The Laguna Dance Festival concluded its performances at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on September 29, 2019 with the Montreal based company RUBBERBAND. Founder and Artistic Director Victor Quijada was born in Los Angeles and began as a street dancer before training in ballet and modern at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Quijada went on to study on scholarship at The Ailey School in New York City. Following a prestigious career performing with THARP, Ballet Tech/Feld Ballets and Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, Quijada returned to his hip-hop background and established RUBBERBAND in 2002.

Victor Quijada - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Victor Quijada – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Quijada spoke to the audience prior to the performance and described Vic’s Mix as a retrospective of his works over the past 15 years. He selected sections of longer works and combined them into a seventy-minute piece with a brief five-minute break. The first thirty-five minutes represented works created between 2002 and 2005 and the second half went through to the present. The strongest difference between the earlier work and now was the music and a subtle shift in how he structured the work.

During the first part, it was truly wonderful to see hip-hop, break dancing, popping, etc. performed to classical music beginning with a movement from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The opening scene resembled a street gang or perhaps the Montagues or the Capulets. This wove into solos and duets with amazing musicality. We are so used to seeing this style of dancing performed to pop music, that it suddenly appeared brand new.

A very romantic duet the blended into a quintet was performed to a classical piano piece, a solo into a duet.  Quijada has a great sense of composition and his transitions between sections were seamless. With the aid of his very talented Lighting Designer Yan Lee Chan, Quijada’s dancers drift into the shadows or change partners between blackouts. The unison sections break up in numerous ways, sometimes reminding one of dropping something into a group of balls and watching them scatter in random but organized paths.

A duet for Paco Ziel and Jean Bui hinted at the beginnings of a relationship. When the two men finally connect, they performed an extremely beautiful duet moving in slow motion while executing Quijada’s hip-hop vocabulary. This duet caused an audible sigh of approval from the audience before the applause began.

The lights faded to black and as they came back up, we were treated to a wonderful duet between Sydney McManus and Jerimy Rivera performed to music from an opera scene.

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RUBBERBAND - "Vic's Mix" by Victor Quijada - Photo by Mary Mallaney

The second half of Vic’s Mix included music that was more current, but still not include pop. Some was electronic and one even incorporated the sounds of Scratching performed by night club DJs. The movement vocabulary added a few leaps, turns and ballet beats, but primarily continued in the same vein as Part One along with Quijada’s inherent musicality.

One section that could have been severely edited was when Quijada overplayed his attempt at slapstick comedy. What ended as a delightful trio was weaken by a shtick about the sound person getting the music cues confused began to feel like a guest who refused to stop telling jokes when the hosts had long since quit laughing. When got the point early on but Quijada did not trust that we would.

Vic’s Mix was a wonderful introduction to audiences who might not have previously seen Quijada’s work. During his pre-performance talk Quijada stated that he has attempted to further integrate his contemporary and classical training into that of his hip-hop style. He said that he would leave it up to the audience to decided if he had succeeded. My answer is yes but not far enough. The more contemporary music was a plus and a trained eye could discern the subtle shift in structure, but overall the movement vocabulary remained constant.  That said, I am not complaining.

The extremely talented cast included Amara Barner, Jean Bui, Sydney McManus, Brontë Poiré-Prest, Jerimy Rivera, Ryan Taylor, and Paco Ziel. Costumes were by Camille Thibault-Bédard. The music for Vic’s Mix was a cross-section of classical and contemporary, and the high-tech original music was by Jasper Gahunia.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, August 1, 2019.

To visit the RUBBERBAND website, click here.

To visit the Laguna Dance Festival website, click here.

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