On a beautiful August evening, Lineage Dance Company presented “A New Day: A Love Letter to Those We Lost,” an evening length work honoring the lives and experiences of people lost to and affected by HIV/AIDS. The project was the brainchild of Lineage board member Peggy Burt who wanted to honor those who lost their lives to AIDS after losing her best friend to this tragic disease.
The show was presented in the new Lineage Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, which opened in January 2022. In addition to the performance, the Center’s hallway featured a photo and written contributions gallery, curated and installed by Theresa Kennedy, memorializing lost loved ones.
The minimally adorned, intimate black box performance space felt perfect for this work. As we waited for the show to begin, Diana Ross’s 1970 version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” played over the speakers. While the audience occupied itself with introductions, reconnections, and deep conversation, the performers quietly filled the seats lining the wings on the stage. They included: Brittany Daniels, Adrienne DaFaria, Keila Fisher, Michael Kearns, Michelle Kolb, Diana Leon, Jana Nakoa, Ric Parish, Ericalynn Priolo, Aidan Rawlinson, Austin Roy, Paul Siemens, Lucas Stanton, Marco Tacandong, Kai Timbadia, Hilary Thomas, Leilani James Wilmore, and Teya Wolvington.
The opening of “A New Day” beautifully set the emotional and theatrical tone for the evening. The house music fades. The lights dim. A dancer enters the space and sits facing the projector upstage as a video begins to play. A dancer appears on the screen. As he begins to move, Jana Souza sings a wistful rendition of Janet Jackson’s “Together Again,” which Jackson wrote as a tribute to her loved ones lost to HIV/AIDS. Souza’s voice is quiet and tender, filled with the agony of losing someone dear and the hope that she will see them again. As Souza and the video finish, two young men enter the stage and explain the AIDS virus, which transitions to a swell of activity with dancers, a trio of singers, and Alan Geier’s accompaniment on piano filling the space. Throughout the evening, personal stories were told through dance, video interviews and dialogue interwoven with live music and singing.
From Peggy Burt’s inspiration, the project was developed through public workshops that invited community members to share their personal stories of how they and those they love, have been affected by HIV/AIDS. “A New Day,” directed and choreographed by Lineage Founder and Artistic Director, Hilary Thomas, was a dance theater piece featuring live accompaniment by Alan Geier (piano) and Barbara Mullens Geier (flute), dance, film edited by Hilary Thomas and John Guth, personal stories, and medical and historical information provided by Research Assistant Elizabeth Guyer.
The work was full. The seamless weaving of elements used to tell these stories illustrated just how interwoven the lives being celebrated were with those who loved them. Throughout the night, I was most drawn and impacted by how loudly and thoroughly one truth rang: these were people. They led rich lives. And they were deeply, deeply loved. Every element—from the minimal stage and thoughtful lighting by Angie Vaughn, to the tender arrangements of songs pertinent to the epidemic, to the way the dancers moved and touched each other, to the transitions between sections— was so clearly addressed with intention, providing a compassionate, non-judgmental look at the complexities and anxieties experienced by people touched by this epidemic in various ways. Two of my favorite moments were a delightful pas de deux between Austin Roy and Aidan Rawlinson and the sharing of Dan McCoy’s experience, portrayed by Aidan Rawlinson. The pas de deux between Roy and Rawlinson was beautifully danced. However, the power was in how it was danced. I understood, believed, and became totally invested in the moment they were sharing. In his sharing of McCoy’s life, Rawlinson, again, allowed me to fall head first into his story as he richly, hilariously, and heartbreakingly shared the life and loss of this wonderful Broadway figure.
The second half of the evening was information heavy, making the work momentarily feel like a PSA punctuated by theatrical elements. I imagine the team had a very difficult time trying to balance telling a complete story with determining which important details and compelling accounts to include and which to leave out. However, any hint of “infomercial” quickly dissipated as “A New Day” came to a close. Dancers and actors filled the stage in a mixture of dance and story snippets. At the end, a performer invited the audience to shout the names of loved ones they lost in the AIDS epidemic. The air grew heavier with each name called out, almost as if it would collapse under the tragic weight of so much life cut short. At the conclusion, there was a celebration, as if to say the pain of losing these precious lives could never compare to the joy and blessing of knowing and being loved by them while they lived.
To learn more about Lineage Dance Company and the Lineage Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, please visit their website.
Written by Marlita Hill for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Hilary Thomas and Marco Tacandong in “A New Day” – Lineage Dance Company – Photo by Brian Elerding