The Los Angeles Dance Festival/International 2021 ended its three-day run with dance films by Tomasz Ciesielski (Poland), Jungmi Han (South Korea), Charlotte Katherine Smith (Los Angeles), Johnny Jan-Pong Tu (Taiwan), Bret Easterling (Los Angeles), Alina Sokulska (Spain), Matt Reiner & Nannette Brodie (Los Angeles, and Peng Juefei (South Korea). The LA Dance Festival/International was produced by Deborah Brockus in partnership with the Luckman Theatre, Seoul International Dance Festival in Tank (SIDFIT), with extra financial support from the Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles and the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles. Overall, the festival was extremely well executed and the majority of the total of 22 films were intriguing to watch.
Tomasz Ciesielski’s ODYSSEY (Poland) is a site-specific dance film taking place in an extremely pristine looking train terminal. The marble floors reflected whoever tread upon them, the walls looked like no one had ever touched them and the glass doors between rooms seemed dangerously clean. The talented and agile trio of dancers (Natalia “Sarna” Kladziwa, Oscar Mafa, and Pawel Urbanowicz) would have fit right in with the dancers who founded the Postmodern era at Judson Church in New York during the 1960s and ‘70s. They were obviously well trained, but the pedestrian movement looked natural and as if they had just thought of it. What gave this away, however, was that everything was repeated multiple times throughout the terminal.
The three performers rarely touched each other, and in some areas of the building, were not in close proximity to one another. There was a wonderful duet during with two of them were directly next to each other, moving rapidly, but never made contact. The movement became faster and more physical near the end, and it concluded with the cast going down separate escalators headed to different destinations. Odyssey was a pleasurable journey.
The Producer of Odyssey was Joanna Stasina; Filmographer: Harmony Art; Music: Sean Palmer and Kuba Palys; and Costumes: Damian Kretschmer.
Filmed onstage at SIDFIT, TRY ANGLE (South Korea) was an exhausting work to watch due to the plastic tube that Jungmi Han had created for Eisul Lee to perform inside of for the first half of the dance. Lee moved through this environment slowly at first, causing the tube to appear that it was actually breathing. Her movements sometimes deflated the tube and then inflated it as her silent screams were seen through the plastic. At other times Lee would cause the tube to twist, blocking off all air flow. When she was finally thrust from this artificial birth canal, I felt myself gasp for air.
Lee’s movements were, at the same time, fascinating to watch as were those that she performed with the material once outside the enclosure. There was a long section where she stood on one leg, the other emersed in the plastic that would not let her escape and moved about as if her standing foot was cemented to the ground. When Lee moved about the stage, she appeared to float on top of the material and other times her gestures were spastic and robotic. The solo was not easy to watch, but it kept my focus riveted to the screen.
The Director of Try Angle was Jungmi Han and the Dramaturge was Seohyun Jang.
Charlotte Katherine Smith (Los Angeles) is always a joy to watch perform and her film titled WEEBLE WOBBLE invites the viewer to think as well as to enjoy what she is doing. In this work, Smith has placed herself in the desert surrounded by beautiful cacti and utilizes three different sized bobbling objects that respond to her movements like the toy punching bags kids once played with. Two look like space age capsules – one large, the other small – and the third is shaped like a large musical gourd with an antenna. They make one smile, but the film is intriguingly hypnotic.
Smith’s movements and the camera work mirror the wobbling of her “props” and I found myself asking why these objects and why in the desert. Answer: why not? Weeble Wobble is visually beautiful and seeing Smith move within that environment is a treat.
Smith is also the Director and Editor of Weeble Wobble. The Cinematographer is Joseph Cicio and the Composer are Zac Greenberg and Sam Katz.
TRANSIENT II (Taiwan) is choreographed, directed, and performed by the extraordinary performer Johnny Jan-Pong Tu and his journey in this work feels internal as well as traveling from place to place. We watch Tu test where and who he is and react to others who are not visible to us with emotions of confusion, anger and surprise.
Tu’s journey is visualized through three light specials on the stage and the rest of the stage lighting shifting from white light to an intense blue. He, like the title suggests, seems not happy to be in one place or anywhere, but the cause of his discomfort comes from within his mind. Transient II is a powerful work and well edited.
Bret Easterling’s GAMUT (Los Angeles) is a sci-fi brain twister. His clothing is all white as is his cap and he wears goggles. The viewer is blasted with neon bright colors of green, pink, red, blue and more. Easterling’s character appears both trapped inside a white and silver cell and in total control of all sights and sounds and the emotions that accompany those truly run the full gamut.
Easterling’s movement is reactive to the elements but in the end, he turns it off with a snap of his fingers. Gamut is not easy on one’s eyes, but it is challenging to one’s intellect. Easterling is the choreographer, director, and performer of his film. The work is sponsored by Rosanna Gamson/World Wide.
Dressed in silver and gray, Alina Sokulska delivers a tour de force performance in her A NON PERFORMANCE (Spain) with a driving electronic score by Ambrose Akinmusire. Sokulska describes her method of creating this piece as improvography1 and interpretation. If this was on-the-spot improvisation, then it is clear that she knows this music extremely well, as there were times when the movements were note for note with the score. The physicality of Sokulska’s movement is breathtaking, exhausting and fascinating all at once. This film is a must see.
The Videographer for A Non Performance is Lorena Arroyo.
Matt Reiner and Nannette Brodie (Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre) are the choreographers of BALANCE ON THAT (Los Angeles). It is a physical romp throughout a beautiful park that features stone walls, railings, and walkways. The four dancers, Julisa Figueroa, Dennzyl Green, Stephanie Maxim, and Matt Reiner, balance and dance on just about every surface. Some of the modern dance style choreography is performed atop a stone wall and other more pedestrian and game-like movement climbs, jumps and flips over and off of those same walls. Everyone appears to be having fun.
Balance On That was directed by Reiner and Brodie, and the composer of the lively score was Eric Ruskin. The Editor was Nik Kuo.
The final film on Program C was the mesmerizing and meditative work titled FEIBAI (South Korea) choreographed and performed with breathtaking beauty by Peng Juefei. This work is a beautiful study in slowness and Juefei draws the viewers into her Tai Chi like meditation and entraps them. We first see Juefei’s strong and agile bare back as she rises, lowers herself and finally maneuvers through a circling of her torso. Once she stands, the quality of the movement continues and Juefei demonstrates her incredible control with a long section balanced on one leg – the rest of her in serene perpetual motion.
What also fascinated me was the sound score by Liu Jian that for most of the work was more sensed than heard. When Juefei suddenly breaks into a rapid turning and stomping of one foot, the volume increases into a beautiful finish. Juefei returns to her original position and as the lights fade, ever so slowly, vertebra by vertebra she descends to the floor. Where Alina Sokulska’s work was a tour de force in rapid emotional shifts, Juefei’s is one in serenity.
Feibai was filmed at SIDFIT. The Sound Design was by Gu Ming.
1 Gregory Hines devised the expression “improvography”, meaning the fusion of improvisation with set sections of choreography, which he shared with Tap phenom Savion Glover as his mentor.
The quality of the work on the Los Angeles Dance Festival/International 2021 was wonderful and I look forward to seeing the festival performed live in 2022 at the Luckman Theatre.
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To learn more about the Los Angeles Dance Festival, please visit the website.
To learn more about the Luckman Arts Complex, please visit the website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Los Angeles Dance Festival/International 2021 – Weeble Wooble by Charlotte Katherine Smith – Screenshot by LADC