At the Brea Curtis Theatre on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, FUSE Dance Company presented four works choreographed by artistic director Joshua D. Estrada-Romero. The first three works on the program were created in past years, but it was the premiere of Estrada-Romero’s exquisite new work, A State of Presence. A notable strength was how the dances were lined up, allowing the performers to appear stronger and more secure as the evening progressed.
Estrada-Romero’s work AlphA made its debut in 2012 so this was not the first time I had seen it and I must admit it has not aged well. Here the music overpowered both the choreography and the dancers. Estrada-Romero states in the program notes that the dance was designed to “explore social constructs and mental model’s surround masculinity through movement” and “power struggles and dominance,” These ideas did indeed come across during sections of the work, but because the movement phrases were seen multiple times its strength waned as it went forward. At the conclusion, I was left questioning how the leader of the group had maintained control and why.
The cast of AlphA included Leann Alduenda, Kathy Dunn, Phillip Lu, Stephanie Lin Ocampo, and Candi Spahr. The driving and repetitive music was by Pan Sonic, Signal, and Christof Littman.
Both mood and quality shifted dramatically with Estrada-Romero’s Danca Musicorum Ritmo which did not only appear to be a favorite of the dancers to perform, but it is a wonderful celebration and exploration of rhythms and the various layers within each musical composition by Faraualla. Estrada-Romero achieved this through the choreographic structure that involved dancers performing different qualities and rhythms while dancing to the same music. The different musical threads became visible through movement in an extremely clever and amusing way.
The dancers who beautifully carried this dance forward were Leann Alduenda, Kathy Duran, Joshua D. Estrada-Romero, Holly Goodclap, Phillip Lu, Stephanie Lin Ocampo, Maili Schlosser, and Candi Sphar.
Having worked with several choreographers over time, I was impressed with and felt for the dancers in Estrada-Romero’s Beyond the Body. It is a wonderfully constructed dance, but what makes me write the prior comment is the speed and length of the work. At first, I questioned the title, but halfway through I realized that in order to physically get through this dance, the performers must work past their fatique and perhaps mentally ignore the physical demands Beyond the Body required of them.
In his program notes, Estrada-Romero states that he looks for dancers who display athleticism, technique, musicality, grace, and what stands out in Beyond the Body, stamina. The work appears built primarily on groups of dancers moving in unison or in canon. While accomplishing this, however, Estrada-Romero shifts them in and out of different group positionings: duets, trios, etc. while challenging them with very complex movement phrases and intricate arm gestures. It is a beautiful work, but also one that others could study as an example of how to make everyone on stage moving in unison appear otherwise.
Kudos to the cast of Beyond the Body: Leann Alduenda, Kathy Duran, Joshua D. Estrada-Romero, Holly Goodchap, Phillip Lu, Julia Rae Moran, Stephanie Lin Ocampo, Maili Schlosser and Candi Sphar.
A State of Presence stood out from all the other works on the program in several ways. One, the dance was choreographed to a recording of Alan Watts speaking at a seminar. The topic he was covering was multilayered but basically it was a discussion on the definition of reality. Estrada-Romero divided his work into six sections: The Mind, Surrender, Material, Death, Dance, and Along the Way and with the exception of two sections, ten year veteran of FUSE Dance Company, Leann Alduenda sat or stood acting as an observer. She managed to both hold the stage and allow the others onstage to have visibility. Not an easy balance.
The Mind found Maili Schlosser powerfully performing an introspective solo in front of four side-by-side mirrors that express a kind of isolation and frustration with loneliness. Surrender was a look into the hearts of two women expressing their love for one another and the give and take of a relationship. Estrada-Romero chose to have the two (Kathy Duran and Holly Goodchap) perform the same movement facing each other before branching off and returning into an embrace. These two dancers were a great match for this duet in that they were equals in their technical and acting abilities.
Death, performed with great sensitivity by Phillip Lu and Julia Rae Moran, was about love and loss. Ironically the speaker, Watts, spoke with some humor about the selfishness of falling in love, rather than rising in love, and the relinquishing of one’s self to another being. This section gave Alduenda a chance to move and gestate the words of Watts describing how people should do the type of work that makes them happy rather than rich and celebrate by dancing through life.
The work ended with the full cast, Leann Alduenda, Kathy Duran, Holly Goodchap, Phillip Lu, Julia Rae Moran, Stephanie Lin Ocampo, and Maili Schlosser celebrating the journey we all take during our time on this planet. It was appropriately called Along the Way. Lighting Designer Jordan Curiel did an excellent job of creating multiple environments for Estrada-Romero’s visions. Costumes were designed by Joshua D. Estrada-Romero.
FUSE Dance Company is losing one of its most senior members, director Leann Alduenda, and she will be very greatly missed. Alduenda is not only a powerhouse of a dancer, but her presence on stage is matched only by Estrada-Romero. This company is a wonderful part of the southern California dance community. If given a chance, I suggest you go see them.
To learn more about FUSE Dance Company, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: FUSE Dance Company in “Beyond the Body” by Joshua D. Estrada-Romero – Photo by Skye Schmidt