Joshua D. Estrada-Romero founded FUSE Dance Company in 2010 after receiving his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Dance from California State University, Fullerton in 2008. Since then, he has put together an impressive body of works. Estrada-Romero presented two full-length works, Dauntless and Limitless, at Diavolo Dance Theatre this past weekend, featuring a very strong group of performers. Interestingly, he chose to turn the performance space around, with one-third of the audience facing the studio mirrors, and the other two rows of chairs on the sides facing each other. This not only gave one a different visual perspective of his work, but it allowed Lighting Designer Debra Lockwood to create unique atmospheres and intensities of light.

Joshua D. Estrada-Romero – Photo: LA Dance Chronicle

Apart from his training at CSU, Fullerton, Estrada-Romero has trained with well-known artists of the José Limón Dance Company and Erick Hawkins Dance Company, and choreographer Victor Kabaniev. Kabaniev is a classical ballet trained Russian who, along with Dmitri Kulev (also Russian) are now teaching contemporary ballet in Orange County. Estrada-Romero’s work Dauntless reflects his modern/contemporary dance training whereas Limitless shows the influence of Kabaniev’s style. Estrada-Romero has, however, begun to discover his own choreographic voice.

Dauntless was approximately 50 minutes long, incorporating movements from Boxing and the Korean martial art Taekwondo. The latter puts emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques. The 9 dancers were costumed in all black with their hands taped like boxers’ hands before their gloves go on. Long strips of black cloth were used to create a boxing ring and other obstacles and/or boundaries. Dauntless’ subjects were inspired by children’s games like dodge ball, snake, Simon Says and others, but Estrada-Romero threads them all together with his boxing and Taekwondo gestures and movements. Throughout, the dancers maintained their defensive facial expressions and challenging stances.

Dauntless – FUSE Dance Company in Santa Barbara- Photo by Kathee Miller

Another movement theme that prevailed in Dauntless took its roots from the hand game Rock-Paper-Scissors. A challenge occurred, and the winner led the way. At the beginning of the piece, one person, performed by Leann Alduenda, led the others through a series of training exercises while shifting fronts in between each one. And, another wonderful section where the dancers created a very large Cat’s Cradle using several of the long black ribbons.

Dauntless – FUSE Dance Company – Photo: LA Dance Chronicle

In the section entitled Dodge, Estrada-Romero made use of a long strip of red ribbon to provoke the preverbal drawing of a red line. There was a beautiful unison phrase that ended traveling to the floor via a fast movement performed in canon. Don’t Touch The Floor, Cause The Floor is lava, and You’ll Die made use of black wooden cubes with red lights attached. Dancers were lifted and carried, avoiding the floor. What was missing here, except via the red lights, was any evidence of danger, risk or any drastic consequences of touching the floor, which they did often.

Dauntless – FUSE Dance Company – Photo: LA Dance Chronicle

The space went dark for Bocce Ball Anyone? Each dancer held a glowing softball-sized ball: two red, two blue, two green and two white. The glowing balls provided partial light and took over the forming of shapes and lines. The mirrors became part of the action in Sssssnake as the dancers performed adjacent to them. This doubled the cast and created two rows of slivering vipers. An abstract game of musical chairs was the inspiration for SnATched. Each time a group phrase left, one or two chairs were removed. The next time the entire group entered, some were left to perform solos or duets while the others sat or performed on a chair. Eventually, of course, only one chair remained.

It was dancer Kate Duran who occupied the final chair and who commanded one’s attention in the final section Simon who? Duran moved, and the others followed. She led, controlling when and how they moved. The dance ended with the dancers standing, looking at each other as if they were eager for the next exciting game. One was left with the realization of how we are all taught from a very young age to compete, to challenge and to hopefully win. The dance is strong, but several of the sections’ length felt dictated by the music choices rather than the statement Estrada-Romero had to make.

The beautifully trained and powerful dancers included Leann Alduenda, Kathy Duran, Kaycee Jannino, Matthew Kindig, Rebecca Levy, Stephanie Lin, Phillip Lu, Rebeca Montecino, and Katherine Shepersky. Estrada-Romero used a variety of music composers including Kangding Ray, Loscil, Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Emptyset, and Byetone.

Limitless – FUSE Dance Company in Santa Barbara – Photo: Kathee Miller

Limitless was comprised of solo, duets and group sections with a more lyrical sense of movement that involved contemporary modern and ballet genres. In the program, Estrada-Romero stated that this work was inspired by memories and true-life events that help to shape who we are. The work is laced with familiar ballet positions and lifts; some of which made me smile, as if he were referencing them with a bit of tongue-in-cheek satire. First position, the stylized ballet walk, overhead lifts and preparations for multiple pirouettes are just a sample of the movements seen here.

Kathy Duran in Limitless – FUSE Dance Company – Photo: LA Dance Chronicle

There is an introspective solo, Flares, performed beautifully by Kathy Duran that references the agony of Lupus Flares. The movement maintains a sense of tension while allowing Duran’s lyricism to shine. Rebecca Levy is powerful in the equally dramatic solo entitled Disruption of the Norm where the movement is even tighter and more angular. Duets are seen in the performance space and in the mirror as Lockwood’s lighting appears more vivid in the reflection, as if someone were adjusting the contrast in a television and seeing both the softer and the harsher tones simultaneously.

Two men demonstrate their attraction to one another in the duet T-Shirts and Tanks. This would be a beautiful duet, but sadly there was no chemistry between the two performers, Jestoni Dagdag and Phillip Lu. I wondered why they chose to walk off hand-in-hand rather than going their separate ways.

CSU, Fullerton dancers performing with FUSE Dance Company – Photo: LA Dance Chronicle

Fragmented featured guest performers from California State University, Fullerton Gabriella Bridgmon, Chandler Davids, Holly Goodchap, Peyton Nakamura, Edward Salas, and Gillian Tatreau. It was a strangely haunting section that began with a slow-moving trio encircled by a slightly faster moving trio. Three duets emerge; two same sex and one opposite sex. The entire dance glides along peacefully with great clarity, but there is an unfamiliarity about it that caused me to feel like I was watching private lives taking shape. The university students gave an admirable performance.

The final section of Limitless began with the dancers standing in a centrally lit circle. One by one they placed a hand into the light to test its intensity or magic. Each made a gesture that then dictated how she/he moved. Shape and Form was pure movement with a touch of romance. The talented cast include Jestoni Dagdag, Kathy Duran, Kaycee Jannino, Olivia Hamilton, Rebecca Levy, Stephanie Lin, Phillip Lu, Jessie Mays, and Katherine Shepersky.

Joshua D. Estrada-Romero is a choreographer to watch. Some of the works above could use some editing, but overall were very strong. Each dance had its own identity and his dancers rose to the extreme shift in quality challenge. Estrada-Romero’s work needs distance between the performers and the audience, so that one can see and enjoy the wonderfully structure pattern and groupings, but even as close to the performers as we were at Diavolo Dance Theatre, the work’s strength held true.

To learn more about Fuse Dance Company, click here.

Feature Photo by LA Dance Chronicle