The 6th Annual Dance at the Odyssey festival began its six weekend run on January 13, 2023 with several very strong works curated by Los Angeles based No)one. Art House. The six choreographers included artistic voices that we have not had the opportunity to experience and they are ones whose work deserves to be seen and supported. Thanks to the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and No)one. Art House we were given that chance to see works by Rebekah “Beks” Denegal, Marcella Lewis, Jordan Slaffey, Alejandro Perez, Qwanga, and Friidom.
Founded in 2014 by Chris Emile, Sabrina Johnson, Nia-Amina Minor, and Jeffrey Ware, No)one. Art House continues to nourish and support young artists and to provide them with performance opportunities throughout the Los Angeles area. The four co-founders continue to perform, create work and to teach courses in their areas of expertise: dance, choreography, music, and film making.
The program opened with the powerful The Black Homer & The Idk Period choreographed by multi-disciplinary movement artist, composer/choreographer, director known as Friidom (Darrel Dunn) and performed three very different, but equally talented dancer Friidom, Tai White, and Malik Bannister.
Homer was an 8th Century B.C. Greek poet who was credited as the author of the epic poems Iliad and the Odyssey. Friidom’s work shows that he is also a poet of movement, images, and words. A dancer appears to cause a white rectangle to grown smaller with only his hands, spoken words by James Baldwin, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X remind the viewer of how far our society has and has not made advancements on civil rights. And his movement is conversational, reactive and introspective via hip hop moves interwoven with powerful gestures and partnering.
The one element that I had difficulty seeing past was the extremely dark lighting which, from the second row, made seeing the movement difficult. The Black Homer & The IDK Period is a work that I hope to see again, and soon!
That work was then followed by an equally amazing piece A conversation in between choreographed by Alejandro Perez and performed with expert precision by Gretchen Ackerman and Perez. Ackerman first appears walking down the theater’s aisle whispering a phrase over and over. Although I could only understand the last word, “dream”, with her slow walk and body language, Ackerman created a tension that would remain consistent throughout the work. It was a tension that held my attention until after the work ended.
Ackerman is soon joined by Perez and the two performers physically converse while their movement almost succeeds in fusing their bodies into one, and then unison movement phrases express their agreeing ideas while separated by only a couple of feet. It is clear that both performers are highly trained and the work extremely well-rehearsed, but what makes A conversation in between so riveting is the relationship between the two performers, their presence onstage, and stunning choreography that stays out of the way of what is being said.
At the beginning of FORWARD, choreographed and performed by Rebekah “Beks” Denegal, a woman enters her apartment while conversing with a friend on her cell phone. After setting down the phone and picking up a book, a man (performed by Friidom) enters dressed in all white and her world suddenly is turned upside down. With the figure in white introducing each section/situation, Denegal transports the viewer through several events that she and perhaps people she knows, experienced during the pandemic. One dies of Covid, another struggles with fear and one questions what job opportunities lie ahead in 2023.
Denegal performed FORWARD with great clarity and emotion, and much of the work is very well crafted, but I was left with a sense that the subject matter required the artist to expand the work. It is an idea worth exploring.
Qwenga brings gives a very strong performance in his work titled ARM LEG LEG.. ARM HEAD, a work that is “part one of an immersive exhibition/installation titled Art Chitecture.” It opens with a projection of a close up of Earth’s sun with its orange gases and explosions providing a sense of strength, or a higher power. Owenga’s choreography is introspective and often held close to his body.
I was left thinking that the work was about struggle, suppression and liberation, enhanced by the uncredited music and Owenga’s ability to maintain his sense of self throughout the piece. His performance caused me to want to see the work in its entirety.
Spectacle of Ritual was choreographed by Marcela Lewis and performed magnificently by the exquisite Marirosa Crawford who is first seen rocking back and forth as if caught in prayer while kneeling. Lewis’s choreography and her choices of music help provide the atmosphere of this character’s spiritual journey. She manages to showcase Crawford’s beautiful technique without letting go of the work’s internalized theme.
Crawford exited and returned on the other side of the stage to quietly dance on an upstage to downstage diagonal, again providing the idea of her present journey. She is last seen crouching in a similar position as she began, but now her gesture was one of humility, offering and acceptance.
Closing the evening was a disjointed work titled Anti Famine choreographed and performed by Jordan Slaffey. The images that remained with me are less about Slaffey’s dancing but of her slowly walking off stage, pausing and then walking back on. This was repeated a couple of times before she exited upstage left and was gone so long that the audience began clapping. Eventually, Slaffey reentered upstage right to complete her work with powerful singing that spoke to her being on her way.
Staffey’s program notes state that “the world tends to show the traumas and disturbances black women have to face day to day” but infers that she wants to present a more powerful view of what it means to be a black woman. Either Anti Famine needs editing or it is simply strange enough to be awkwardly beautiful. I will leave it up to the viewer.
The Director for the performance was Chris Emile; Producer: Sabrina Johnson; Producer/Stage Manager: Jessica Emmanuel; Producer/Sound: Cody Perkins; Costumes: Alejandro Ayon. There were no credits for the music for the entire evening.
The 6th Annual Dance at the Odyssey continues through February 19, 2023 with a different company each weekend. Coming up is Roya Carreras/Los Angeles: The Stories we Tell Ourselves and Assaf Salhov/New York; The Song of Spies (January 20-22); JA Collective: 5 Stories About Stage That Are Simply Untrue (January 27-29); Jessie Lee Thorne’s Poets In Motion: Topia: The Something In Between (February 3 – 4); Dancing Through Prison Walls: DATA or 7 ways to dance a dance through prison walls (February 10 – 11); and DaEun Jung: BYOULNORRI (별놀이) (February 17 – 19)
For information and tickets to Dance at the Odyssey, please click HERE.
For more information about the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, please visit their website.
To learn more about No)one. Art House, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.