The 2018 edition of the Los Angeles Dance Festival opened this weekend at the Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz, located on the campus of Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles. In 1987 Congress declared March the National Women’s History month and during this past year has seen the rise of a few very powerful women’s movements. Producers Deborah Brockus and Pierre Leloup therefore chose to present Women Rising to showcase eight of LA’s female leading choreographers, and to honor three women who have shown outstanding support of Los Angeles Dance over the past few decades.

The first recipient of the Service To The Field award was Renae Williams Niles who for 25 years has worked as a dancer; Company Manager of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre; a presenter at the Los Angeles Music Center; and fundraiser. Currently Niles is the Chief Operating Officer for the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. These are but a few of her accomplishments and as stated by presenter Lillian Rose Barbeito of BODYTRAFFIC, Niles did all the above while also being a wife and mother of three children. She is a true asset and treasure to those of us who have watched her work magic over the past 25 years. The two other women to be honored over the weekend are Joanne DiVito and Ann Haskins.

The four women choreographers featured on the opening night of the festival were Stephanie Zaletel, Micaela Taylor, Seda Aybay, Sarah Elgart, and Deborah Brockus. Each is a founding artistic director and choreographer of a LA based company, and each is highly regarded in their field.

szalt (dance co.) – Photo courtesy of the artist

I find it difficult to review an excerpt of a dance. For me, it is like reading one chapter of a book before reviewing it for publication. The work that Stephanie Zaletel chose to present for her company, szalt (dance co.), was entitled new (excerpt from moon) and it felt like only one chapter of many. After a stunning and anguished filled opening solo performed by Zaletel, the work became a series of unison phrases that did not appear connected to the solo. Zaletel’s work often has the quality of occurring inside someone’s dream, and there were fleeting moments where this occurred, like when the dancers were standing in place silently mouthing words. These times were, however, not enough to provide a connective thread. The original score performed live by Louis Lopez and Jonathan Snipes did provide promise of better things to come. The very strong cast of szalt (dance co.) included Lindsey Lollie, Eden Orrick, Sarah Prinz, Amir Rappaport, Mecca Romero, and Stephanie Zaletel.

Micaela Taylor – Photo by Sarah Prinz

Micaela Taylor, founder of Micaela Taylor + The TL Collective, is not only a beautiful dancer, but she is developing into an extraordinary choreographer. SEEcolour featured Taylor and three other extremely strong performers, Sam McReynolds, Julienne Mackey, and Cigi Todisco. There was an intricate solo performed by McReynolds and another in which Taylor finally cut loose and allowed us to see her love of and incredible talent for Hip Hop. The dance had a subtle social statement which came through with Taylor’s use of gestures, facial movements and people being quietly dragged off stage.  SEEcolour was intense and felt extremely current. The work was performed to music by Pan Sonic, Grandmaster Flash, and De La Soul.

Kybele Dance Theater – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Seda Aybay is the Artistic Director/Choreographer of Kybele Dance Theater. She is a beautiful dancer with a commanding presence. She performed outside in the venue’s courtyard, dancing along the very narrow ledge of a three-foot high wall. I sensed Aybay’s presence before I realized that she was seated leaning against a black light post. Her solo, Damla, was performed to a peaceful and romantic sound score designed by Aybay. Aybay was born in Turkey, so I looked up title, Damla.  In Turkish, it means drop, a word with several meanings. Aybay never left the ledge, nor did she ever appear that she might fall. I was impressed that she never even wobbled as she performed leg extensions and arabesques. The solo was not ostentatious, however. It was peaceful and reflective as if we were witnessing a visualization of her present thoughts.

Sarah Elgart/Arrogant – from “Ghost” – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sam McReynolds is an astonishing performer who manages to make extremely difficult movements appear totally natural. The solo entitled Shape of Memory: Sam that Sarah Elgart, of Sarah Elgart/Arrogant Elbow, has created for McReynolds allows him to put these talents into action while giving us a glimpse into his psyche. A theater lamp descends from above like a memory invading one’s mind. McReynolds appeared mesmerized and even overcome by this recollection of a past event. The solo is dramatic, introspective and very personal to McReynolds, and even without knowing what the memory might be, one senses that it has been resolved.

BrockusRED – “Gold Duet” – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Deborah Brockus founded BrockusRED in 1994. She is an incredibly powerful force within the dance community, creating festivals and showcases for other companies to present their work. She has won awards for some of her entrepreneurial accomplishments. The work that Brockus present on this concert was entitled As Ancient and Young as Spring (excerpts -Wisdom/First Human/Women/Rituals). It is a deep investigation into periods of humankind that should be presented as an evening long work. The opening solo representing the first humans on earth and perhaps the parents of us all, was strong and performed quite well by Micaela De Pauli and Moises Josue Michel. The section with five women was earthy, powerful and projected a clear vision of female strength. The male section, although very well performed, felt long and suffered from the size of the stage. These men desperately needed space for the large movements Brockus had created for them.  This was not the strongest presentation of Brockus’ choreography, but I would like to see this work in its entirety. The music consisted of a mixture of very haunting songs that felt like they came from ancient times. The cast included Cersha Burn, Will Clayton, Andrew Corpuz, Micaela De Pauli, Leah Hamel, Adrian Hoffman, Julienne Mackey, Moises Josue Michel, Dominique McDougal, and Rein Short.

Women Rising continues through March 3 at the Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz. The Los Angeles Dance Festival occurs in several venues throughout the month of March. For information and tickets, click here.

Feature Photo: Courtesy of the Artist.

To view the LA Dance Chronicle Calendar of Performances, click here.