Festivals generate some of the most ingenious and subtle statements of art and dance culture in general, and week one of REDCAT’s New Original Works (NOW) Festival for the season was no exception. There’s something exciting about the spontaneity behind seeing fresh works of performance that disrupts in the best possible way. After the pandemic, the regular schmoozing and ego stroking that can often accompany a theater performance has not only been hard to navigate but boring at best; however, the NOW Festival gives us the opportunity to all come in bright eyed and bushy tailed, knowing nothing as we enter, and knowing everything as we leave. We all feel common in a common space, as each artist ignites the stage with a different ambience than the one before. Festivals, like NOW, give us the opportunity to also dislike and converse about what did not resonate, and it’s this atmosphere of unborn choreography and presentation being seen for the first time that I find so intriguing and welcoming for immersive audiences to come.

In silence, in the echoing sound of spectator’s recapping their days with talk…we have Lindsey Red-Tail, Vanessa Neva, Tallulah Aujay, and Aminah Jackson walk out on stage in black skirts and black shirts, costumes by Terry Lollie, in a close formation of four like a casual call to ceremony that silenced us all immediately. We hear a powerful call and response song between Lindsey Red-Tail and the other three performers, as they circulated in call and response movement. One of the most effective moments of Red-Tail’s “You Can Vision With Them” was a speech made by Red-Tail under a single spotlight and empty stage, as she spoke about an encounter with a bear. What may have otherwise been a forgettable piece of the performance resonated in its subtle message of bravery and profound physical positioning. Red-Tail spoke of her body shaking, as her forearms and hands crossed in front of the microphone stand and quivered. She spoke of huddling in to form a rock shape as she lowered her head and bent her knees, and it felt as though I was also there, like I was experiencing this reality with her. Everyone has shaken their body, crouched in fear, and it’s with these effortless positions of movement we feel closer to the ground, to the wind, to the north and the south, to the healing power of grief, and loss, to love and strength. There was a quietness to much of the performance, unornamented truth telling, that hasn’t been heard before. And the perfect opener to a night full of surprises.

REDCAT's NOW Festival - Vengeance by X'ene Sky - Photo by Angel Origgi

REDCAT’s NOW Festival – Vengeance by X’ene Sky – Photo by Angel Origgi

After a brief intermission, the stage was decorated with dreamy plants, pots, a cello, piano, drums, harp, and red cascading tulle. With a brilliant set and landscape design by Kristen Edmond we saw an incredible transformation from Red-Tail’s soft minimalist space to a decorated Marley floor. With a jazzy background, we watched Greg Paul sit at his drums, Nailah Hunter sit at her harp, and bass player Yafeu Tyhimba take place behind his cello. As a jazzy warm-up began, X’ene Sky opened her mouth and the whole stage vibrated with the unique sound of an operatic vocal mix between something classical and something soulful. I felt like I was eating escargot in the swamp grass of the south, and I never wanted to leave. X’ene Sky’s “Vengeance” was inspired “by texts from Angela Davis and Toni Morrison, where themes of flying, surveillance, and surrender permeate.” Sky would move from sitting on the piano, to putzin’ around the stage in a slow and random walk, to kneeling on the floor and slamming her hands in desperation. All apparent and noticeable movements and motifs from anyone’s experience being stuck indoors during the Covid-19 lockdown. The beautiful choreography between the instruments, their players, and her voice, completed a jazzy improvisation right before our eyes; unlike any dance performance I have seen before. The loud destitute of the heart was bleeding out for all of us to behold, and I think out of all solitary comes that longing to simply be known and witnessed. It is also a rare and very welcomed opportunity to question “is this dance?” when I am able to watch movement presented in its most natural state. Vengeance reminds me that we all dance the same dance when our hearts are broken, when our hearts are put back together, when we are violent with our own emotional expectations. It is in the everyday and smallest of spaces.

REDCAT's Now Festival - “Restless Autumn. Restless Spring” by Achinta S. McDaniel - Photo by Angel Origgi

REDCAT’s Now Festival – “Restless Autumn. Restless Spring” by Achinta S. McDaniel – Photo by Angel Origgi

To end the night, artistic director Achinta S. McDaniel presented “Restless Autumn. Restless Spring” with performers Bella Allen, Jackie Buckmaster-Wright, Emily Carr, Alisa Carreras, Chelsea Correa, Shea Hancock, Shreya Patel, Alondra Perez, and Hayden Rivas. All dancers came out with a different colored chalk and began writing, what seemed like a phrase or word or even a picture of choice. Was a wonderful sound hearing muted chalk drawn onto a floor, bringing up memories of summer in between grade school, or neighborhood children having fun on the streets. The performers handed chalk to audience members who got up out of their seats to contribute to the graffiti, writing thank you notes, I love you notes, I O U notes too. While the dancers began moving, the chalk began to spread and colors blended, and lots of once prominent words began to erase. This idea of blending, blending, blending colors, until the original hue is wiped clean completely resonated within me when it comes to our own melting pot of a country. The commentary of coming together in shared experiences, identities, and memories to live in one experience to never be recreated again was extremely beautiful and terribly nostalgic all at once. Set to Sheila Chandra’s “Speaking in Tongues I & II” we watched nine dancers in a deconstructed theater space, relying on the improvisation of their own voice, commands, and suggestions to determine the outcome of the performance. McDaniel’s choreography was moving, pronounced, and while familiar from any dance perspective, was exemplified in an unfamiliar frame and perspective.

The NOW Festival once again proves just how important it is to give space and resources to new choreographers and performers we may not otherwise take the time to see. The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater has continued to make progress and changes to its programming in highlighting indigenous voices in its curation and selection for not only the NOW festival but future seasons. It is in evenings like week one of the NOW festival that get me excited for dance culture and the preservation of its history.

REDCAT continues with its 19th Annual NOW Festival August 25-27, 2022 featuring works by Jay Carlon with Micaela Tobin, Joe Diebes, and Stephanie Zaletel/szalt – and September 1-3, 2022 featuring works by Sarahjeen Francois, Sara Lyons, and The Rock Collection

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the REDCAT website.

Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: REDCAT’s Now Festival – “You Can Vision With Them” by Lindsey Red-Tail – Photo by Angel Origgi