The Nancy Evans Dance Company just presented one of its strongest evenings in some time, and for this gem of a company based in Pasadena, that is saying a lot. Opening on Saturday, May 13th at John Pennington’s beautiful space A Room to Create (ARC), Works 2023: Thresholds opened strongly and continued with a through-line of artistic professionalism. Led by artistic director and choreographer Nancy Evans Doede, 2023 proved to be an extremely productive year, offering up four new works.
As the audience entered the space, four large rectangular platforms lay center stage, coupled into two separate structures. The beautiful and talented Jenn Logan slowly walked around examining these white miniature monoliths, before getting on her hands and knees and moving through them. Eventually, Logan began separating the platforms and moving them around to create a large three sided room for herself. While creating this space for herself, Logan’s emotion shifted from calm to aggression to anger, finally settling in the center of the room leaning against a wall.
The work Antagonist(s) was created by Ashleigh Doede, who over time has proven herself to be an inspiring choreographer. As two other dancers, Tara Aghaian and Katrina Amerine, appeared as watchers and controllers, it became clear that Logan and the other two were one in the same and that Logan’s foes and friends were internal.
Ashleigh Doede created mystery, humor and even an eeriness within Antagonist(s) by how she positioned Aghaian and Amerine outside the room, their heads sometimes seemingly floating atop the surface. Yes there was wonderful dancing but the choreography gave voice to the story, not just dance phrases strung together in a mindless melody.
The gorgeous and somewhat futuristic all-white costumes were by Katrina Amerine, set construction and design was by James Doede, and the music was by Radio Head.
Preceded by a wonderful poem by Carl Sandburg titled “Grass”, Found and Lost was one the tenderest and loving duets between two men that I have seen in some time. Choreographed by Nancy Evans Doede, this male duet was not sexual, but a story of the love between two humans who both happen to be male. It is about friendship that is found and then lost.
One, performed by Marco Tacandong, appeared weak and unwell. Portrayed by Jacob Schmeider-Hacker, his very close friend tries unsuccessfully to save him. The movement is supportive with encouraging tenderness, and the two performers proved to be strong additions to the company. They are young, and their technique is still somewhat naïve, but both show promising potential.
The Music for Found and Lost was by Jan Gilbert and Patricia van Ness.
Following a brief pause, Jenn Logan’s What Not took the viewer into a dystopian world inspired by Rose Macaulay’s book “What Not: A Prophetic Comedy”. With pink, red, orange and yellow colored costumes, rubber bathing caps designed to look like neutral-shaded hair, and exaggerated eye makeup that harkened to Goldie Hawn on the 1960’s Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Logan’s What Not had humor, but loudly it spoke to the increasing slipping away of one’s identity.
The colors Logan chose were shocking and her use of two performers doing aerial movements on two gymnastic bars added a sense of fantasy, but there was an undertone of aggression at one character, Aghaian, who strived to regain her uniqueness.
The wonderful cast of What Not included: Tara Aghaian, Katrina Amerine, Ashleigh Doede, Marco Tacandong, Jacob Schmeider-Hacker, and guest artist courtesy of Pasadena Dance Theatre: Kate Andersen, Catalina Bilandzija, Julia Burroughs, Ariadne Duan, Alex Olson, Amy Suer, and Wesley Ting.
The final work on the program, Imprint, was commissioned by and first performed at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. “Based on the lithography from six women artists who had two-month fellowships at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles during the 1960’s” choreographers Nancy Evans Doede and Jenn Logan used six lithographs as inspiration to create six uniquely different dances.
Bang, choreographed by Doede, took its inspiration from Hedda Sterne’s Untitled: Metaphors and Metamorphoses IX. The small picture in the program of the artwork by Sterne had seven thick spikes of black bursting outward to the edges on a white canvas. One could see where Doede drew her title from as it spoke to the universe’s big bang theory.
Doede included seven dancers dressed in black, who maneuvered large pieces of black material against a white backdrop to create multiple ever-moving shapes. It was like watching a Franz Klein painting come to life.
The opening of Doede’s Seeing Red was a visual shock. Without warning, from the darkness came the stark whiteness of dancer Ashleigh Doede standing behind vertical fire-engine-red ropes stretched between two poles held by two men in red. It was as if someone had unexpectedly awakened one with a blinding flashlight. The one dancer turned out to be three standing in a row behind each other also dressed in all white.
Seeing Red, inspired by Gego’s lithograph Untitled, became a struggle for the three souls to penetrate the red ropes only to be trapped and reined back into whatever bizarre world they were caught in. The cast of Seeing Red were Tara Aghaian, Katrina Amerine, Ashleigh Doede, Jacob Schmeider-Hacker, and Marco Tacandong. The music was by Michael Wall and the prop design and construction was by Katrina Amerine and Jenn Logan.
Divine humor entered the space with Doede’s Hollywood Nap, inspired by Irene Siegel’s work by the same title. Two bleached blond sleeping Hollywood starlet wannabes with lipstick smeared mouths, lay side-by-side in a standing cardboard comic strip with swirling breast plates. The two, who seemed to be identical twins but unknown to one another, proceeded to move about their upright beds without fully waking up. It was, in a word, a hoot.
The cast of Hollywood Nap were Jen Hunter and Jenn Logan; costume and set design was by Jenn Logan and the music was by Michael Wall.
Jenn Logan’s Blockheads returned to serious cubism inspired by Louise Nevelson’s artwork Untitled. Large two-dimensional heads with bright red legs wordlessly conversed with one another. The piece worked for me until Logan brought the two dancers from behind their props revealing who they were as dancers. Still, overall the piece worked as art in motion.
The dancers in Blockheads were Tara Aghaian and Katrina Amerine; the masks were designed and constructed by Jenn Logan; and the music was by Michael Wall.
Ashleigh Doede’s performance in Nancy Evans Doede’s Liberation was stunning. Wearing all white leotards and tights and an orange coral colored sprig in her hair, this creature who appears lost and without direction, comes upon a circle made up of materials similar to what she wears on her head. It is instant recognition and a new found sense of belonging that Doede’s character projects as she lifts the prop and wears it as a hoop shirt for the remainder of the piece. It is a liberation from loneliness.
The costume was created by Katrina Amerine and Jen Logan; the music was by Michael Wall and the work was inspired by Ruth Asawa’s Desert Plant.
Nancy Evans Doede’s took her inspiration for Waterfall from Eleanore Mikus’ Tablet Litho 6. Choreographed in five parts titled Droplets, Ripples, Current, Rapids, and Waterfall, Doede’s movement reflected those actions and elements of water without becoming literal and dry. Performed by members of the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre Tara Aghaian, Marco Tacandong, Katrina Amerine, Ashleigh Doede, Jen Hunter, Jenn Logan and Jacob Schmeider-Hacker, Waterfall was a charming way to end the evening with a purely movement based work that visualized the music of Michael Wall and Slow Attack Ensemble.
The props were designed by Nancy Evans Doede and constructed by James Doede.
Works 2023 Thresholds continues May 20 at 8pm and 21 at 4pm at ARC. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre website.
For more information about ARC, please visit the website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: NEDT – Imprint – Tara Aghaian, Katrina Amerine in Blockheads, choreography by Jenn Logan – Photo by Jenn Logan