As one of several dance spaces in the greater Los Angeles area that fell victim of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pieter Performance Space, founded by Jmy James Kidd, was forced to vacate the studio in the summer of 2020. This has not, however, stopped those who have been involved with the Pieter Studios from continuing to create new works or supporting other dance artists to do the same. Two such artists were Carlos Medina-Diaz (“Los”) and Justin Morris that Pieter sponsored for a six-weeks residency at Pieter Parking Space, located in the parking lot of The Box LA: 822 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Pieter describes this space as “a wheelchair-accessible, sprung wooden dance platform with multiple potential configurations.” Other artists who have been granted six-weeks residencies at Pieter Parking Space include Ana María Alvarez and Stacy Dawson Stearns.

The result of “Los’” 2021 residency was a dance film titled Rhizomatic Constellations, partially shot at Stomping Ground L.A., a beautiful performing arts theater and dance studios located in east Los Angeles. Other sections were filmed outside an apartment building with balcony scenes reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette and inside a bedroom featuring a wrestling match-style love duet where the two men slowly undress each other while holding their cellphones in their mouths. Lastly, the work moves into the studio setting with more of the tumbling-like choreography and disrobing, but with the addition of becoming entangled in streams of Christmas tinsel.

Carlos Medina-Diaz and Justin Morris in "Rhizomatic Constellations" by Carlos Medina-Diaz - Screenshot by LADC

Carlos Medina-Diaz and Justin Morris in “Rhizomatic Constellations” by Carlos Medina-Diaz – Screenshot by LADC

“Los” states that they “utilizes performance and the live body as vehicles to materialize an examination of their subjectivity as a brown, non-binary, first generation, working-class queer.” This creative statement slowly but clearly unfolds as Rhizomatic Constellations progresses.

My research revealed that the word rhizomatic means: of, relating to, or resembling a rhizome, a stem that grows underground. It is described as a somewhat elongated usually horizontal subterranean plant stem “that is often thickened by deposits of reserve food material, produces shoots above and roots below, and is distinguished from a true root in possessing buds, nodes, and usually scale-like leaves.” Examples given of a rhizome were hops, ginger, turmeric, Lily of the valley, bamboo, poison ivy, and the Virginia creeper. One definition of the word constellation is a group or cluster of related things.

Carlos Medina-Diaz and Justin Morris in "Rhizomatic Constellations" by Carlos Medina-Diaz - Screenshot by LADC

Carlos Medina-Diaz and Justin Morris in “Rhizomatic Constellations” by Carlos Medina-Diaz – Screenshot by LADC

The two words placed together in the title, Rhizomatic Constellations, makes perfect sense if one grew up gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or otherwise in a community where openly being “oneself” was impossible. Such individuals learn at an early age to go underground to find like souls or communities where they feel safe. Like the stems of a rhizome that grow beneath the surface, people in these communities find one another through a series of whispers, nods, glances and hidden venues. The LGBT+ community has only recently begun to function “above ground” or out in the open, and even now it is not always easy or safe to live as one knows oneself to be.

The camerawork in Rhizomatic Constellations is not always excellent and the movement vocabulary begs for more variety, but the message delivered in this 13 minute 30 second film hits home with a gut punch for anyone in or knowledgeable of the LGBTQ+ or BIPOC community.

Sadly, I did not learn about the existence of this film until it had been out for nearly a week. I hope that “Los” will make it available soon on other websites or venues.

Film Credits for Rhizomatic Constellations include: Performers: Carlos Medina-Diaz and Justin Morris; Cinematography: Megan Fowler-Hurst and Sam Villegas; and Sound Design & Video Projection: Carlos Medina-Diaz.

To learn more about Carlos Medina-Diaz, please visit their website.

To learn more about Pieter, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Rhizomatic Constellations by Carlos Medina-Diaz – Screenshot by LADC