“Dance at the Odyssey” gives new and up and coming artists an opportunity to showcase their work. Over the last few years, I have seen several of these nascent companies and am always impressed with the sincerity of the creators. Some of these shows have been successful and some not so much but the intent to make art is always appreciated. On Sat. February 10, 2024, “how I became kinder and kinder” choreographed by Azuki Umeda founder of AU.THENTICITY DANCE CO., made its debut in the Odysseys’ perfect black box space.
Haze, limited lighting and a single chair were preset as the audience found their seats. This set the mood for what was to come. Umeda states “this work stems from my experience as a 1st generation Asian woman,” and “talks about childhood trauma and generational trauma.” This premise is a lot to take on and though Umeda is earnest in her effort she is less successful in conveying these ideas.
Umeda dressed in Japanese influenced attire begins with a solo of articulated isolation movement with contemporary jazz underpinning the choreography. The style set down here is what follows for the full hour. After her anxiety ridden solo, Umeda is joined by a chorus of six dancers wearing gray pants and ill-fitting blue blouses. Soon another dancer (no individual credits were given) costumed to mimic Umeda’s look, seems to temporarily take Umeda’s place. So, this begs the question, is she Ms. Umeda’s alter ego or an important friend/lover or her relative? Unfortunately, we never find out and this problem of conveying meaning to the performance and to the choreography plagues the piece throughout.
Ms. Umeda is good with patterns, staging and transitions but once in the scene the choreography becomes repetitious. Again, it is based on the constant use of articulation and though complex and not always easy it becomes monotonous over time. Perhaps some of this is due to the use of a sound track that is mostly disembodied voices, ambient noise and very little music. Without the influence of music, we lose the emotion that it can convey through the dancers to the audience.
Within the hour we see a sad birthday party with confetti, some movement related to various phone calls, airplane noises etc. and what seems to be the fraught interaction of the women. Because we don’t know the relationships, it is difficult to be drawn into the emotion that Umeda so clearly wants us to feel. When Ms. Umeda spends several minutes scooping up confetti in a sad contemplative way it brings whatever energy that has been created to a stop. Why is she sad? Here and there the six additional dancers move in unison for several counts of eight bringing a sense of relief to the stage. More of this would benefit the piece overall and allow us to breathe.
The dancers work very hard and are capable of what is asked of them and maybe more but they are stuck in the one-track style of Ms. Umeda. I believe that she is more versatile then seen here and hope that she challenges herself to develop her dance vocabulary and her storytelling skills. The audience should not have to decipher the inner thoughts of the creator. By the end, we are left to wonder what is meant by the title “how I became kinder and kinder” as nothing we saw on the stage clearly alludes to this sentiment.
I encourage Ms. Umeda to take a breath, allow for quiet moments, use more music and less sound bites and learn how to convey her ideas clearly. If she can find her way, she will have a lot to offer the dance world.
The diligent dancers were; Jordyn Apostolache, Dante Casarin, Tori Cone, Kamryn Funk, Ande Godwin, Isabella Mendoza, and Jennifer Vieweg.
Effective Lighting was by Camille Roberts and the Soundscape arrangements were by Lucy Liyou, Robert Garr, and Asuki Umeda.
Appreciation as always goes to Barbara Mueller-Wittman for curating and co-producing with Beth Hogan, these valuable concerts.
To learn more about AU.THENTICITY CO., please visit their website.
For more information about The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Dance at the Odyssey, please visit their website.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Au.thenticity Dance Co. in “how I became kinder and kinder”, choreography by Azuki Umeda – Photo by Colin Harabedian.