Highways Performance Space and Gallery is in its 29th year and during that time has presented a multitude of budding artists. Some, like Jacques Heim, Mehmet Sander and more, have become known around the world earning Highways the reputation of one of Southern California’s most daring centers for new performance.  This past week end, Executive Director Leo Garcia and Artistic Director Patrick Kennelly presented the 18th installment of the ongoing series New Shoes. The series features “movement-based works by emerging choreographers, directors and ensembles”.

Of the six choreographers who were featured on New Shoes 18, three stood out as demonstrating strong potential as artists. Their work showed not only an understanding of choreographic structure, but a clear and concise meaning and/or purpose. Many can put together steps and movement phrases, but only the artists can do so in a manner that inspires, challenges, speaks to or grasps an audience’s imagination.

Vannia Ibarguen first performed her solo Re.yma.gine Yma at MiMoDa as part of Rosanna Gamson’s TERRA NOVA workshop. The work has not changed very much since then, but it and Ibarguen’s performance of it has matured beautifully. Utilizing audience participation and well-timed comedy, Ibarguen asked the audience to vote on whether to start the dance at the beginning, middle or the end. A count was taken of raised hands and beginning with the middle won.

Re.yma.gine Yma is semi-autobiographical with a strong political and social message. Born in Peru, Ibarguen explains that her movement has been described as too balletic or not balletic enough; too modern or not modern enough. She is too pretty or not pretty enough. Her social message relates to what is currently dividing this nation, immigration and social norms. The work is very entertaining and Ibarguen is someone to watch.

The music for Re.yma.gine Yma was by Yma Sumac, the only Peruvian woman with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and the adaptable costume was designed by Levi Exaltacion.

Katelyn Sanchez enjoys dance-making, collaborating, performing, writing, and interdisciplinary work, and recently received a BFA in Dance and a BA in English Literature from California State University, Long Beach. Her work, Rootless Cosmopolitans, was an eloquent and poignant piece about the dangers of isolation from excessive use of social media. Sanchez has chosen to costume her dancers in layered, fashionable clothing but the somewhat drab colors highlighted the separation from any display of individuality or personality.

Sanchez’s movement for this work is not complex and making use of some release technique. What stood out, however, was her sense of time, stillness and observation. Dancers sat, peered at one another through cupped hands over one eye, the way one might look through a telescope. This gave a feeling of loneliness, non-participation and self-induced voyeurism. Beautiful, but brief unison phrases attempted to unite the four characters, but self-doubt prevailed.

The four dancers who executed Sanchez’s work so beautifully were Spencer Jensen, Makenna LaFortune, Justin Morris, and Alexandra Rix. The elegant costumes were by Kelsey Vidic; music by Cameron Johnston; and Lighting Design by Maili Schlosser.

Caitlin M. Heflin was born in Nashville, Tennessee and relocated to Los Angeles in 2017. Her work, The Backs of Angels suffered greatly from being overly dramatic and far too long for the message delivered. The performances by the “angels” were strong, but the lead dancer over emoted her angst of the testing of her faith. Heflin knows how to construct a dance, but not how to edit it or to get her vision across artistically. Choosing music by Bach, Vivaldi and Chopin helped to portray the religious aspect that she was seeking, but her choices were some that are so familiar to audiences that they evoke images of other, far better choreographers that Heflin probably does not know about.

The cast included April Torres, Caitlin M. Heflin, Jamie Carr, Madison Clark, Natalia Ramirez, and Sydney Wolford.


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Madison Clark in Colleen Hendricks "You shouldn't have done that." - Photo: Roger Martin Holman for LA Dance Chronicle

Chasity Ramsey was raised in Alabama. She has performed with MKM Bollystars, Daurden Dance Company, Amanda Bauman, Pieter Performance Space, and AKNU Productions. Frolicking Gypsies is a work that Ms. Ramsey should consider re-working. She spent too much time in the piece with nothing but filler that involved women skipping about, throwing flower blossoms into the air but neither causing joy or mischief. This is a story of a woman who passes a group of gypsies, falls asleep in a nearby field and dreams of interacting with them.

The two nice elements were the performance by cellist Jenny Chun and music by Michael Deragon. The cast included Ramsey, Angelina Rangel (whose singing was barely audible), Kathryn Bravo, Alexandra Pickett, Konwalia Kotlinski, and Darby Epperson.

The program stated that Ovation09_and artists “merges technique with experimentation”. With Willing Participant, choreographed by Katherine Mcculla, the experiment failed. Self-indulgent movement, over acting and an extremely unclear message hampered enjoyment of this work. A mask is discarded early into the work never to be referenced again. It was never clear who was the willing participant, although I assume that it was the lone male in the cast, Abraham Misel. It was, however, never made clear what exactly he was participating in. The cast included Misel, Taylor Unwin, Kaycee Jannino, Katherine Mcculla, and Laura Elderidge.

The evening concluded with a demonstrative solo choreographed by Colleen Hendricks and performed powerfully by Madison Clark. You shouldn’t have done that. You shouldn’t have done that at all was an emotional, but beautifully acted portrayal of a woman falling apart as a romantic relationship turns out to be one sided. Performed in silence, Clark impressively took the audience through her character’s hopes, fears, pain, anguish, self-hatred and final reluctant acceptance of the truth. Hendricks created tension by having Clark slowly pluck daisy pedals and silently mouthing “He loves me. He loves me not”, only to eat the final four petals in avoidance of knowing the answer. The tension built and climaxed with a repeated self-flagellation of her left arm as it swung backward to loudly slap against her back. Clark did so with such realistic force that the back of her left hand turned bright red afterwards. The piece ended with her slowly backing into the darkness, her eyes closed to the loneliness that she knows lies ahead.

For more information about Highways Performance Space and Gallery, click here.

Featured image: Katelyn Sanchez’s Rootless Cosmopolitans – Photo: Roger Martin Holman for LA Dance Chronicle.