2023 marks the 20th year that REDCAT has presented the New and Original Works Festival presenting a wide range of artists from an even wider gamut of contemporary dance, theater, music, and multimedia genres. Chosen by a team of artists via an open application process, those chosen receive “production and technical support, along with artist fees to present their work.”  The program on Thursday, August 26th was a good example of how unalike these artists can be, but it was not necessarily a plus.

Each week of the NOW Festival features three LA-based artists and week two offered works by Melissa Ferrari, an experimental nonfiction animator, magic lanternist, and educator; Vanessa Hernández Cruz, an interdependent Chicana Disabled dance artist and activist; and dancer, choreographer, and educator, Kevin Williamson who focuses on themes of queer belongings.

NOW Festival - Melissa Ferrari Relict A Phantasmagoria - Photo by Angel Origgi 2

REDCAT NOW Festival – Melissa Ferrari Relict A Phantasmagoria – Photo by Angel Origgi

RELICT: A PHANTASMAGORIA by Melissa Ferrari offered a close-up look at techniques used by “antique magic lanterns and digitally projected hand-drawn animation” but the piece felt like a slide show Cryptozoology lesson with information already known by most. Subjects such as does Big Foot, the Himalayan Yeti, or the Lock Ness Monster really exist? Fiction vs nonfiction.  I appreciated the educational look at the antique magic lanterns but kept wondering when the presentation would end and the performance would begin.

Phantasmagoria is defined as “a shifting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination,” and while there was that element to Ferrari’s Relict: A Phantasmagoria, this reviewer questioned whether there might be more creative possibilities than she explored.

NOW Festival - Melissa Ferrari Relict A Phantasmagoria - Photo by Angel Origgi

REDCAT NOW Festival – Melissa Ferrari Relict A Phantasmagoria – Photo by Angel Origgi

The magic lanterns were operated by Melissa Ferrari and Stephanie Delazeri; Slide Fabrication Assistance was by Benni Quintero; animation by Ferrari an, Jessica Goh, and Sammy Lamb; and Sound Mix was by Craig Smith.

NOW Festival - Vanessa Hernández Cruz Exhale Static, Inhale Fumes - Photo by Angel Origgi 2

REDCAT NOW Festival – Vanessa Hernández Cruz – “Exhale Static, Inhale Fumes” – Photo by Angel Origgi 2

Dressed in black with very elaborate eye makeup, Vanessa Hernández Cruz gave an incredible amount of energy, fearlessness and athleticism in her multimedia solo titled EXHALE STATIC, INHALE FUMES. She utilized a walker, her poetry, and her visual artworks to roll, spin, tumble as well as simply walk while expressing a frustration of, as she voiced, always living in survival mode. At one moment Cruz took her anger out on her walker, an aide that she greatly depends on. She did so while lying on her back and literally violently shaking the walker. Her movement range is obviously limited and therefore appeared repetitive, but her desire to keep moving forward and anger at the challenges she was dealt, was clearly demonstrated.

NOW Festival - Vanessa Hernández Cruz - "Exhale Static, Inhale Fumes" - Photo by Angel Origgi

REDCAT NOW Festival – Vanessa Hernández Cruz – “Exhale Static, Inhale Fumes” – Photo by Angel Origgi

Cruz depends on leg braces and a walker to walk, but this has not prevented her from becoming a performance artist, a poet, a visual artist, and an activist for Disability Justice. Perhaps her struggle against immobility is what produces the fumes of creativity.

Exhale Static, Inhale Fumes was choreographed and performed by Venessa Hernandez Cruz as well as the poetry, visual art, and spoken word; Sound Design was Keilan Stafford excerpts by Evanescence; Costume Design by Robert Huerta; Lighting Design by Chu-Hsuan Chang; and Audio Description Narration by Nohely Gomez.

An earlier iteration of Kevin Williamson’s SAFE AND SOUND was first released online in July of 2020 by Dixon Place, an award winning non-profit organization created by Artistic Director Ellie Covan. The work has, however, grown, matured, and taken on a power that resonated through generations of LGBTQ+ history.  At times the images were provocative and then again they were more abstract. Williamson exposes how many people in society incorrectly categorize the LGBTQ+ community and the truth of how the community see themselves.

Dressed in all black tops of varying styles and matching overly glittered black pants that shimmered in the stage lighting, these amazing dancers and performers (Kayla Johnson, Justin Morris, Alex Rix, and Kevin Williamson) took the viewer through a multitude of emotions. The opening film of hate filled protestors carrying homophobic signs took me back to the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s when fear was the most common emotion amongst the LGBTQ+ community. Gay men dying of AIDS brought more fear and hatred directed at them from bigoted people.

NOW Festival - (L-R) Kevin Williamson, Justin Morris in Williamson's "Safe and Sound" - Photo by Angel Origgi

REDCAT NOW Festival – (L-R) Kevin Williamson, Justin Morris in Williamson’s “Safe and Sound” – Photo by Angel Origgi

The movement and the dancing in Safe and Sound was remarkable and so wonderfully crafted as not to break from the story Williamson was showing the audience. One favorite moment was when the four performers formed a line on stage right facing front. I first thought that they were going to do an often-overused canon, but instead the canon began to literally swirl like helicopter blades sending the dancer sailing across the stage. This was followed by them slowing down to Jhené Aiko’s “Trigger Protection Montra” that kept repeating “Calm down.” Here the dancers seemingly expired, landing in a loosely formed pile only to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

Near the end of the piece, all four moved in unison with a stomping/marching step to a highly rhythmic beat that reminded me of that heard in gay dance venues. In the ‘80s, it was disco. Now it is electronic house music. Safe and Sound is a work of art that left me feeling wonderfully exhausted.

Safe and Sound was directed and choreographed by Kevin Williamson in collaboration with the performers. The film interludes were directed by Taso Papadakis and Williamson. The original sound was by Anna Luisa Petrisko and the recorded music was by Jhené Aiko and WAAJEED. The Costumes Designer was Kelsey Vidic and the Lighting Designer Katelan Braymer.

The NOW Festival 2023 continues with week three August 31 – September 2 with works by Los Angeles artists Erica Bitton, Mark Golamco, Huntrezz Janos and Antigoni Tsagkaropoulou. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the REDCAT website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: REDCAT NOW Festival – Kevin Williamson Safe and Sound – Photo by Angel Origgi