The Department of Cultural Affairs LA Dance Platform
The Internationals Delegates’ First Glimpse of Dance in Los Angeles
June 20, 2018
Day Two – Thursday, June 7
From 12 pm until 4 pm, the Department of Cultural Affairs Los Angeles (DCA LA) LA Dance Platform Showcase #1 took place at the spacious Downtown Dance & Movement Center, located at 1144 South Hope Street. Ben Johnson introduced each of the eight dance artists who spoke briefly about their work, their company and what they hoped to achieve from their participation in the LA Dance Platform. Each artist responded to a series of prepared questions drawn up by Johnson and others. Following each work, Johnson led a short question and answer period with the choreographers and the audience. The audience comprised of the international delegates and members from the dance community; not just from LA. There was one from Chicago and another from Toronto, Canada. The number of questions directed to the artists varied but honestly, most of the networking transpired afterwards when some of the audience, international delegates and choreographers met socially for about an hour at the nearby Prank Bar for a light lunch and drinks.
The showcases held at the Downtown Dance and Movement Center were extremely low tech. No stage lighting or make-up, although some did wear costumes and most performed to recorded music. The work had to stand on its own without production elements or the enhancement of sets, videos or projections. Many works succeeded within this format, while a few did not. Each company or artist had approximately 15 minutes, therefore the majority performed excerpts of longer works. It was a learning experience for everyone, instructing some about the importance of presenting their strongest work, to pay attention to details and to be totally prepared for something to go wrong.
The artists for the first showcase were: Stephanie Zaletel, szalt (dance co.) who presented an excerpt from an evening-length in-progress entitled Moon& with music by Louis Lopez and Jonathan Snipes; Christopher Bordenave, No)one. Art House presented RIGHT & L3FT with original music by Keane Nwede; Jade Charon Company performed an excerpt of Testimony and the film Recharge; Oguri and Roxanne Steinberg, Body Weather Laboratory/ARCANE Collective performed …like forming water…, an excerpt of an evening-length work with a sound score by Paul Chavez; Rosanna Gamson, Rosanna Gamson/World Wide presented a work-in-progress with a working title Sugar Horses; Laura Karlin, Invertigo Dance Theatre presented excerpts of Formulae and Fairy Tales, a work-in-development; Mecca Vazie Andrews, The MOVEMENT movement performed her solo UNTITLED; and Sheetal Gandhi, Sheetal Gandhi Dance Theater presented a work-in-progress titled STUCK with music by Derrick Spiva.
Later that evening, the LA Dance Platform Showcase took place at the recently opened L.A. Dance Project Studio, located at 2245 E Washington Blvd. Here the performers were able to use a minimal amount of lighting and they wore costumes. This was a much better venue to see the companies rather than in a somewhat cluttered studio. Here, they performed against a clear brick wall and the seating was tiered rather than folding chairs on the same level.
The evening followed the same format of introduction and Q&A after each work. Micaela Taylor, artistic director of Micaela Taylor and The Collective presented PowerShift, a work-in-progress, with music by local composer David Shocke. David Roussève, artistic director of David Roussève/REALITY, presented Halfway to Dawn, a non-sequential excerpt of a longer work set to a collection of songs by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, with sound design and original music by the multi-talented Los Angeles artist d. Sabela Grimes. And, Benjamin Millepied, artistic director of L.A. Dance Project, presented excerpts from Hearts & Arrows with music by New York composer Philip Glass.
Many of the questions directed to the artists at both showcases were about their process in choosing music and what influenced their choices of the work’s focus or content for their work. They asked if the works could be seen in both a studio environment as well as on a large stage. Each artist was very clear with their responses. Millepied who was at the celebration of his son’s 7th birthday, was represented by a company staff member.
Sadly, I was unable to attend the 10 pm performance of Milka Djordjevich‘s ANTHEM at the Ghelby Gallery in the same building as the L.A. Dance Project Studio. The music was by composer, computer musician, and improviser Chris Peck. From all accounts, it was an amazing performance.
Day Three – Friday, June 8
The day began at 9:30 am with Sasha Anawalt, Ben Johnson, my partner Martin Holman and me meeting in the DCA LA conference room to set up equipment for showing videos and slides to the international delegates. Snyder, Dickey and the delegates arrived shortly before 10 am which gave everyone a little more time to get acquainted and to exchange business cards. The delegates looked tired but eager to begin their busy schedule that would end around 10:30 pm. Sasha and I had one hour and fifteen minutes to cover the history of LA dance and describe the current dance scene which includes hundreds of dance companies representing numerous genres and styles. This very limited time also had to include a short Q&A session with the delegates.
Sasha and I had met previously to discuss our strategy and to divide up the time. Sasha is a writer and someone who has an infinite knowledge of dance. She spoke about the rich history of dance in Los Angeles from Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, dance in Hollywood and the movement influence Lester Horton had on all modern dance for generations to come. Anawalt showed videos to demonstrate how Horton had developed contractions, hinges and lateral movements long before Martha Graham made them famous. Anawalt had the delegates’ full attention as she explained why Los Angeles is the cradle of modern dance and how the land, the open space and the light of this beautiful area influenced the choreographers’ work. I could tell that these wonderful people from around the world were learning information about American dance that they had never heard before. It was an invaluable experience for everyone in the room.
Shortly before I was to speak about the current dance scene in Los Angeles, we were informed that the delegates needed to eat. My time was already limited but was given had no choice but to stand there while they selected their food and returned to their seats. I now had approximately 20 minutes to explain what was currently influencing LA dance, what obstacles companies faced, what needed to happen to fix those issues, show a 10-minute video representing 16 companies, and to answer questions from the delegates.
Weeks prior, I sent out requests to companies in town asking for a 30 to 40 second clip of work that would represent their company so that I could present a cross section of dance in Los Angeles. I received 16 responses. Martin had to edit the majority of them because companies sent several minutes of work rather than the 30 to 40 seconds requested. He then inserted the company names and digitally spliced them all together into a beautiful 10-minute video which went onto flash drives, one for each delegate. The companies were displayed in alphabetical order to avoid the appearance of any preferential treatment on my part. On a sheet of paper, I listed the companies’ names, a very brief statement on what style or genre of dance they work in, and a link to their website. I presented this packet to each of the delegates at the presentation. All of this was done voluntarily. No one received payment; not even reimbursement for supplies or parking fees.
Somehow, we got through it, but it was clear that the time allotted was not enough to cover the requested information and leave ample time for a Q&A. We finished at 11:20 am and everyone, including Martin and I, had to be at the Downtown Dance and Movement Center by 12 noon for the LA Dance Showcase #2. Anyone familiar with Los Angeles knows how difficult it is to transverse traffic, find parking and then walk to their destination. Even using Uber or Lyft, this takes time. Martin and I dashed into the building at 12:02 pm.
LA Dance Showcase #2
The process was identical to the previous day. Johnson introduced each choreographer who responded to the written questions, their work was shown followed by a Q&A. As a reviewer, this process was enlightening. One does not always get to hear artists speak about their work, their process and future hopes for the direction of their company.
The showcase included a wide range of dance styles. Linda Yudin, the artistic director of Viver Brasil, presented an excerpt of Pra Onde O Samba Me Leva (Where the Samba May Take Me), with music by Kahill Cummings with Simon Carrol. The music was live with several percussion instruments, which provided an added energy to the studio. Dana Wilson, Jillian Meyers, and Megan Lawson are the artistic directors, choreographers and performers of The Seaweed Sisters. They each work in commercial and concert dance, and performed a humorous work-in-progress that is not yet titled. Kevin Williamson is the founder of Kevin Williamson + Company. His was an excerpt from an evening-length work entitled Trophy. Austyn Rich, an independent dance artist, presented an excerpt of Sigh, This Is Probably the Longest Title in History and Very Exhausting to Read in One Breath to music by Cody AGF.
Following a short break, Turkish born Seda Aybay, the artistic director/choreographer of Kybele Dance Theatre, presented an excerpt from Neo Noir with music from the End Credits of an Alfred Hitchcock film. Gina Young, company director of SORORITY presented an excerpt of BUTCH BALLET, a work-in-progress that featured four butch women who had no prior dance or theater experience. Bernard Brown is the artist director of Bernard Brown/bbmoves. His work Box was inspired by the true story of a black slave who mailed himself from Virginia to freedom in New York. Rosanna Tavarez is the director of LA DANZA DANZA. Her work, Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts, was inspired by stories about her grandmother.
As the day before, several of the company directors later met with the delegates at the Prank Bar.
The Ford Theatres Present Lula Washington Dance Theatre
To close the day, everyone met at 7 pm at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater for a reception and an 8:30 pm performance of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. The program consisted of works choreographed by Tamica Washington Miller, David Roussève, Rennie Harris, Kyle Abraham, and Lula Washington. To read my review, click here.
To learn which companies performed in the final showcases and to hear what the international delegates had to say about dance in Los Angeles, continue to Part III.
Part III will be published soon.
If you missed Part I, click here.