On Thursday, February 22, 2024, I attended the opening night of the remarkable Laurie Sefton Creates at L.A. Dance Project studio where Sefton’s dramatic and powerful new work Herd. Person? had its world premiere. Also on the program were Triptych: Experience in Defiance (2018) and an excerpt from Girl, Get Off (2017) both choreographed by Sefton.

Technically, Laurie Sefton’s work is not easy to accomplish. Any dancer who sees it will second that statement. The company she has at the moment, however, appears ready for whatever she asks of them. There is one tour de force movement after another and each handles them beautifully because they are talented, train daily and because Sefton, with tough love, lets them know that she believes in them.

It is perhaps known how I feel about excerpts of dances being shown at concerts, how I relate it to reading simply one or two chapters of a book. In this case, I have seen the entire Girl, Get Off but others in the audience might not have and therefore were cheated from experiencing the entire story.

That said, in all three works one saw the power of Sefton’s choreography and how she approaches head on the different social, personal and cultural issues without softening the blow for the audience. This might deter some, but for me this is what making art is all about.

Laurie Sefton Creates - Sidney Scully, Nicholas Sipes, Myko Lyric in Experience in Defiance - Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.

Laurie Sefton Creates – Sidney Scully, Nicholas Sipes, Myko Lyric in “Experience in Defiance” – Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.

The score for Triptych: Experience in Defiance was original poetry composed and spoken by Jason Chu. Although Chu was unable to perform live, his words spoke volumes about the lack of freedom and choices certain segments of the American population – people of color, gays, women, etc. – experience. Chu’s message is raw and direct, but it is not without hope or empathy. Sefton does not mimic Chu’s words but through gestures, tempos and interactions between the performers, she equals his mirroring of our world.

The cast of dance artists in Triptych: Experience in Defiance were Marlie Couto, Marirosa Crawford, Sidney Scully, Myko Lyric and Nicholas Sipes.

Laurie Sefton Creates - Sidney Scully, Isaac Huerta in Girl, Get Off - Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.

Laurie Sefton Creates – Sidney Scully, Isaac Huerta in “Girl, Get Off” – Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.

Girl, Get Off is about sexuality and how fluid it can be. In one dance Sefton explores bisexuality, same sex relationships and how some women regain their power that certain men try to take away. Her movement for this work is intense, sensual, sexual, and even hardcore at times. How Sefton creates duets and trios has always intrigued me. Performers can get entangled, untangled and often end up on elevé (demi-pointe); it is amazing to watch. The dancer who quietly steals the show was Sidney Scully. Scully does not emote or try to stand out but appears to have been born with a stage presence that can not be taught, and whose technique is the envy of every dancer.

The cast of Girl, Get Off (Excerpt) was Gretchen Ackerman, Marirosa Crawford, Isaac Huerta, Myko Lyric and Sidney Scully. The original Soundscape was by Bryan Curt Kostors.

Laurie Sefton Creates - Nicholas Sipes, Gretchen Ackerman, Myko Lyric, Marirosa Crawford in "Herd. Person?" - Photo Skye Schmidt Varga

Laurie Sefton Creates – Nicholas Sipes, Gretchen Ackerman, Myko Lyric, Marirosa Crawford in “Herd. Person?” – Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.

With her newest work Herd. Person? set to the brilliant original music by Erika Poh, Sefton takes on how ‘we the people’ are allowing democracy to die. She demonstrates this in the opening section through how she groups people together on the floor (Herd) voicing questions or brief political statements against a lone alternate voice (Person?) performed impressively by Sidney Scully. Unison phrases alternate with solos that present sometimes bold and other times timid dissents of opinions.

The costumes and the lighting for this work enhance Sefton’s vision. Gray or black pants with plaid shirts worn over different deep toned tank tops give the performers the look of every day men and women. They also tie into the sense of how people tend to flock together into groups of us against them. With a row of light beams across the back of the theater, Dan Weingarten’s lighting transformed the viewer from one intense moment to another or softened them when needed.

Laurie Sefton Creates - Nicholas Sipes, Marlie Couto, Marirosa Crawford, Gretchen Ackerman, Isaac Huerta in "Herd. Person?" - Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.

Laurie Sefton Creates – Nicholas Sipes, Marlie Couto, Marirosa Crawford, Gretchen Ackerman, Isaac Huerta in “Herd. Person?” – Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.

Two particular stunningly performed solos clearly defined Sefton’s different internal human viewpoints on coping with these times. One was performed by the lithe Marlie Couto who’s somewhat introverted reading represented, for me, those people who care but stand on the sidelines and say nothing. The other was performed by the truly astonishing Gretchen Ackerman, who while totally grounded appears to float across the stage. While slowly crossing from stage left to stage right, Ackerman expressed how I and many others feel powerless against the onslaught of authoritarianism. Her movements were quiet but powerful while her facial expression appeared almost deadpan yet determined to win.

Though Herd. Person? is a harsh look at us as a society and her ending to the work dramatic, I believe Sefton leaves the door open for revival and hope.

Dance Artists included Gretchen Ackerman, Marlie Couto, Marirosa Crawford, Isaac Huerta, Maddie Lacambra, Myko Lyric, Sidney Scully and Nicholas Sipes. Original Music was composed by Erika Poh with additional music by Sasha Matson and Delta 5. The beautiful lighting for the entire evening was designed by Dan Weingarten.

For more information about Laurie Sefton Creates, please visit their website.

To learn about other performances scheduled at L.A. Dance Project, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Laurie Sefton Creates – Nicholas Sipes, Marlie Couto, Sidney Scully in Herd. Person? – Photo Skye Schmidt Varga.