Transforming dirt, plastic bags and things one should not do into art is what transpired at the Bootleg Theater on Friday, November 30, 2018 when choreographers Bridgette Dunn-Korpela, Vannia Ibarguen and Mallory Fabian presented IT’S NOT ABOUT PRETTY. The performance began in the lobby area with life sculptures and continued in the theater with works by three distinctive choreographic voices.

Dunn-Korpela is the artistic director of B. Dunn Movement/Dance and Theatre Company . Her first piece on this program, Market Value 2.0, consisted of three life sculptures costumed in beautifully ornate costumes while standing statue-like on white wooden boxes. Perhaps it was residue from the discussion I had been to the night before, but I had a sense of traveling back in time to the era when black slaves were auctioned off to plantation owners. The costumes reflected that our clothing has changed, but the practice of treating people as commodities has not. Example: the male performer was dressed in a collage of materials that reflected black performers, civil rights marchers being hosed by police, and he was wearing football shoulder pads and pants.  The performers included Whitney Jackson, Kayla Johnson, and Dominique McDougal.

Her second work, Ear to Earth, was performed in the theater. Choreographed in collaboration with Dunn-Korpela’s dance artists Alan Perez, Whitney Jackson, Dominique McDougal, Brance Souza, and Kayla Johnson, the work took on a harsher, direr message of human struggle and the potential destruction of all mankind.

As we entered the theater, dancers stood on, lifted, rearranged and moved atop of several white wooded boxes like those in the lobby. These boxes became a uniting theme throughout the evening, appearing in all the works. In Ear to Earth, the boxes formed a throne for a woman to sit upon after she had strewn silt-like dirt over the entire stage’s surface from a pottery urn. Mother Earth? She ate what looked like black olives from a bowl and drank water from a glass as she surveyed four humans below. Two men moved through a duet that shifted from unison phrases and gestures, to a canon, or individual solos. Loud life-threatening gasps escaped from them as a hand traveled from their gapping mouths to the sky above. Two women moved separately and another man apart from all the others was dancing lyrically nearby.

A series of hand rhythm games stood out as lighter moments, but everyone eventually moved back into reality as the dirt mixed with their sweat and drifted into the audience’s lungs and ended with one man, Alan Perez, moving faster and faster until exhaustion forced him to the ground.

It was a moving, thought provoking work by Dunn-Korpela and the performers drew us into their world with their powerful performances. The atmospheric lighting that created a world in decline was designed by Darius Gangei. The earth tone costumes were by Hannah Althea Lawton. The music editor was Peter Korpela and Sound Design was by Veronica Mullins. The beautiful cast of Ear to Earth included Whitney Jackson, Kayla Johnson, Dominique McDougal, Alan Perez, and Brance Souza.

Dunn Movement photo Alan Perez VIDA Photo Prin Rodriguez fabe Dance Photo Tom E Kelley
Dunn Movement photo Alan Perez

During a pause between dances, the audience was treated to watching Mallory Fabian and Darby Kelley sweep up the dirt from the stage. They helped pass the time by making somewhat funny comments, but the dust that covered the audience and caused sporadic coughing from its members did little to ease the discomfort.

Three white boxes now lined stage left and one sat mid stage right. The Greening of the Self was choreographed by VIDA Dance Arts director Vannia Ibarguen in collaboration with the performers. A dancer moved with two large palm branches while another danced slowly nearby. They were interrupted by the arrival of Ibarguen carrying large shopping bags and dressed in a long, multi-colored dress. She asked them why they were not shopping. “Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Taco Tuesday, Throwaway Wednesday” she proclaims, bringing laughter from the audience.

The dance quickly shifted to a more serious subject as the three women crawled and moved across the space pulling long thin ropes with plastic bags hanging from them like flags around a used car lot. Ibarguen demonstrated how these plastic bags and other discarded trash is polluting our oceans, gathering together into massive piles that entrap, suffocate and kill off our ocean’s inhabitants. The music and sound score helped to create this oceanic atmosphere.

The Greening of the Self carried a strong message and one that we should all take heed of, but choreographically it failed to impress. There were times where I felt Ibarguen was simply vamping or filling time with repetitive movements. This work was not her strongest and did not rise to a professional level.

The strong performers were Sinnamon Hauser Vannia Ibarguen, and Kindra Windish. The lighting was designed by Darius Gangei, Sound Design by Veronica Mullins, Costumes by Camille Lim, and Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Zoe Keating.

Thanks for Asking truly began before the theater was opened. Mallory Fabian, director of fabe Dance, and Darby Kelley walked around uttering rules like “Don’t get inside freezers in junkyards, don’t pretend to be a doctor, don’t volunteer for a drug program or don’t swallow a pill that you find lying in the street.”  This all made sense as their work began, and those rules were expanded on throughout much of the dance. Three of those same white boxes were “artistically” put together on stage right, and a single one placed downstage on either side.

This piece moved through a series of changing ideas, but Fabian and Kelley wove them together quite beautifully with seamless transitions. The “Don’t rules” united them as characters while they moved about the space performing seemingly unrelated phrases. A collage of songs introduced a jam-like session between the two women as their movements morphed to reflect the ever-changing short sections from familiar tunes or classical music scores.

Two different types of small lamps were lowered from the theater grid area above and Guitarist Dylan Rodrigue entered the stage to sit on a white box placed in a very bright amber colored down spot. As Rodrigue performed one of his original songs, Fabian and Kelley slam danced in the background before breaking off into individual solos. When the music stopped, each lay down on opposite sides of Rodrigue and Fabian asked Kelley how she was feeling. “Ok. I’m really ok. How are you?” Following a statement about how people often answer with, “I’m ok”, but they really are not, Fabian responded. “I’m doing great! Thanks for Asking.”

Fabian and Darby had a nice chemistry onstage and both gave very strong performances. Thanks for Asking was disjointed, but it worked. We saw who these two women were, and they made us care about and like them as people.  Lighting design was by Darius Gangei, original music by Dylan Rodrigue, sound design by Veronica Mullins and the text was by David Shrigley as edited by Mallory Fabian.

My one complaint for this performance was that I felt like I coughed up dirt for the rest of the evening. It was on my clothes, in my hair and my lungs. Perhaps choreographers should consider those with lung problems when they plan their production or if the space they are performing in has proper ventilation. We were warned about the nudity in one dance, but not about to be exposed to airborne particles of a stage prop.

For information on D. Dunn Movement, click here.

For information on VIDA Dance Arts, click here.

For information on Fabian Dance, click here.

Featured image: Ear to Earth – B. Dunn Movement – Photo: Roger Martin Holman for LA Dance Chronicle