Artistic Director Nannette Brodie presented the Ninth Annual So Cal Dance Invitational, for one night only, at the beautiful Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater located in the California University, Long Beach Department of Dance Complex. The event was sold out and the audience filled with enthusiastic family and friends of the performers. The first half contained strong works by Marie Hoffman and Dennzyl Green, while the second half gained strength with those by Evan Rosenblatt, Joshua D. Estrada-Romero and the late Christine Baltes.
There was a pre-performance dance film titled TRASHMAN choreographed and performed by Goblin Party: Hyoin Jun and Kyutae Choi that was difficult to see because the house lights were still up full, it was on a very small screen mid-way back of the stage, and either audience members did not notice it was being shown or they were simply not interested. Whatever the reason, my view was constantly blocked by people walking or standing in front of me. What I did see was filled with interesting movement between two men cleaning trash off a driveway with what harkened back to the antics of silent film comic Buster Keeton and the inspiring dancer Fred Astaire, famous for dancing with props.
AkomiDance Co-Artistic Director Marie Hoffman’s SYZYGIES was an excellent choice to open the performance due to its high energy, musicality and rapid directional shifts. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Syzygies is defined as “the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system.”
The work began with a dancer running in a circle before being joined by her cast members, and the circle became a repeating symbol at the beginning or end of each section. Primarily a movement dance that beautifully complimented the music of minimalist instrumental ensemble Balmorhea, SYZYGIES was filled with recognizable planetary formations, and components reflecting the effects of gravitational pull. This was a very enjoyable work by Hoffman.
Although much of the cast of SYZYGIES were not at a professional level, they were dedicated, exuberant and clearly loved to perform this work. They were Anthony Aceves, Katie Cloak, Elena Gillogly, Cara Laughlin, Amber Morales, Alex Rasmussen, Matt Wiley, and Claire Zabaneh. The colorful costumes were by Amy Walper and excellent lighting Design by Chris Caputo.
NORI was an interesting work choreographed and nicely performed by Co-artistic Director of Goblin Party Hyoin Jun and Jisu Jeon to live music performed beautifully by Eunjung Cho on the Kayakum, a traditional Korean stringed instrument. In English nori means “to play” and the two performers moved through abstract reflections of “Korean dance movements such as tightrope walking, shoulder dance, traditional puppet dance, and drawing curves with hands”.
Costumed in black pants and jackets with white shirts, Hyoin Jun and Jisu Jeon were enjoyable to watch as they combined contemporary dance with Korean movement styles. Their joined hands creating a bird of peace flying into the horizon was a soothing end to the work.
NBDT member Stephanie Maxim‘s FLEDGLING was not ready for prime time. It has all the hallmarks of a composition class study about a young bird’s early days inside the nest, shedding its pin feathers and finally taking flight. Priya Chisii’s performance was often hindered by Costume Designer Diane De Franco Browne’s “pin feathers” that were loosely draped around her neck, but mostly by the weak and low energy choreography. FLEDGING was an idea that never quite came to fruition. ALWAYS THERE FOR ME choreographed by Nannette Brodie was a disappointment as well, which came as a surprise because for many years I have enjoyed Brodie’s choreography. This was a worn-out theme of young puppy love that never rose to Brodie’s potential. The two dancers were NBDT members Matt Reiner and Teresa Rios.
The jewel of the evening was A^SCENSION choreographed by CSU Fullerton graduate and Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre (NBDT) member, Dennzyl Green, who demonstrated a choreographic talent well beyond his years. Performed to a wonderful score by Zoe Keating, the work drew the audience in and kept them there until the curtain descended.
Green’s young cast of dancers were so beautifully rehearsed that whatever lack of training they may have exhibited all but vanished. Costumed in unadorned gray by Toria Snow and with extraordinary lighting and staging by Jody Caley, A^SCENSION was an exciting flow of interacting and intersecting ideas, shapes and emotions that simply put, took my breath away.
The inspiring cast of A^SCENSION included Marin Asano, Laura Chavez, Madelyn Downs, Johanna Duffy, Kairah Jibri, Katie Munder, Alondra Perez, Nicole Potts, Ricardo Ramos-Morales, Trinity Ruelas, Katie Sovik, and Emily Upcraft.
Nannette Brodie redeemed herself with VIENTOS DE ANDALUCIA (Winds of Andalucia) choreographed to music by Adam Hurst, Spanish Trance, and Caravan Rhythms. Andalusia is located in the south of the Iberian peninsula and Brodie’s work reflected the migration of the Moors to this part of Spain. Moors were initially indigenous to Maghrebine, the westernmost part of North Africa and the Arab world.
A bit confusing were Brodie’s use of arm and stylized hand movements often identified with east Indian dance and the silky materials used for the costumes by Brodie and Elias Roldan that also had a flair of that part of the world. The opening and final sections of VIENTOS DE ANDALUCIA were the strongest, with beautiful lifts and movement phrases, and a strong depiction of a people migrating and settling into new territories. The middle section veered away from the work’s theme, but Brodie brought it back together at the end.
The cast of VIENTOS DE ANDALUCIA were NBDT members Priya Chisti, AJ Dirickson, Dennzyl Green, Rebecca Martin, Stephanie Maxim, Matthew Reiner, Teresa Rios, Jennie Sustaita, and Erica Villalpando.
Following intermission, Evan Rosenblatt and Bethana Rosenblatt of Evan Rosenblatt & Dancers gave a strong performance with their THE BACK OF BEYOND featuring a center positioned, single wooden wall (designed by Jeanne Schniedelwind) to represent separated worlds, countries, societies or ideas; the interpretation thankfully left to the observer. Excellent timing and clever use of lighting designed by Heather Romanowski, we inhabited both sides of the wall, experienced two individual’s curiosity of the other and enjoyed their inventive methods of contacting one another. Through the magic of theater, Ms. Rosenblatt appeared to run through the wall and into the world on the other side. Performed to music by British musician Bobby Krlic, known as The Haxan Cloak and the German power metal band Scanner, THE BACK OF BEYOND was a refreshing look at reflections on boundaries and relationships.
Joshua D. Estrada-Romero is an exciting choreographer and the Artistic Director of FUSE Dance Company. He hires very strong performers and with the performance of DANCA, MUSICORUM, RITMO inspired by the music of the Italian female vocal quartet Faraualla, no one disappointed.
The work was filled with Estrada-Romero’s signature musicality, grounded energy, inventive phrasing, and a quality that I truly appreciate, the use of slow movement in opposition to fast paced music or vice versa. He understands how to incorporate solos or duets with unison movements, and one enjoys watching as they melt into yet more intriguing configurations. Estrada-Romero does not simply follow the melody line of music, he delves into the multilayers of every score. Without giving it away, I thoroughly enjoyed this work’s ending.
The very strong cast of DANCA, MUSICORUM, RITMO included FUSE Dance Company members: Leann Alduenda, Chandler Davids, Kathy Duran, Stormy Gaylord, Stephanie Lin, and Edward Salas.
THE LIGHTHOUSE was choreographed by NBDT member Jennie Sustaita to music by Volker Bertelmann, a German pianist and composer who performs and records under the name Hauschka, and the dance was dedicated to all breast cancer fighters, survivors, and thrivers. Although the work had lovely moments with beautiful lyrical dancing, it came across primarily as a visualization of the music that brought to mind stormy currents of the ocean along a rocky shore. It appeared less of a journey through personal challenges. THE LIGHTHOUSE was enjoyable but not memorable.
The cast included NBDT members Dennzyl Green, Rebecca Martin, Stephanie Maxim, Megan McLean, and Samantha Montoya.
Jana Taylor, Artistic Director of Jana Taylor + Dancers, took on a complex subject for LITTLE SCREAMING FACT, but in the end did not have the material to fulfill her vision. She made good use of a strip of burlap filled with soil to represent a single row within a crop field, but it was the audible excerpts from the novel, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck that delivered the Dust Bowl era story. Taylor tried to avoid a literal interpretation of the text but her movement was weakened by over acting by the performers. The cast included Jana Taylor + Dancers: Jamie Carr, Priya Chisti, Katie Cloak, Daniel Diaz, and Jana Taylor.
Christine Baltes (1951-2018) was a driving force behind dance in Orange County and it was wonderful to see her legacy continued through Janell Burgess’s re-staging of Baltes’ WOMEN OF SPIRIT SOUND created to Shambolaya by composer by Mickey Hart. The work was a powerful display of rhythm, grounded and percussive movement and strengthened by a strong sense of unity. This was a very enjoyable work performed wonderfully by Leann Alduenda, Teresa Jankovic, Karissa Thoma, and Janell Burgess. The lively costumes were by Tomo Swan.
Lighting Designer Jody Caley did an excellent job of providing a different environment for each of the nine dances works that she lit.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, February 12, 2020.
Featured image: (L to R) Jisu Jeon, Hyoin Jun, Eunjung Cho in NORI – Photo by Tony Mierzwicki