The Los Angeles based dance artist, Suchi Branfman, is a choreographer, educator, curator, performer and activist. For many years she has made dance in the war zones of Nicaragua, in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, at Uganda’s Luzira prison and at NYC’s Joyce Theatre. She is on the dance faculty at Scripps College and for the past year has been dancing inside the California Rehabilitation Center prison in Norco.

This past weekend, Branfman curated Circling In…Dancing In Dire Times at the Miles Playhouse in Santa Monica. It was a follow up performance after last year’s Dancing in Dire Times, with the work again focused primarily on social issues. The choreographers who joined Branfman were Alfonso Cervera, Hyoin Jun, Marina Magalhães, and dana e. fitchett. There was audience participation that involved movement for everyone as well as several audience members speaking and moving onstage. Branfman is very community astute and her passion is contagious.

Suchi Branfman – Photo by Ciro Hurtado.

The performance space at the Miles Playhouse is very intimate, where a working fireplace became the backdrop of each dance. The fire seemed very apropos as a symbolic flame to ignite each artist’s political or social involvement. The place was packed, and one could feel the audience’s frustration with our country’s current political atmosphere.

Branfman verbally solicited 10 social improvements from the audience, with each given a physical gesture/movement by another audience person. As each one was announced, the audience learned it, stringing all 10 together into a single activist phrase. As a former dancer, this was fun for me and it was interesting to watch non-dancers put the movement together so well.

In-Ti-Mate was choreographed by Alfonso Cervera and Hyoin Jun. Due to injury, Cervera was unable to perform and so the duet became a solo. The work opened with a film of Cervera and Jun running across a desert terrain. With each passing, the two men got closer and closer, but never meeting. One running towards intimacy and the other away. Hyoin Jun entered and improvised on the filming of a beautiful orange tabby, three ducklings aside a kitchen sink filled with water, and a very small snail slowly crawling into a Venus fly trap, unaware that it was about to be captured and consumed.

Alfonso Cervera, Hyoin Jun – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jun is a very nice mover and I enjoyed watching him perform. He shifted levels and used gestures to indicate his emotions. The dance became about being accepted or rejected; speaking up or not. Jun’s gestures hinted at certain social activities before he collapsed to the floor, breathing heavily and his fingers began tapping harshly against his mind’s negativity. Finally, he moved into a flying or skydiver’s position, free of his self-imposed limitations.

Marina Magalhães – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Marina Magalhães is a Brazilian born dance artist now based in LA. I first saw her when she performed with and choreographed for Viver Brasil at the Ford Theatre. Magalhães’ Apoio/Support is a beautiful and intense duet for Leanna Brumond and Bianca Medina. Using her background in Afro-Latin dance, Magalhães has created movement that is womanly, sensual, empowering and confronting. The two dancers moved in unison with sensual circling of their hips. The movements becames larger, the dancers breaking apart into two very different solos that beautifully highlighted each performer’s talents.

The dancing was rhythmic and pulsating, with vocal cues to indicate a shift in phrasing. With text by Conceição Edvaristo as translated by Magalhães, the dance offered up a very proud femininity. As the two dived towards each other onto the floor ending head-to-head, they signified support for each other and for all women.

When the audience entered the playhouse, they were handed a one-page form and a pencil. It asked for 10 actions that took place over the past year by our government, our community, the country or by ourselves in response to what has transpired. In Year Later, Branfman used these forms, asking 10 people to join her onstage with their answers. As she gave them instructions, the rest of us were instructed to discuss our own answers with someone nearby that we did not know or arrive with.

Two mics were set up, one on each side of the fireplace, with 5 people lined up at each mic. As they read from their responses, Branfman moved in reaction to them. Their answers were with frustration, anger and determination.  Some wrote poetry or created art to vent their frustrations. Others called their representatives, joined unions, prayed, avoided the news or tried to educate their family. One person chose to not participate in the madness. Like last year, the piece ended with the group of 10 moving forward and back at Branfman’s command. Two steps forward as a society, and three back before finally moving in a positive direction.

dana e. fitchett – Photo by Duy Ho

Territory was the freest and most optimistic work on the program. Choreographed by dana e. fitchett to music by the Ahmad Jamal Trio, the work was artfully made both spatially and musically. Performed with great ease by Lauren Benjamin and fitchett, at times each took on the melody or the beat of the very jazzy score. The sense of territory was realized using the space, and how they navigated through it or orbited around each other. Fitchett’s style was a fusion of jazz and contemporary dance, performed with a wonderful passion for moving by both women.

The evening ended with the audience performing the 10-movement phrase that it helped produce learned at the beginning of the evening, reminding us to keep our activism alive and moving forward.

Featured Photo by Ciro Hurtado.

To view the LA Dance Chronicle Calendar of Performances, click here.