The NOW Festival 2019, which concluded at the REDCAT on Saturday, August 10th, left audiences feeling challenged, surprised, amplified, and ultimately grateful to have a space that is pushing and expanding the traditional boundaries of performance. The last week of the festival presented three choreographies, all of which fearlessly confronted and bowled over audience members.

The evening began with the work, ​A Thousand Tongues​, performed by Nini Julia Bang and directed by Samantha Shay. This piece took full advantage of the stage which lends itself to strong audio and lighting effects. Singing in a foreign tongue, the main performer enters in a beam of light in a black dress. Her voice echoing through the audience, she seems to sing from a place of pain and sadness. More than anything this woman appears wise as if she knows the path ahead of her and has full control of whatever pain she is feeling. This piece made excellent use of some very simple, yet stunning visual effects. The performer has a lot of interaction with a two foot wide piece of sheer fabric that extended from the ceiling to the back of the stage. It was striking to see the performer, Nini Julia Bang, entangled in this illuminated tapestry but surrounded by darkness. This piece made excellent use of lighting and reflection, especially when the performer made her well anticipated steps into a shallow pool of water in front of her. The performer did not use much of the space, but focused so much on creating these intricate relationships with the props she used that there was no need. Shay’s vulnerable performance built a complex world laced in detailed and intimate relationships with the space items around her. Every moment of this piece seemed so specific that you could feel the journey that it must have taken this performer to get to this place of soulful strength and openness.

The second piece, ​BL**DY SPAGHETTI​, choreographed by Austyn Rich tells the story of two Navy troops of color who explore and unravel their tense and highly charged relationship. The piece opened with the two performers,  Austyn Rich and Alvaro Montelongo, sitting across from each other at a table that stood 6 feet in the air. The piece is set to a steady rhythmic soundtrack with sounds reminiscent of waves and a ship’s horn. The steadiness of the beat gave a sense of grounding even as the dancers progressed through their dance. The performers were most definitely skilled and athletic movers and their precision accented the precise and heavy beat of the soundtrack. This piece seemed to tell a story of love and conflict both with each other and internally.  The dancers are constantly physically struggling against one another, but between moments of synchronicity and connection. As the piece progresses, the music does not seem to be what is grounding them, but rather trapping them in an endless cycle of tragic love. Despite their efforts, neither performer seems to win against the confines society has placed on their identities that keeps them from loving freely. However, what is beautiful about this piece is that it is uplifting the lost stories of brown men in the military; the love stories that were not recognized, but have always been there.

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REDCAT - NOW Festival 2019 - A Thousand Tongues, performed by Nini Julia Bang and directed by Samantha Shay - Photo by Vanessa Crocini

It is hard to put Jesse Bonnells’s, ​Paradise Island​, into words. I applaud the commitment that each performer brought to this piece. The piece explores text written by experimental artist, Richard Foreman, questioning the nuances and sometimes euphoric nature of the unknown. This piece is a wild ride and right from the beginning you have no idea where it is going.

Reminiscent of Jean Paul Satre’s ​No Exit, ​the point of departure for this piece seems to be the chaotic nature of putting strangers in a room or in a situation for a prolonged amount of time to the point where they reach insanity. Through the use of repetition and an embodied exploration of the text, the performers bring excitement and euphoria to otherwise mundane moments. Although they are dressed in fairly plain clothing, pastel shirts and shorts, and occasionally seem to engage in what would be considered normal conversation, we know that we have entered another realm when hearing over and over from one of the performers that, “Flying Saucers have landed”. What is strange is that these performers do not seem to be  putting on an act, but rather showing just how strange humans and our interactions can be. How often do we think about the mundane? How often do we really dissect the passing moments we have with one another? Although entering the void of dissecting humanity seems daunting, these performers also bring a wacky energy to the text that pushes viewers to a happy delirium rather than to a place of fear. The talented cast of Paradise Island is Brad Culver,  SarahJeen François, Gabriella Rhodeen, Alex Barlas, and Pricilla Jin Chung.

It was hard not to notice that between shows and after, audience members seemed to be excited to discuss and analyze these performances. Some viewers seemed delighted, others confused, some even conflicted. However, the conversation that these performances sparked in audience members is not something that is often seen. Experimentation takes courage and is the catalyst for growth and innovation. The New Original Works Festival, is a well needed and beautiful collection of performers that are currently having an impact with the limits they are testing within their performance and artistic mediums. Seeing such shows is what pushes audience members to challenge themselves and the performances they have previously experienced. What was clear that night at REDCAT is that Los Angeles audience members are excited about a deviation from the norm and will continue to enthusiastically support experimental works from the ​New Original Works Festival​ and beyond.

Written by Corrina Roche for LA Dance Chronicle, August 13, 2019.

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Featured image: NOW Festival 2019 – REDCAT – Cast of Jesse Bonnell’s Paradise Island – Photo by Vanessa Crocini