Highways Performance Space and Gallery presented Mallory Fabian, Artistic Director of fabe., in her first full-evening length work UNKNOW. Born in Las Vegas, Fabian received her BFA in choreography and Performance at California Institute of Arts. She has recently made an impression on the Los Angeles dance scene with her work presented at the Los Angeles Dance Festival and performing with Rosanna Gamson/World Wide, No)one. Art House, Andrew Pearson, Rebecca Lemme, Dance Aegis and others.

For a first evening-length work, UNKNOW was impressive, provocative and, at times, perplexing. Entering the performance space, one encountered four people with their backs turned toward the audience. Two men stood while one woman sat, and one was lying on the floor. Black and white flats acted as stage wings. The flats on stage right (audience left) were dominantly white and the ones on stage left were mostly black. Scattered about were flesh colored objects that at first glance, could have been mistaken for rocks or skullcaps. All this was a prelude to the striping away of identities and thrusting the audience into a surreal environment of Fabian’s imagination.

The objects on the floor turned out to be masks with no eyes, nose or mouth. We generally recognize people we know by their facial features, but here, as each of the eight performers put on their mask, the ability to identity them in this manner was wiped away. One was forced to see them as bodies; how they moved, their physical shapes or how they reacted to another person within different situations. Subtle movement mannerisms became magnified and physical traits sought out.

fabe. in Mallory Fabian’s UNKNOW – Photo: David E West

Throughout UNKNOW, one arm gesture kept repeating; both or a single arm reaching upward towards the sky as if yearning or searching for guidance. Subconscious on Fabian’s part? Perhaps, but due to the humanness of this work, I think not. It was too basic to be a random gesture.

There was a constant pedestrian quality in Fabian’s work. Walking, crawling, running to enter and leave the space. While onstage, however, she investigated a multitude of emotions, relationships and personal dynamics. It was not always easy to watch because, without ever becoming violent, those feelings were like open wounds; realistic and unforgiving.

The theater mist, the harsh electronic music, the familiar songs and the whispering voices, all worked in tandem to force the viewer to see the world through Fabian’s lens. She stripped her performers of their faces but gave the audience another tool to perceive them. I was amazed at how quickly I adjusted to the situation. Maybe that was due to my dance background and a teacher of dance. As an instructor, I was always looking at a dancer’s body to help them learn proper body placement so that they avoided injury. I knew them based on how they moved. I could tell when a student was in emotional duress because of her/his body language. That same perception became activated during UNKNOW.

Fabian’s movement style is awkward to the classically trained eye. Feet are not pointed, and legs are rarely completely straight. It seems random, but it is anything but. What feels like chaos suddenly shifts into a brief unison duet. Unlike other works of hers, Fabian has honed the movement and by doing so, she has allowed her vision to emerge. Rather than the thrashing about or the “raw energy” she has previously written about, an artistic statement on humanity and how we need to unknow or unlearn some bigoted or biased stereotypes has clearly been stated.

fabe. in Mallory Fabian’s UNKNOW – Photo: Wil Haraldson

The work shifted and weakened for me when a plastic mat was brought in, water fell from above and the masks were removed. Amazing to watch? Yes, but I had a difficult time understanding the why. Was Fabian washing away our preconceived notions and ideas of self and were these humans basking in that knowledge? Somehow, the transition from one world of realization to the next passed me by.

Despite this, I enjoyed UNKNOW. I was lost at times, but perhaps that is on me, not Fabian. She caused me to think, and I greatly appreciate the intellectual exercise. I was uncomfortable, irritated but never bored. It was clear that a lot of time and thought went into this piece.

Unknow Photo Roger Martin Holman Unknow2 photo Roger Martin Holman Unknow3 photo roger martin holman Unknow4 Unknow5
fabe. - UNKNOW - Photo: Roger Martin Holman for LA Dance Chronicle

The lighting design by Darius Gangei was creative; especially considering the limitations presented at Highways. I especially liked the section where a woman was separated from the rest of the cast while bathed in a bluish red, but not quite purple light. The light followed her, isolating her as if we were inside her thoughts. The Prop Maker/Set Designer was Tom E. Kelley. Dylan Alexander Freeman was the composer and Sound Design was by Veronica Mullins. Mullins’ design included music by William Basinski, Body Boys, The Knife, Ani Difranco, Kanye West, A Setting Sun – Shigeto, The Coasters, Jon Hopkins, and Ben Frost.

This work could not have been realized without its cast of dancers who endured many minutes of wearing a mask that covered their entire face, and who had the opportunity dance while wet and slide through water in front of an audience. They were: Paige Amicon, Christopher Carvalho, Sara Hartless, Darby Kelley, Angelica Olivares, Cody Brunelle-Potter, Carissa Songhorian, and Taylor Unwin.

To learn more about fabe., click here.

Featured photo by Wil Haraldson