The Los Angeles Dance Festival continues to be a beacon of innovation and inspiration for contemporary modern dance. Deborah Brockus never fails to bring together both up and coming and well established artists who create work that is relevant and impactful. Saturday, April 22 at the Brockus Project Studios was yet another beautiful look into the minds and hearts of the creators that are currently making up the LA dance scene. Among these talented artists were the Ken Morris Project, Leah Hartley Hamel, Volta, Ironstone Dance, X2 Dance Collective, Benita Bike’s DanceArt, and Tashara Gavin-Moorehead.
One of the best things about the informal concerts that Deborah produces is how accessible and approachable she makes dance feel. She opens the show with a quick description of what we are about to witness and makes the audience feel comfortable and relaxed. Her passion for dance and for uplifting these artists is evident in the atmosphere she creates and the intimate black box studio turned theatre is a space that is safe for both the dancers and audience. After welcoming us into her space, Deborah leaves the floor open to the beautiful dance experience we are about to share.
Opening the concert were two beautiful apprentice dancers from the Lula Washington Dance Theater with a wonderfully danced Horton duet. “Together in Spring,” choreographed by Ken Morris allowed the audience into a very intimate and evolving relationship between the dancers, Christopher DeVant and Khaleelah Jones. There was a very clear balance of struggle and triumph as the dancers used each other for support and strength. From start to finish the dancers were engaging and captivating. As they took care of each other through the stages of the choreography, images of spring were projected on the back wall that created a different element of movement with their shadows. Whether or not that was intentional, it added a very interesting visual that enhanced the idea of evolution and growth. It was wonderful to see these two artists, with stunningly powerful stage presence, perform a style of dance that is a timeless foundation for technique and choreography.
“Getting There,” choreographed and performed by Leah Hartley Hamel was a very personal and engaging piece which, for me, represented the idea of choice, or even a lack there of. The piece began with Leah playing the cello, connected to a loop pedal, allowing her to walk away from the instrument and dance to her own music. The imagery and idea of her utilizing the space with her movement, while the sounds of the cello also inhabited the same arena, created a cyclical struggle of what to do, and when. Finding her way in the world with multiple avenues of art and how best to meld her passions together has clearly been both a blessing and a struggle. Hartley has beautiful technique, as both a dancer and musician. The tension between her movement and music created a powerful image of inner struggle and spoke to the conversations with ourselves about our place in the world, and how to go forward celebrating all of the parts that make up who we are. Very well done.
Volta took the stage next with a beautifully choreographed duet titled “I Want To Be In Love” by Megan Paradowski and Mamie Green. Having worked with these artists before I had an expectation to see innovative and strong contemporary modern choreography. I was not disappointed. The simplicity of their costumes allowed for the movement to speak for itself, along with the music by the beautiful Ella Fitzgerald. This was a heartbreaking love story between two people who are faced with judgement and isolation with only each other to lean on. Mamie and Megan carried us through an incredibly relatable story of love, loss, heartache, and strength in a relationship. There was a heaviness to their movement that drove the energy of the work and they filled the space with some very intricate and inventive partner work. Both beautiful dancers and performers, this piece was one of my favorites to watch.
One of the most unconventionally beautiful pieces I had seen in a very long time, “Ants Can’t Jump” took the audience to a different world entirely. Ironstone Dance brought an element of performance art to the stage I don’t think anyone was expecting. The dancer’s costume was futuristic and somehow vintage at the same time, it reminded me of something Elton John would wear. I found myself leaning into the stage with a sense of excitement and even a bit of fear, not knowing at all what would happen next. The movement was forceful and animalistic, which had me questioning my own reality as the artist explored theirs. The haunting spoken word audio, the costume, the choreography, none of it was cohesive and yet it made perfect sense put together. This was my first experience seeing this dancer live and they kept my focus and attention throughout. The most interesting part for me was the “ending.” The piece didn’t really end, it just faded out. As the dancer walked off stage through the audience the audio continued in the dark and once again we were left wondering what would happen next. A very interesting approach to dance and performance art.
X2 Dance Collective, Sarah Stanley and Brynn Bodair, performed “The Last Dance,” a fun and creative duet that mixed a few different styles of dance into one. I appreciated the simplicity of their costuming, different shades of all black, that allowed for the movement to be the focus of the work. There was excellent use of the space within the choreography and a wonderfully incorporated counter balance between the dancers. As the piece ended there was a fun groove that gave the sense that this piece did not take itself too seriously. The quality of the movement was captivating to watch on these two stylistically diverse dancers.
“POLLEN / Gaia,” choreographed by Deborah Rosen and performed by Sara Scrimshaw was a stunning solo about the idea of evolution. The dress that she wore was almost like a second dancer in the piece, with movement that enhanced the beauty and design of the fabric. The butterflies woven into the sides of the dress amplified the theme of growth, change, and the ebb and flow of nature as it relates to the cycle of life. This dancer commanded the stage with an effortless and effective grace which balanced out the slightly anxiety inducing music. The mixed tension of the music with the clean and elegant quality of the movement made for an intriguing experience of this style of modern. As the dancer moved through space, there was a crescendoing release of tension and as she relaxed into her choreography the piece became more and more enjoyable to witness.
Benita Bike has continued to impress audiences with her inventive style of choreography that mixes strong Horton influences with more contemporary jazz styles and her dancers always execute the work beautifully. “Me and Myself,” danced by Nola Gibson and Micay Jean was no exception to the body of work produced by this company. These two dancers are clearly very well versed in this style of movement and took care of each other with strength and agility as the piece developed. The style of choreography leaves just enough room for emotional interpretation while being carried through with strong technique and powerful lines. Another well-conceived and gorgeously performed work by Benita Bike’s DanceArt.
Tashara Gavin-Moorehead is quickly becoming a powerhouse name in live modern dance. Her work continues to push new boundaries as she creates work that is not only very personal, but relatable, entertaining, and purposeful. My only wish is that this piece “Another Love Song” opened sthe concert, simply because the audience was not prepared at the end of the show to be so involved and engaged as the piece required. However, she introduced a new life into the space with a live spoken word, entertained with overly dramatic yet comedic singing which she called awful and yet still sounded wonderful. She took a lighthearted approach to the ideals of love, what’s supposed to be and what isn’t and ultimately concluded that above all else it is the love of oneself that will carry you through life. As she began to move, these randomly pieced together skills and ideas became cohesive with choreography that allowed for a different interpretation of her overall message. She is one of the few artists of the evening I can truly say is developing a style that is all her own and it is a pleasure to experience her evolution.
Although I would very much like to congratulate Deborah Brockus on another successful evening of dance, I find myself being more grateful than anything else. Creating a safe space for dancers to explore their talents and their place in this community is a job for a very select few who have the ability to motivate and cultivate artistic exploration and growth. As a writer, I have the very simple task of encouraging these artists to continue creating and developing their work while inviting audiences in to continue watching live concert dance. With dance makers like Deborah, and all of the creators in LADF, my job seems to be quite easy. I’m so appreciative of all the work shown and I look forward to seeing the paths these artists will follow and discover. Congratulations to each of them and put perfectly by Deborah, “I hope you continue to dream of dance.”
For more information about the Los Angeles Dance Festival, please visit their website.
Written by Melesio Aceves for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: LA Dance Festival – Ironstone in “Ants Can’t Jump” – Photo by Taso Papadakis