Beginning in March of this year if one wanted to watch dancers perform, one had to log online to do so. A few companies have created new works specifically for Zoom, Instagram, or Facebook live streaming, while others are screening pre-recorded works. Here, we have one film for each category. “PLAYGROUND” is a new work created by Versa-Style Dance Company (VSDC) led by co-founders Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez and Leigh “Breeze-Lee” Foaad. It is a work designed especially for this time of physical-distancing, with the dancers performing in/on or near their homes. The second video was originally created as a stage piece and in 2018, re-created into a film, in collaboration with Amodeo Creative. The film is called “Screaming Shapes,” choreographed by Sophia Stoller and the dancers of Iris Company.
“PLAYGROUND” is dedicated to the late Don “Campbellock” Campbell, who was the creator of the Hip Hop style called Locking. The video is divided into two parts, the first performed by VSDC- The Next Generation, with part two featuring members of Versa-Style Dance Company. Both are recorded webinar style dancers’ bedrooms, back yards, patios, driveways, garages, roof tops, streets or parking lots, and then wonderfully edited together. Both parts are upbeat, highly entertaining and beautifully performed to the dynamic original score “Playground Samba” by Coflo. It is music that makes one want to stand up and join in the fun.
The full title of this work is PLAYGROUND “Finding Creativity and Fun in our personal space” and indeed it succeeds in both. While providing a much needed positive message, the work is beautifully crafted and expertly performed by both VSDC groups.
Although both parts share similar elements, the two are vastly different. Part one features the junior company often performing in unison while standing or seated in folding chairs. Each dancer is featured as the camera panels move about, but the dancers’ movements are primarily in sync. One exciting section is when a dancer virtually tosses a colorful handkerchief to another dancer who is either above, beside or below them. It is inventive and playful camera work edited by VSDC member Ernesto “Precise” Galarza. The choreography was by co-founders Lopez and Foaad.
Versa-Style Next Generation members include: Manager: Ernesto “Precise” Galarza; Captains: Aubrey Mamid and Leo Flores with Jr. Company members Milagritos Godina, Rosie Alvarado, Katherine Quezada, Ismael Castorena, Luis Maravilla, Nathalie Bernal, Nicholas Barrios, Valorie Bullock, Aryeal Lands, and Tyrese Starling.
Core and Apprentice: Mia Berber, Bethany Urrutia, Bianca Ramirez, Christopher Martinez, Emely Gonzalez, Erik Jamison, Gabriela Hernandez, Jeremiah Urrutia, Jorge Sanchez, Karine Cuevas, Kevin Castillo, Liz Altamirano, Michelle Montenegro, Nadine Aguirre, Scarlett Leon, Shannon Williams, Vivian Cubillos, Ziol Elamin, and Zuleny Ordonex.
Part two of “PLAYGROUND” began with an eerie scene of an empty playground. The jungle gym, the slides and the sand boxes all deserted. There was, however, the sounds of kids’ playful voices and empty swings swaying, all a reminder of the effects of the pandemic. Slowly the faces of Versa-Style Dance Company members faces appear and Coflo’s dynamic and hopeful samba reappears as we see dancers begin to perform.
Part of what sets “PLAYGROUND” apart from other of Versa-Style’s work is the close up shots of the dancers’ footwork. On stage, I tend to focus on the dancers’ bodies and how they move through space, but here they are confined to small camera frames, and there are whole sections of just their feet. I have long been a fan of Hip Hop as a dance style, but this gave me an entirely new perspective and respect for what the dancers do.
The choreography for part two of “PLAYGROUND” was by Leigh Foaad. The dancers included: Leigh Foaad, Cynthia Hernandez, Brianna Grey, Ernesto Galarza, Jackie Lopez, Brandon Juezan, Anthony Berry, Gbari Gilliam, Harry Weston, Jessi Pontillas, and Ceanne Agustin. The second part of Playground was Edited by Brianna Grey/Passion Media. This project was made possible by Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles.
“Screaming Shapes” was first designed as a stage piece in collaboration with composer Peter S. Shin and then put onto film in 2018. The film was screened on the festival circuit finishing its run at Dance Camera West in Los Angeles. What I was first struck by in Iris Company’s film was that the dancers were actually making physical contact, and it made me realize how much I miss that person to person interaction.
We first see a lone male figure sitting at a table in a downtown LA plaza. As the camera pans out, we find that there are others also enjoying being outside. The film then shifts dramatically, by having the characters lying atop the tables. This veering into changes of realities continues throughout the film causing me to wonder if I was taking part in one person’s dream or a universally shared one.
The camera work and editing by Peter Amodeo Gould and Sophia Stoller is very professional, adding to the dream like shifts of realities, venues and times of day. Performed in the plaza as well as a dead end street or alley, the camera takes one inside the action as well as leaving you on the outside looking in.
At one moment dancers group together before slithering into a single line and move insect-like up onto the sidewalk and along the wall. They come together again later to offer a silent scream as if the worlds existence is in jeopardy, shifting yet again into a single figure seated serenely as if the nightmare is over or never was.
“Screaming Shapes” was choreographed by Sophia Stoller and the Dancers. The performers were Bryanna Brock, Hyosun Choi, Cat Cogliandro, Casey Gonzalez, Kristen Holleyman, Amanda MacLeod, Joan H. Padeo, Shane Raiford, and Jamal Wade. Music Performance: Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra. Musicians: Mehrdad Gholami, Benjamin Mitchell, Benjamin Hoffman, and Clement Chow. Costumes: Amanda MacLeod, and Cody Brunelle-Potter. Production Assistants: Jessica Salans, Stacy Gaspard
To watch PLAYGROUND, click HERE.
To watch “Screaming Shapes” click HERE.
To visit the Versa-Style Dance Company website, click HERE.
To visit the Iris Company website, click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Iris Company in “Screaming Shapes” – Screen still courtesy of Iris Company