Brockus Projects’ Los Angeles Dance Festival closed out its official 7th year on April 14. Seven contemporary companies showcased some of their latest and greatest work in an effort to inform city locals and national/international guests alike about LA’s ever-evolving dance scene. Curated and produced by Deborah Brockus, the three-day celebration took place at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex within the California State University, Los Angeles, which provided an incredible venue for many of the companies who had, until then, only been featured on smaller stages—proof of LADF’s growing success.

After a pre-show by students of Cal State Long Beach’s dance department, Pennington Dance Group, the first of the professional companies, performed excerpts from their Company of Orbs on the Luckman’s Main Stage. Choreographed by John Pennington, their act was divided into three sections and presented to whimsical music by William Duckworth and Philip Glass. It began with brightly lit rubber balance balls illuminating the stage in the background, after which emerged the trio of Danae McWatt, Edwin Siguenza and Tom Tsai, all dressed in wine-and-turquoise colored-and-striped jumpsuits reminiscent of ’80s workout wear.

The three created a very unified and cohesive modern piece with cyclical, repetitive movements. Many of the transitions were led with their arms, which the threesome would often throw up in the air, and paired with high knee raises, soulfully reaching upward with every thrust. They allowed only a small amount of tight space between their bodies, which they often diminished when they held hands and pulled each other close, maneuvering in knotted bunches up and across their partners’ legs and backs.

Li Rothermich performed the second segment—a solo in which she projected the attitude of a toddler, with pigtails to match. The dance was slow and odd, incorporating a different, grayish-purple set of rubber exercise balls which Rothermich grabbed and stretched with as though in a yoga video. She fit her arms and legs through unseen holes at the bottom of the spheres, alternating between her upper and lower limbs, and executing handstands while innocently lifting the balls up into the air. She then wore them all at once and began crawling on all fours like a baby. Rounding off Pennington’s role in LADF was a quartet consisting of the original trio with the addition of Amy Oden. A more elaborate version of the first part of the group’s number, the choreography here was quicker, with rotating shifts that kept the dancers moving in a circle around each other. Rounded arms emphasized the work’s namesake.

Bryn Cohn’s Viewpoint was a wonderful duet between Kristy Dai and Adrian Hoffman to Daniel Bernard Roumain’s tentative, violin-led “The Need to Follow”. The title of the song perfectly described the piece, which emphasized the chemistry between the two as they followed each other across the stage in controlled spurts, always maintaining eye contact and getting close enough to touch. Their fingers extended pointedly at each other as though casting a spell. Much of the routine was a power play during which the two would take turns pushing out toward one another’s bodies, manipulating their movements as they competed to see who had the most control. Dai especially stood out for her exceptional ease. Their bodies ebbed and flowed like water with each sweep and slow-motion lift. Their positions varied from standing to kneeling, crawling, and finally lying on the floor, a symbol of making love as their connection grew. Theirs was one of the strongest performances from Sunday’s set list.

Rosanna Tavarez/LA DANSA DANSA soloed her way through a disco-bound number called Her Name Was Miriam whose soundtrack was a mix of classic late ’70s/early ’80s songs (“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston; “Razzamatazz” by Quincy Jones) and an interview with her Dominican-American mother, Leila. Glimpses of a rich and luxurious dancing queen life were scattered about by way of golden shoes, chains and a large wrap, which she swung around while doing the hustle. However, the interview revealed sad moments from Leila’s life, namely the witnessing of a coworker, Miriam’s, life after she jumped out a fourth story window to escape immigration police 40 years ago—a story that bridged the past with today’s horror stories about I.C.E. Tavarez’s dancing and choreography was beautiful, but poignant. Her message resonated powerfully.

A brief intermission led everyone outside to a site-specific excerpt from FLEX by CARLON called “Sayaw sa Bangko,” named after the Filipino Panganesian folk dance wherein the performers must skillfully balance their bodies over a narrow bench. The work, originally created by Jay Carlon for L.A. Dance Project’s MAKING:LA Residency program, did just that, with Spencer Jensen and Ching Ching Wong showing incredible upper body strength as they rolled around each other in continuous waves, taking turns dominating the space above, then below the bench. The couple often suspended themselves on top of one another, using their partners’ arms and legs to move away from the bench briefly before shifting back. The rest of the dance took advantage of the alcove-like small stadium, encouraging audience members to inch forward as they chased each other up and down the tiered seats, continuing their act of equilibrium to deafening ambient music by Grammy-winning Alex Wand. The dance here dragged on a little too long, though the full use of the space was appreciated and added a more dynamic component to the first section.

John Pennington Dance Photo Cheryl Mann John Pennington2 Dance Photo Cheryl Mann Bryn Cohn and Artists Photo Cheryl Mann Bryn Cohn and Artists2 Photo Cheryl Mann Rosanna Tavarez1 Photo Cheryl Mann Carlon1 Photo Cheryl Mann Carlon2 Photo Cheryl Mann Kevin Williamson1 Photo Cheryl Mann Kevin Williamson2 Photo Cheryl Mann Acts of Matter3 Photo Cheryl Mann Acts of Matter4 Photo Cheryl Mann Iris Company2 Photo Cheryl Mann Iris Company3 Photo Cheryl Mann
Kayla Johnson, Jessie Lee Thorne, Orlando Agawin in "Emergence" by Rebecca Lemme - Acts of Matter - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Back inside, Kevin Williamson + Company presented an excerpt from New Friday Night, a piece I had previously reviewed as part of Williamson’s participation in The Odyssey’s Dance Festival this year. In this rendition, Morris replaced Williamson and Oden stood in for Jasmine Jawato. Unfortunately, the execution was uneven. Much of the synchronicity, which made my first viewing of this ode to the LGBTQ community in response to the Orlando night club shooting so satisfying, was lost. Though Morris captured much of the strength and finessed movements that Williamson used when he performed the work himself, Oden could not hold a candle to Jawato’s body flexes and stretches, making the interesting choreography seem dull.

Acts of Matter’s Emergence was a very different piece. Rebecca Lemme’s choreography was sharp, fidgety and uncomfortable, with the capability to keep its viewers on edge and completely tuned in. Orlando Agawin, Kayla Johnson and Jessie Lee Thorne initial walk on stage saw them appear as a many-headed beast on the prowl, looking to hunt or avoid being hunted with animalistic movements to dark music titled “ISTANBUL.” The trio then distended, each doing their own angled dance. Agawin was the strong standout. His constant gaze and head movements were entrancing, as he expanded his stances, separating himself even more from the other two. The group stuck back together and split apart a few times, their shiftiness never allowing any of the members to fully break loose and spring free.

Iris Company provided the evening and festival’s grand finale with Coexist, a multi-segmented work by Sophia Stoller, which featured a duet consisting of Cody Brunelle-Potter and Shane Raiford, and a quartet with Bryanna Brock, Hyosun Choi, Clarissa Songhorian, and Jamal Wade. Clad in bright yellow, the duo performed their own, synchronized routine with almost military–like precision. The darker colors the quartet wore made them look like background characters at first, until they came into their own. The eventual union of the two groups’ extensions and intertwined elongations made their bodies look like ribbons that crisscrossed in an effort to tie a bow. They formed a comforting contrast to the previous piece, wherein their joined movement felt natural and welcome—a hopeful message for positive human interaction.

The diversity seen in this single night alone was an encouraging example of the wide range of dance present in LA, especially because LADF mostly focused on modern and contemporary companies. Brockus’ next festival, the three-day FRINGE will take place at the DIAVOLO Space downtown, showcasing even more cutting-edge ensembles and performance art.

For information and tickets for FRINGE, click here.

Featured image: Rosanna Tavarez in Her Name Was Miriam – Photo by Cheryl Mann