For the weekend of January 19-20, 2024, dance-theater artist and artistic director of Selcouth Dance Theater Company, Marianna Varviani, presented MARK at Highways Performance Space, which for over 35 years has been a safe haven for experimental work. Varviani was raised in Greece but spends much of her time here in Los Angeles and according to an article written by Zach Armstrong for the Santa Monica Mirror, MARK was “Influenced by street dance styles along with gestures that emulate L.A. culture….”
It was a busy weekend for dance in LA, so I attended the final dress rehearsal of MARK. Varviani costumed the six women in black and dark grey shirts and pants, and the work itself is somewhat bleak. From the moment each woman began walking into the performance space, the tone of loneliness, isolation, reticence, and internalized anger filled the air. It was never made clear exactly what these emotions were a reaction to, but it was clear that much of them were focused internally and towards the world at large.
MARK was filled with movement that was isolated in and around the person performing it. Tightly held arms wrapped around the waist, gestures with claw shaped hands and sharp, spasm-like torso jerks that often took a performer to the floor, was a physical theme that took place throughout the piece. Dance phrases were short and always interrupted before they were fully developed adding to the anxiety created by the choreography and the original score by Yvonne Yifeng Yuan.
During the opening group section, dancer Sophia Fan took control of the space with her excellent performance that truly set the pace and mood of the work. She demonstrated amazing control in creating a tight, almost suffocating space around herself while surrounded by others who were close by but not actually touching her; leaving an invisible mark on Fan’s character when no overt action was apparent.
There were several duets where the combative activity verged on violence but never burst into actual physical fighting. During one duet that began as a meeting between two friends morphed into one woman becoming manipulative and controlling while literally marking the other’s arms, legs, face, and shoulders with a pen. It felt as if the “victim” were slowly losing her freedom and becoming the property of the other.
Posters that were placed in Highways’ gallery area for audience members to “leave their mark” on, eventually found their way onstage to be used by the performers in various ways. They became a private space, a shield against the outside world, a newspaper to be read, or wrapped around the ankles and feet of one dancer that restricted her movement.
MARK was a dance-theater piece and while I could appreciate its statement of being marked by the different situations around us and the work being extremely well structured, Varviani’s movement vocabulary felt limited outside of when the duets were being performed. The same movements and gestures were repeated throughout the hour-long show which left me feeling as if MARK’s meaning was hammered into my psyche.
MARK has potential and is a work that Varviani should continue to develop. I look forward to seeing where it takes her.
The cast of MARK included McKenzie Barkdull, Ariana Chavez, Tyler Law, Sophia Fan Lin, Maya Peterson, and Anna Simonova.
Concept/Choreography of MARK was Marianna Varviani; Co-creators were Tyler Law, Maya Peterson, and Kai Toles; Original Music Composition was Yvonne Yifeng Yuan; and Graphic Artist, Ainsleigh Douglas.
For more information about Selcouth Dance Theater Company, please visit their website.
For more information about Highways Performance Space, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Selcouth Dance Theater Company – Maya Peterson and Tyler Law in MARK – Photo by Scott Edwards.