Fearless and trust. These are the two words that kept coming to mind while watching Psychopomp Dance Theater perform at Stomping Ground L.A. on Friday, June 24, 2022. The dancers dramatically executed Artistic Director and Choreographer Shenandoah Harris’ movement with both those elements. Knowing that Harris performed for more than two years with Diavolo/Architecture In Motion helped to explain where that lack of fear and the necessity of trust had its origin. And it explains why Jacques Heim hired Harris to perform his work.

The evening was divided into two parts, YLEM and EYN SOF. Not knowing what these words mean, I went to the internet. The dictionary has several definitions of YLEM, all relating to the Big Bang Theory. On the company’s program, however, it stated: “YLEM: A practice exploring the earliest known microbes, the ten Kabbalistic Sephirot and 19th century Wendigo Psychosis.”  The Jewish Virtual Library explains that “The Jewish mystical doctrine known as “Kabbalah” (=”Tradition”) is distinguished by its theory of ten creative forces that intervene between the infinite, unknowable God (“Ein Sof”) and our created world.”  Wikipedia states “Ein Sof or Eyn Sof is Hebrew meaning “infinite”, literally “without end”), in Kabbalah, is understood as God prior to any self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm.”

Performance of Psychopomp Dance Theater - Photo by George Simian

Performance of Psychopomp Dance Theater – Photo by George Simian

Was all this knowledge necessary to enjoy Psychopomp’s performance? Definitely not, but it does help clarify what I was thinking while observing the seven incredibly physical dancers bring Harris’ vision to the stage.

YLEM was almost completely performed on the floor, so I was glad that I had chosen the top row of chairs at Stomping Ground L.A. Two dancers (Lydia Mc Donald and Harris) lay on their backs as the light came up. Slowly the other five slither in like amebae under a microscope. This serenity last for a while as the creatures move over each other as if inspecting to see what the other is. But, as in the Big Bang Theory, once an action was taken, the reaction resulted in amazing feats of partnering, tumbling, tossing of each other without leaving the floor. The unceasing energy was driven by the powerful electronic score by Riley Smith. It left me somewhat breathless.

Psychopomp Dance Theater - Andrew Corpuz in foreground - Photo by George Simian

Psychopomp Dance Theater – Andrew Corpuz in foreground – Photo by George Simian

As with Diavolo, Harris has created a work that depends on timing, trust and fearlessness and the meaning behind it is not necessary for it to be powerful. Once that is clear, however, the action. reaction and creation becomes crystal clear.

EYN SOF had some of the same partnering elements but used in a totally different manner. It begins with an introspective solo, performed wonderfully by Abby Chuah, dressed in rust colored pants and top and wearing a large, laced leather cuff on her left forearm. Eventually four others ceremoniously forming a ritual-like circle around her. Clearly the central figure holds power over the others, but it is not without questioning. The work explores these tests of faith and the struggles experienced by their seeking answers.

Psychopomp Dance Theater - Lydia McDonald, Stephanie Mizrahi, Abby Chuah, Mizuki Sako in "EYN SOF" - Photo by George Simian

Psychopomp Dance Theater – Lydia McDonald, Stephanie Mizrahi, Abby Chuah, Mizuki Sako in “EYN SOF” – Photo by George Simian

Again, trust between colleagues, timing, and Smith’s music played important roles in EYN SOF. Harris’ message was easier to follow, but again it was the choreography and the performers that kept on riveted to the action onstage. The seekers found their creator and as in many eastern spiritual writings, once the higher power is realized, the entire process begins anew. The way in which Harris executed this renewed process was quite inventive.

The extraordinary cast of dancers included Andrew Corpuz, Mizuki Sako, Abby Chuah, Lydia McDonald, Stephanie Mizrahi, and Shenandoah Harris. Christina Schwinn’s lighting created visually stunning atmospheres for each section without dominating the action.  There was no credit given for Costume Designer, but they were beautifully made and perfectly matched for each section of the evening. The Production Designer was Ryan Howard.

To learn more about Psychopomp Dance Theater, please visit their website.

To find out what else is happening at Stomping Ground L.A., please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Psychopomp Dance Theater – Stephanie Mizrahi, Lydia McDonald, Mizuki Sako, Abby Chuah, Andrew Corpuz in EYN SOF – Photo by George Simian