands and the highs and lows of his work in partnership with Mr. Pennington’s nice strong ending to the section.

Pennington Dance Group - Edwin Siguenza in John Pennington's "Skins" - Photo by Denise Leitner

Pennington Dance Group – Edwin Siguenza in John Pennington’s “Skins” – Photo by Denise Leitner

Mr. Pennington’s second creation, Skins, was last on the program. He spoke about the importance of one’s skin and its many uses, and as a conceptual platform, Mr. Pennington applied the use of long obscure material which first covered over the three performers Danae McWatt, Andrew Palomares, and Edwin Siguenza. Electronic music master Edgar Rothermich’s score generated the poignant composition and the performers emerged from their skins and I envisioned them appearing as a different species onto a far off planet. The dancers use of the props was extremely musical and images the invoked were highly effective.

Benita Bike’s Dance Art
Griot Songs
Entrelazadas (Intertwined)

Two very well-rehearsed pieces choreographed by Benita Bike, artistic director of Benita Bike’s DanceArt, beautifully complimented each other. Presented in the first half of the program was Griot Songs with an array of musical credits (listed below). Before her work began, Ms. Bike remarked that this piece was abstract but that her intention was her experiences as a woman in her preteen years through to maturity. Costumed in blue, the women resembled rolling waves as they moved in unison. A lightness and serene elegance appeared in instants while the dancers displayed lovely lines throughout the work.  A standout, and the first to start and end the piece, was Nola Gibson who had a unique calmness to her dancing. Ms. Gibson effectively blended in her transitions and later, in her seamless duet with a pleasantly postured Micay Jean, each delivered a circular round arm formations that brought forth the essence of ocean waves. Skye Schmidt gleamed in the lights with an effervescent demeanor, while a statuesque red headed Lydia McDonald both provided a section of harmonious hip swaying movement.

Benita Bike’s DanceArt - "Griot Songs" - Performers (l to r) Micay Jean, Nola Gibson, Skye Schmidt [Lydia McDonald obscured upstage] - Photo by Dean Wallraff

Benita Bike’s DanceArt – “Griot Songs” – Performers (l to r) Micay Jean, Nola Gibson, Skye Schmidt [Lydia McDonald obscured upstage] – Photo by Dean Wallraff

Griot Songs music credits: (1) Sinanon Saran by Kassé-Mady Diabaté, LCRdC & Ensemble 3MA from Alia Vox album, ‘The Routes of Slavery’, AVSA9920 (2) Splendid Wood by Jennifer Higdon, Copyright 2006 by Jennifer Higdon, (3) Vero by Ensemble 3MA from Alia Vox album ‘The Routes of Slavery’, AVSA9920

Benita Bike's DanceArt - (l-R) Lydia McDonald and Skye Schmidt in Bike's Duet from Entrelazadas - Photo by Dean Wallraff

Benita Bike’s DanceArt – (l-R) Lydia McDonald and Skye Schmidt in Bike’s Duet from “Entrelazadas” – Photo by Dean Wallraff

Benita Bike’s second piece Entrelazadas (Intertwined) came in like a storm. A fast and furious guitar duet of interwoven fiery red velvety costume dresses by Victoria Orr. Ms. Bike provided a wide use of the space, her style attractively expansive at just the right moments, and she provided an impressive flow in and out of segments. The music for Entrelazadas was a complementary score by Joaquin Rodrigo Zapateado, performed by Jeffrey McFadden (Naxos 5537), whose high-pitched guitar playing mimiced the Lanolin.

Lineage Dance Company
Dancing for Joy
Let me be your sunshine.” (Excerpt from Healing Blue)

Artistic Director Hillary Thomas was injured right before the show; however, the Lineage Dance Company did not miss a beat. It was exciting to witness the dancers continue a high level of professionalism in not showing obvious signs of adjustment. Thomas spoke about her quest in helping people find their relationship with mind and body, no matter their physical obstructions; everyone should have the gift of dance. The beautiful and inspirational Nancy Ware demonstrated Ms. Thomas’s belief of mindset and mobility from her wheelchair. Joined on stage by the effervescent Molly Mattei, the two symbiotically provided a dance of love and acceptance. This work touched one’s soul and totally demonstrated Thomas’ relationship to community and mission.

Lineage Dance Company - "Dancing for Joy" - Performers Michelle Kolb and Nancy Ware - Photo by Dean Wallraff

Lineage Dance Company – “Dancing for Joy” – Performers (L-R) Michelle Kolb and Nancy Ware – Photo by Dean Wallraff

A replacement excerpt was put in last minute of Healing Blue,Let me be your sunshine.”  This portion was an impressive pair of female empowerment, love, and compassion so pertinent to today’s troubles. In black flattering dresses, Brittany Daniels and Teya Wolvington effortlessly performed this tribute to breast cancer survivors. The sound of local musician Chris Pierce’s voice echoed through the stage and pleasantly into one’s ears. Pierce’s music was a fantastic complement and marker on bringing weight and valor to the subject matter.

Nancy Evans Dance Theatre
Clearing (1979) by Viola Farber (re-staged by Jeff Slayton)

ROOTS AND BRANCHES - Nancy Evans Dance Theatre - Jenn Logan in Viola Farber's "Clearing" (1979) - Photo by AyameFoto

ROOTS AND BRANCHES – Nancy Evans Dance Theatre – Jenn Logan in Viola Farber’s “Clearing” (1979) – Photo by AyameFoto

Two prominent former dancers of New York’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Viola Farber and Jeff Slayton, joined forces to create the Viola Farber Dance Company (1969-1983). Farber’s Clearing was originally created for Ze’eva Cohen and debuted in 1979. Until it appeared this past May on a concert by the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre titled Roots and Branches, Clearing had not been seen in over 40 years, after Ms. Cohen gave exclusive permission for Mr. Slayton to re-stage Farber’s choreographic masterpiece on the exquisite Jenn Logan.

Ms. Logan is a member of the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre and her approach to this solo gave technical depth and understanding to Farber’s emotionally introspective work. It is also a compliment to Jeff Slayton’s re-staging and carrying on Ms. Farber’s intentions and aptitudes.

Nancy Evans Dance Theatre - Ashleigh Doede in "Safe" - Photo by ayamefoto

Nancy Evans Dance Theatre – Ashleigh Doede in “Safe” – Photo by Ayamefoto

Before the solo, Safe, began Nancy Evans Doede spoke about her conversations with the late and legendary Don Martin. The conversation revolved around a person wanting to feel safe on earth or at least in one’s domain. Safe, choreographed by Doede, gets better each time it is performed. Since the backdrop is a film, the viewer constantly discovers something new. Daughter and company member, Ashleigh Doede, divinely articulates the sentiments and reactions of the multimedia observance surveying adventure. Costume selection by Katrina Amerine delivers a striking mold-able yellow dress which represents a collective innocence and light to the film’s contrasting darkness. The music and film score by Nikolaos Crist Doede and Nancy Evans Doede’s visions of light and dark flashes brilliantly related to the observer, and into one’s subconscious thoughts and uncertainties. There was a gripping use of shadow and chilling visuals that invoked an awakening of one’s fear for safety.

These Los Angeles area dancers continue to work with these selected companies and choreographers for years. All doing pertinent work to encompass community, build growth in their craft, evoke mindful responsive content, and thought inducing art. This program had a fascinating array of emotional variances that played with your heart strings such as joyfulness, fear, sorrow, and hope. Small companies like these are a training ground, outlet, and continuing professional dance for seasoned performers. Modern dance in Los Angeles has an important historical as well as present-day significance, we just need to acknowledge it.

Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: John Pennington Dance Group in Pennington’s Skins – Dancers: (L-R) Edwin Siguenza, Danae McWatt, Andrew Palomares – Photo by Dean Wallraff