Artists Jobel Medina, Jasmine Orpilla, and Amy O’Neal comprised the bill at this weekend’s REDCAT New Original Works program, closing out the last weekend of the program with a set of ruminations on self and society. Each work took a few facets of the artist’s identity into their own hands, reshaping the narrative for an audience’s eyes, but all in quite different tones.
Jobel Medina’s David, My Goliath was teeming with beautiful fragments assembled in a bold and almost frantic picture of young queer romance. Repetition in the text by Stefan Appel, carried by Santiago Gavidia, was a compelling study in context. Gavidia was both wise and youthful, delivering a frank and confident narrative of two young men in love. The second round of the same story was illuminated then by duet drama, danced by Medina and Joey Navarrete-Medina. I found myself awaiting pauses in the movement that didn’t come, looking for a break in the driving rhythms where I could make sense of the relationship. But the style did capture the breathlessness of the affair, especially framed by the 80s power pop/soap opera feel.
There were perfect moments. Navarrete-Medina bowed and nodded in stunning shapes while Medina applauded him across the stage. Medina made traditional Tinikling bamboo poles of his legs while Navarrete-Medina skipped in and out. Navarrete-Medina laid in a pile of confetti while Medina pointed an industrial fan at him, a wink at the glorious glam cover shoot. They pulled their long locks out of knots and threw them at each other in a passionate counterpoint. Their chemistry was off the charts — I mean, they’re married — but for all the reference to theatre and soap opera, they didn’t make performative eye contact with the audience. It was almost uncanny, a little uncomfortable.
I was disproportionately distracted by Navarrete-Medina’s Bloch sneaker shoes laid over synthetic mesh unitards (that’s one too many tense ballet classes on my part, perhaps). But loud and large headpieces by Cody Brunelle-Potter drew me back into the campy universe, and a neon light crafted by Tyler Kensek took the audience to a Vegas motel in the most beautiful way. Medina brought the house down in a solo at the very end, soaring through sequences and hitting marks with that diva confidence we all want from a piece set to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It was almost cathartic, the final lean into the 80s aesthetic: I’m curious how the work would play in a stadium rather than a black box. Would it lose the ironic tint, or amplify it?
Jasmine Orpilla’s Talged: Her body she cares for, her soul/s she guards combined a few installation pieces mapping Orpilla’s Ilokano/Filipino-American heritage, a look into the ways we carry generational trauma in tradition. Orpilla’s lens was so brilliantly constructed; she slipped in and out of several languages, her work heavily researched, her props and costumes thoughtfully sourced from Filipino artisans and masters.
The care with which she addressed her ancestors was just the underlying current of a deeply haunting set of monologues. Her delivery kept you glued to her presence; her curses somehow drew you in further. A piece of text (one of many that flash onto the projector) named the soul that leaves the body when it is traumatized. Even if, like me, you could only understand the English words on the screen, her swift contortions and weapon work distributed the pain and anger that comes in untangling oneself and one’s people from the colonizer.
Amy O’Neal’s There is No Other (The Remix) closed the program, an assortment of her explorations on gender from the last twenty years. O’Neal uses Black social dance practices and contemporary dance to question our perception of gender as linked to movement and race. This work makes more sense to me all blended together (as her former student, I’ve seen bits of these pieces here and there), and lends a little more context as to why a white woman would take up this mantle: she’s been creating work that centers hip-hop and house culture since 2010.
The anonymity of hooded costumes designed by Wazhma Samizay and Danial Hellman drew the opening focus to “gendered” movements, and whether they’re really gendered at all. As the hoods came off, it became clear that the cast was so deliciously committed to play — they spanned wildly different movement backgrounds but met harmoniously in call and response.
Aisha Shauntel Bardge brought grace and power to the cypher; Cody Brunelle-Potter bent and broke their endless spiral lines with structure and softness. Amaria Stern stole attention with her natural kinetic intelligence. They lost and found each other in unison sections, always checking in with each other with an informality that made you feel like you were in on the joke. Figgy Baby dropped a verse between grounded movements and O’Neal flowed in and out of rhythms that made you see the music. Jona Huang, last to remove his hood, ate up a solo moment stage right with sensitive footwork and a musicality I wanted to catch and bottle.
There’s an availability each of these artists have, all willing to go where the work takes them and just research the gestures, the gender tropes together. That’s what makes it interesting, and O’Neal facilitates it well (if you’ve ever been to her local Rhythm Assembly class, you know how). And the joy in their interaction is contagious: sometimes, social context aside, there is something so hopeful about the smile a good groove brings.
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Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: REDCAT NOW Festival – Cast of “There is No Other” by Amy O’Neal – Photo by Angel Origgi