This week The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) opened the 15th annual New Original Works Festival 2018 (aka the NOW Festival). Nine artists have access to REDCAT’s space for approximately six weeks to experiment, take risks and create. It is a wonderful opportunity. The NOW Festival runs Thursday through Saturday for three weeks, featuring new works by three different choreographers each week. Week one featured works by Miwa Matreyek, music by Morgan Sorne; Jasmine Orpilla and Peter de Guzman; and Jmy James Kidd, music by Tara Jane O’Neil.  Two of these three works reached the level of new and original, but one was a rehash of ideas from New York’s 1970s postmodern era. What was very a huge plus, however, was that each of the three works included live music.

Eat Your Young, choreographed by Miwa Matreyek, opens with angelic vocals sung by composer Morgan Sorne. The tone shifts, however, as Sorne begins to add layers to his wide octave range voice with electronic music that he controlled. Sorne did so seamlessly, never losing pitch as he turned dials and struck his electronic drums.

Morgan Sorne, Miwa Matreyek – Eat Your Own – Photo: Venessa Crocini

Matreyek appeared and then moved behind a screen that projected a film of an ocean with high waves and littered with plastic debris carelessly discarded by humans. Periodically, shadows of her hands appeared, seeming to reach out of the water. She sank, tried again without success to stay afloat. We saw her treading water and being conquered by rolling waves. Suddenly the film morphed into a slice of the earth, with Mother Earth in the center. She cradles a newborn baby as if giving life to the earth. Slowly, however, we see the effects of man-made structures cover the surface, the ravaging of the earth’s oil and minerals and the continuous destruction of everything green.

Mother Earth struggled inside the globe as humankind slowly tried to kill her, but instead almost annihilates itself through nuclear war. Matreyek left it open as to whether humankind survived or learned its lesson.

Morgan Sorne, Miwa Matreyek – Eat Your Young – Photo: Venessa Crocini

Eat Your Young was a beautiful fusion of live vocals, electronic music, film and shadow. These elements were not new, but how Matreyek and Sorne combined them to inform and awaken was unique. The graphics in the second part of the film were filled with visual nuances and vibrant colors, and Sorne’s music became as compelling and apocalyptic as the Earth’s demise. The title said it all. We are killing our future.

Jasmine Orpilla with Peter de Guzman created a sometimes-haunting opera entitled How Many years Did We Fight The Beast Together, that also leaves unanswered questions. A white cloth curtain stretched across the stage to reveal three dancers and two musicians in silhouette, evoking images of Asian puppetry as they slowly shifted positions. We heard the soprano voice of Orpilla and she slowly descended the theater stairs dressed in an all-white gown. Her long black hair hung loosely, and she carried a white cake with a single lit candle.

Jasmine Orpilla – How Many Years Did We Fight the Beast Together – Photo: Venessa Crocini

Orpilla blew out the candle and disappeared behind the curtain before it crashed to the floor to reveal a beautiful set and film projection. A long table covered with breads and fruits sits on stage right, and placed on stage left was another low table covered with kulintang gongs and three musicians. Orpilla stood in front of a white board and behind two black frames, one large and one small. This appeared to give her (as a 2 dimensional portrait) a three dimensional perspective as she continues to cast her spell with an often-ear-piercing song.

De Guzman’s choreography resulted from his research of Pangalay dance, a traditional “fingernail” dance of the Tausūg people of the Sulu Archipelago and Sabah. The movement was calm and laced with poses, one arm outstretched, palm up and fingers bend downward toward the floor. The three dancers, which included de Guzman, moved about the space like ghosts, rarely interacting.

Peter de Guzman, Jasmine Orpilla and unnamed musicians- How Many Years Did We Fight the Beast Together – Photo: Venessa Crocini

The projection changed to etches of white birds flying through the space like souls moving into another realm. Script then appeared being written on a slowly burning parchment.

In the beginning of the work Orpilla’s voice was heard asking “How many years did we fight the beast together. You with your aggression and me with my songs of love.” Sadly, I never felt like de Guzman and Orpilla were working together toward a common goal.

Did I enjoy this work? Yes. The set and costumes were gorgeous, although the table of food was never touched or referenced. The music was hypnotic with its relentlessly steady rhythm, and there were many beautiful images to explore or ponder.  What was missing was any sense of “fighting the beast together”.

The performers included Marlo Campos, Anna Lisa G. de Guzman, Peter de Guzman, Gene Francine Gallegos, Eleanor Lipat-Chesler, Nicole Mae Martin, and Jasmine Orpilla. The Animation was by Sean Cawelti and Jasmine Orpilla and the videography was by Joe Rodriguez (King and Cub Media).

Solid, Like A Rock was created by Jmy James Kidd and Tara Jane O’Neil and included a cast of 22 dancers. O’Neil sat upstage center with her head lowered and her face covered the entire length of the work by a cap with a visor. It was a gimmick that I simply found annoying. Her sometimes Jimi Hendrix rock style guitar playing was loud and passable but not impressive.

Jmy James Kidd and Tara Jane O’Neil’s Solid, Like a Rock – Photo: Venessa Crocini

Unfortunately, the meaning of this work passed me by. It felt self-indulgent and cloned from a bygone era of experimental modern dance that had its place, and which was done with far greater artistry by its pioneers.

Twenty-two dancers of widely varying skill levels, crawled, rolled, slid, crab-walked on hands and feet, crashed into one another accidentally and repeated simple movement phrases while appearing like lost souls in purgatory. Action created reaction. One person’s movement led to its being done by the entire cast in what was clearly a structured improvisational form.

Jmy James Kidd and Tara Jane O’Neil’s Solid, Like a Rock – Photo: Venessa Crocini

One of the most upsetting elements of this piece were the costumes. Sixteen were in a yellowish-orange, while six were in a bluish green; depending on how they were lit. The costumes appeared to have not survived dress rehearsals, as some of them had rips and holes, visible patches and if a dancer was in certain light, were simply far too revealing.

The press release stated that the cast moved about while “relishing a connection to nature and spirit through an unguarded, purely female expressive vocabulary with an allied group of humans.” I saw the allied group of humans, but I do not get why crawling, rolling, turning or leaping is purely feminine. I have done those things my entire career with both male and female choreographers. Jmy James Kidd is a well-respected artist, but this was far from her best work

The cast included Joy Angela Anderson, Anastasia Baratta, Alison D’Amato, Dez’Mon Omega Fair, Maya Gingery, Levi Gonzales, Jen Hong, Tiara Jackson, Jmy James Kidd, Janine Lim, Julienne Mackey, A. Carmina Márquez, J. Alex Mathews, Carol McDowell, Olivia Mia Orozco, Dana Penenberg, Márkellos Savvides, Stacy Dawson Stearns, Roxanne Steinberg, Michelle Sui, Nickels Sunshine, and Erin Sylvester. The Lighting Designer was Carol McDowell.

To learn more about the NOW Festival 2018 and to purchase tickets, click here.

Featured image: Morgan Sorne, Miwa Matreyek in Eat Your Young – Photo: Venessa Crocini