Thursday, November 5, 2020 marked the premiere of the second week of the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts (REDCAT) all-streaming and virtual New Original Works (NOW) Festival. The entire NOW Festival focuses on Los Angeles artists and for the first time is occurring during the fall. Alfonso Cervera, Irvin Gonzalez, Patricia “Patty” Huerta, and Rosa Rodriguez-Frazier of Primera Generación Dance Collective; Xiaoyue Zhang; and randy reyes and Bapari are the featured artists for Week Two of the festival. Although all of the three virtual works presented suffered from being too long, only one stood out above the rest as artistically fulfilling.

Xiaoyue Zhang is a Chinese multi-disciplinary artist and creative producer who states that she is “working at the intersection of film, photography, dance, and theater arts”. While her work  Little Red Book, or Plural Body delivers a powerful message regarding her homeland and the Chinese American population, the video suffers from the need of editing and a sound design and mixing by Kai-Luen Liang that never quite finds its focus.

The Little Red Book refers to Quotations by Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, a communist revolutionary who was the founder of the People’s Republic of China, who ruled as the chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.  The Little Red Book was the inspiration of general Lin Biao, leader of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and later Mao’s heir apparent. Lin later died, however, in a mysterious plane crash.  The purpose of the book was to distill the voluminous products of Mao into something that even the lowest educated Chinese person could read and understand.

Xiaoyue Zhang - Photo by Yikai Luc Wu, courtesy of REDCAT

Xiaoyue Zhang – Photo by Yikai Luc Wu, courtesy of REDCAT

There is a beautiful section with Zhang standing outside at night speaking into a microphone and using it to amplify sounds produced from her movements, as well as one of her standing on a sidewalk singing while wearing a Covid face mask.

Her repetitive gymnastic sections with headless participants whose numbers multiply until they are exercising in treetops is visually compelling until it goes on pass the point of mystery. We have all seen the propaganda scenes of hundreds of identically dressed Chinese people performing calisthenics in total unison because they have been forced to do so by the state. Zhang’s point was made and restated ad nauseum.  The second time around of this theme worked better as the unison movement performed by the three headless participants and two adolescent Chinese girls broke into canons. Perhaps Zhang was encouraging her countrymen to break out and find their own identities?

This work needs an unbiased eye to help Zhang condense it into a much stronger work. The potential is there. Little Red Book, or Plural Body was Directed by Xiaoyue Zhang; performed by Jiayu Zhang, Yue Zhu, Lydia Li, and Xiaoyue Zhang; with Cinematography by Natalia Lassalle, Xiaoyue Zhang, Jiayu Zhang, and Yikai Wu. The Scenic Deign was by Amy Chiao; Costume Design by Xiyu Lin; and Dramaturgy by Yue Wang and Brittney Brady.

randy reyes (they/them) is a queer, AfroGuatemalan director, curator, choreographer, performance artist, and healer who says that they are based in many places.  Bapari (aka Arielle Baptiste) is a Haitian-American musician, producer and DJ. Together these two collaborated to create REAL TALK #1 (PT.2) | VECTORS OF ADVERSE DESIRES CON UN POCO DE TU DISCO STICK, which is in desperate need of editing. As it stands, the choreography and performance by reyes comes across as self-indulgent ramblings of on-the-spot improvisation. In addition, the video is more of an archival recording of their performance, than a work of video art.

Randy Reyes – Death by Disco Prelude – CCProject – Photo courtesy of REDCAT

This work goes on endlessly, or so it seems, due to the lack of variety, organization, and vision. The movement vocabulary and artistic statements by reyes are so limited that they could have condensed this video into a 15 minute piece. Early on we understand reyes struggles with sexual identity, but the fact that their face was totally hidden the entire time by a Covid mask and a very messy blond/pink (depending on the lighting) wig, only hindered the understanding of reyes’ message.

Some of the lighting ideas are good and Bapari’s music mixing is adequate, but my advice for these two would be to go back into the studio and start over.

The highlight of the program came at the end with Nepantla, a compelling work by Primera Generación Dance Collective’s Alfonso Cervera, Irvin Manuel Gonzalez, Patricia “Patty” Huerta, and Rosa Rodriguez-Frazier. What helped to set this work apart from the previous two was that the creators allowed the camera to become the choreographer. The choreographer(s) took the time to consider the camera prior to making his/her/their creative decisions. It was not simply a documentary of their work, but a total integration of the choreography and the camera. It could use some editing, but overall, Nepantla is a provocative work that shines a light on the difficulties facing Mexican migration into this country, the immoral separation of families, and the unnecessary deaths caused by the hurdles placed before these people seeking asylum and to better the future of their children.

Primera Generación Dance Collective - Photo by Yvonne Portra, courtesy of REDCAT

Primera Generación Dance Collective – Photo by Yvonne Portra, courtesy of REDCAT

Four dancers, two women and two men, all dressed in white wedding gowns, move through a barren landscape, the streets and alleyways of Los Angeles, fire escapes, and the cement walls of the LA River embankments. The cinematography by Leo Rivas, the video editing, the music editing by Rosa Rodriquez-Frazier and Alfonso Cervera are excellent, and the excerpts from CNN News, all come together with a unified vision.

The choreography by members of Primera Generación Dance Collective shifts genres and costumes in total agreement with the changes of scenery, characters being portrayed and the group’s artistic statements. It is clear that a lot of thought and creative collaboration went into Nepantla, and the result is a video that should live past this weekend’s showings.

Week Two of REDCAT’s NOW Festival 2020 continues through Saturday, November 7 at 8:30 pm. Week Three runs December 10, 11 & 12 with works by DaEun Jung; Maria Garcia and Samantha Mohr; and Genna Moroni.

For more information and tickets, click HERE.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Primera Generación Dance Collective – Photo by Bobby Gordon, courtesy of REDCAT.