Founded in 2003 by the very talented Artistic Director, choreographer and dancer, Seda Aybay, Kybele Dance Theater has continued to carve a place for itself within the Los Angeles dance community and beyond. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Aybay was one of the dance artists who produced high quality work created for Zoom and video. On Friday, April 21, 2023, at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, Aybay also proved that it is possible to make a strong and cohesive dance work while incorporating the audience throughout the entire 90 minute performance. From the start, Aybay let it be known that audience members had a choice as to whether or not they wanted to participate. On this night, there were many who did so.

Karlo Rameriz and Seda Aybay in "Simyaci/Alchemist" - Photo by Denise Leitner

Karlo Rameriz and Seda Aybay in
“Simyaci/Alchemist” – Photo by Denise Leitner

The work titled Simyaci/Alchemist, an immersive experience was created during Aybay’s Santa Monica College Artist Residency.  At Highways, the performance was preceded by two black and white videos by Carl Owens of dancers performing short solo movements. As curtain time approached, several audience members were selected by the seven dancers to stand onstage and be placed in static positions; sometimes being reshaped by another cast member before gently being directed to their seats.

Now in its 34th year, Highways Performance Space, led by Executive Director Leo Garcia, is an intimate black box theater that has always been a welcoming venue for experimental work, performance art, film, and visual art. Perhaps it was this intimacy that allowed the audience members who participated in Simyaci/Alchemist to feel safe enough to move out of their comfort zone.

"Simyaci/Alchemist" - audience immersive - Photo by Denise Leitner

“Simyaci/Alchemist” – audience immersive – Photo by Denise Leitner

Before the word alchemy was associated with chemistry, alchemists believed that they could turn lead into gold, cure diseases and/or prolong life. They were part of a very secretive society and even thought of by some as witches. There is a book that was published by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho titled “Simyaci” about a Spanish shepherd named Santiago whose dreams, love for a woman, and his fantasies led him into a life as an alchemist and to believing that anything in life is possible.

Aybay’s work has always involved the use of complex and representative gestures. For the most part, her choreography has primarily presented her dancers in near perpetual motion. Simyaci/Alchemist was no exception, but in it Aybay has found a way to keep her dancers moving while giving them the time to fully accomplish her choreography. This allowed her signature complex phrases, lifts and partnering to be fully realized.

The meaning of her intricate phrasings and gestures were clear as crystal and her expression of joy for people once again coming together and touching one another came through. Over the course of the 90 minutes, Aybay slowly involved the audience members more and more. She allowed them to relax and to feel comfortable moving and partnering with trained dancers in public. The “intermission” was actually an improvisation session for the majority of the audience and the Kybele company members.

(L-R) Ariel Scott, Karlo Ramirez, Lilian Papert (center), Marii Kawabata, Seda Aybay, Aaron A. Wilson in Simyaci/Alchemist - Photo by Denise Leitner

(L-R) Ariel Scott, Karlo Ramirez, Lilian Papert (center), Marii Kawabata, Seda Aybay, Aaron A. Wilson in Simyaci/Alchemist – Photo by Denise Leitner

This was one of Aybay’s strongest cast of dancers and Simyaci/Alchemist showcased each one in beautiful solos, duets, quartets and company unison phrases. The gestures seen in the opening group section were sprinkled throughout the evening and took on more prominent and personal investigative meanings. The strongest example of this was seen during a solo performed with amazing accuracy and courage by guest artist Ariel Scott. At one point she had to repeat the touching of different areas of her body while increasing the speed. Scott never missed her mark. She is one of those rare dancers who is totally fearless, gives each movement her 100% attention, and although we know otherwise, makes it look possible for everyone. The combination of abandonment with total control and clarity is a rare gift indeed.

Aybay’s solo was truly amazing. She is an incredible dancer and her presence onstage is hard to top. Lillian Papet was lovely during the one solo that allowed lyricism and definite shifts in tempo, and I especially enjoyed the quartet with Marii Kawabata, Scott, Karlo Ramirez , and Aaron A. Wilson, while the sensitivity with which Andrii Strelkivskyi performed his solo following the intermission was a wonderful experience.

For this viewer, Simyaci/Alchemist was a dance about hope over fear, a search for inner strength, and a love of humankind. At the end, while the audience was onstage engaged in a circular movement game of follow the leader, Aybay went to each and every audience member silently thanking them with humble gestures of gratitude.

While appreciating the growth in Aybay’s choreography, I still longed for a moment of stillness. Perhaps it was because I have danced throughout my life, that I was exhausted at the end. This time, however, it was a pleasant exhaustion.

Ariel Scott and Andrii Strelkivskyi in Aybay's "Simyaci/Alchemist" - Photo by Denise Leitner

Ariel Scott and Andrii Strelkivskyi in Aybay’s
“Simyaci/Alchemist” – Photo by Denise Leitner

The wonderful cast of Simyaci/Alchemist included Karlo Ramirez, Lillian Papet, Andrii Strelkivskyi, Marii Kawabata, Aaron Wilson, Ariel Scott, & Seda Aybay.

Aybay’s great choice of music included works by Nils Frahm, Adam Crawley, Rival Consoles, René Aubry, Dustin O’Halloran, David Schoch, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Joep Beving. Video Projection was by Carl Owens and Costume consultant was Senol Aybay. The Lighting Designer and Technical Director was Darren Carter.

For more information about Kybele Dance Theater, please visit their website.

To find out what is happening at Highways Performance Space, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: (L-R) Seda Aybay, Karlo Rameriz, Aaron A. Wilson, Ariel Scott, Andrii Strelkivskyi, Marii Kawabata, Lillian Papet in “Simyaci/Alchemist”- Photo by Denise Leitner