The 10th Annual Los Angeles Dance Festival presented its first in-person performances since March of 2020, when the entire world went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival was a three-part evening beginning at 6pm with the showing of dance films including Bella presented by BAM Moves and Director Bridget Murnane, a 7pm presentation of youth performances titled “Dance & Dialogue”, and an 8pm performance of works by Los Angeles dance artists. The festival will continue with Fringe Showcases: April 22nd 8pm, 23rd@ 8pm, 24th@ 7pm at Brockus Project Studios – 618 B Moulton Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90031.
Co-presented by Artistic Director Deborah Brockus and The Luckman Theatre, the 2022 LA Dance Fest paid tribute to two of LA’s most influential dance artists Bella Lewitzky and Lula Washington with excerpts from Lewitzky’s Kinaesonata (1970) and Washington’s Today (2021). The Lula Washington Dance Theatre also performed an excerpt from Donald Byrd’s A Folk Dance (1992). Other choreographers included on the 8pm performance were Sean Greene (The Searchers), Deborah Brockus (BrockusRED), Seda Aybay (Kybele Dance Theatre), Maura Townsend (Maura Townsend Dance), and John Pennington (Pennington Dance Group).
Bella Lewitzky (1916-2004) was the muse for choreographer Lester Horton before she ventured out on her own for the acclaimed Bella Lewitzky Dance Company. John Pennington was member of Lewitzky’s company and is now in charge of reconstructing several of her works. For the festival, he chose to present an extraordinary solo section from Lewitzky’s Kinaesonata performed beautifully by Danae McWatt. Costumed in a simple orange leotard, McWatt’s performance demonstrated the sense of quiet and control needed for this particular solo. She gave it the exact amount of energy and while managing to truly stop when called for, her body continued to express movement. McWatt was a testament to Pennington’s coaching. The music for Kinaesonata was by Alberto Ginastera and the costume was by Andrew Palomares.
Lula Washington formed her amazing company, the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, in 1980 along with her husband Erwin Washington and the company continues to tour nationally and internationally today. Part of Washington’s legacy include her social and artistic activism and the excerpts from her 2021 work titled TODAY were a wonderful example of it. Divided into a brief opening section followed by four solos, this work also highlights the talent that comes out of the Lula Washington Dance School.
The special talents of four dancers (Danny Guerrero, Kozue Kasahara, Ongelle Johnson, and Quron) were highlighted as they danced and spoke about different social issues. Danny Guerrero gave a strong performance in I Walked 1600 Miles; Kozue Kasahara demonstrated extraordinary balance in Stop the Hate! Keep the Love; Ongelle Johnson proved that she could do just about anything in “A Mother’s Thought, Mercy”; and Quron Clarks performed with great athleticism and passion in Don’t You Remember What Happened?
Sean Greene is also a former member of the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company and he presented an intriguing duet titled Memories performed with wonderful clarity by Junji and Norma Phillips. Performing in front of a New York cityscape with what appeared to be a large bedroom window inserted in the picture, Junji and Phillips find each other, move through a myriad of emotions and then separate. This work of Greene displayed his gift at creating duets, but I was confused as to its true meaning. Was it two people finding each other in a city full of lonely souls or was it a memory of such a relationship? Not clear.
Flood, choreographed by Deborah Brockus, Artistic Director of BrockusRED, suffered from a lack of rehearsal. Set to music by Jars of Clay, the entire dance was built on fast unison movement utilizing jazz and contemporary dance style, but the four women: Julienne Mackey, Mara Hancock, Amina Yufanyi, and Stephanie Mizrahi were rarely in sync. This should have been a refreshing work enjoyed as a lively and fun dance. Instead it came across as technically above the performers’ abilities.
Seda Aybay, Artistic Director of Kybele Dance Theatre, has proved over the years that she continues to grow as a choreographer. Her dancers are technically strong and powerful performers and Aybay definitely understands how to create exciting lifts and intricate movement patterns. These talents were clearly displayed in Arayis (Seeking) as were the emotional feelings of souls searching for companionship, love and understanding. As in much of her work,, however, Aybay incorporated numerous hand gestures that clearly had deep meaning for her but were not always recognizable.
The dancers in Arayis were Karlo Ramirez, Melody Morrow, Andrii Strelkivskyi, Holly Sood-Diehl, and Seda Aybay. The extremely beautiful and intense music was composed by Oliver Doerell.
Deborah Brockus’ talent as a choreographer was redeemed in her Gold Duet (excerpt for As Ancient and Young as Spring) performed magnificently by Will Clayton and Raymond Ejiofor. Two men, searching and finding companionship, experience a host of emotions as they yearn to accept what some label as a forbidden love. This duet just keeps getting better.
The opening section of Maura Townsend’s Rumination was intriguing and I was captured by what I saw but the work soon drifted in and out of focus. Her cast of dancers (Miyeko Harris, Miko Harris, Colleen Melhuish, Taariq Muhammad, Keri Prokopidis, and Miko Doi-Smith) were more that capable to handle the work, but it appeared that Townsend had not settled on what this dance was about. The projections on the backdrop spoke to an urban setting, as did the beginning of the piece, but that connection did not prevail.
Townsend clearly understands how to structure a dance and how to move dancers in and out of very interesting patterns, but it was her vision that became clouded. The music for Rumination was by Zoe Keating and Ami Faku.
John Pennington’s Encounters #1 and #2 was extremely rewarding to watch. The choreography was excellent and made even better by the performers. The first duet was between two men (Andrew W. Palomares and Edwin Sigüenza) who explore their attraction but move on. The partnering was both endearing and athletic, romantic and playful. The second duet for two women (Danae McWatt and Amy Oden) almost fit into the genre of pure dance with only hints of a relationship between the two characters. Encounters, set to music by Noto & Sakamoto was a work that I hope to see again.
The evening closed with a performance by members of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre performing an excerpt from A Folk Dance choreographed by Donald Byrd and set to music composed by Mio Morales. Although I found this section of Byrd’s work unsatisfyingly presentational and overly cute, watching the talents of Ongelle Johnson, Quron Clarks, Kozue Kasahara, and Daniel Guerrero made it worthwhile.
For more performances by Los Angeles dance artists, the festival continues with Fringe Showcases: April 22nd 8pm, 23rd@ 8pm, 24th@ 7pm at Brockus Project Studios – 618 B Moulton Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90031. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the festival’s website.
Featured image: Danae McWatt and Amy Oden in John Pennington’s Encounters – Photo by Nate Lubben