Simone Forti and Carmela Hermann Dietrich began their improvised duet relationship back in 1989. Fortunately for Los Angeles, they teamed up again this weekend at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica for a wonderful work titled REMATCH. The audience was filled with friends, colleagues and admirers who came to be part of this historic event. They were not disappointed because of the commanding stage presence, inspiration and wit of these two talented dance artists. After 29 years, Highways continues to be one of LA’s most prominent promoters of performance art.

Simone Forti is one of the most celebrated pioneers of dance improvisation. Her Dance Constructions of the 1960s and 1970s in New York led to the change in how audiences looked at dance. Born in Florence, Italy in 1935, Forti is now in her 80s and facing major health issues but she continues to move forward with amazing energy, grace and humor. Forti’s Dance Constructions, which are based around ordinary movement, chance, and simple objects like rope and plywood boards, are still being performed around the world, and in 2016 were formally brought into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. Forti is also the author of two books:  Handbook in Motion (the Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1974) and Oh, Tongue (Beyond Baroque Books, 2003).

Carmela Hermann Dietrich is a Los Angeles-based dance artist who states that she “creates dances informed by personal history, politics, and the things people don’t discuss in public.” She is the author of the article Learning to Speak (Taken By Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader – Weslyan University Press, 2003) where she writes about being mentored by and working with Forti.

L to R Carmela Hermann Dietrich, Simone Forti – Photo courtesy of the artists.

Dietrich’s admiration and affection for Forti was apparent from the first moment the two entered the performance space. I watched her face beam with love and memories as she observed Simone Forti improvising both words and movement with a board, moving blankets and a portable radio. She watched over Forti without ever stepping in to obviously assist. The two women improvised together, rolling across the floor into what resembled a slow-motion wrestling match. Dietrich then moves through the space and stands while verbalizing what she sees: a shadow, a ceiling fan, a light fixture and a colleague in the audience, Sarah Swenson. After speaking the word Exit sign, she entertains us with an improvised song using just the words “exit sign” to the tune of America the Beautiful.

Forti then drags a board out into the space by pulling on the blanket underneath it. While doing so, she says how wonderful it is to pull on something, beginning a very amusing talk about pulling and pushing. She toys with a portable radio; explaining how it works. Forti uses her wonderful comedic timing to make the audience laugh at a story about a horse, a car and the fires. Forti handled her physical limitations with a professional grace and honesty rarely seen onstage. At one moment she appeared frustrated with herself and said something like, “I will try this again and if it doesn’t work, accept it for what it is.”

Dietrich returns to read a moving and politically poignant conversation with her deceased mother. She asks her mother for advice, discusses current affairs and receives the answers that she thought that her mother would have given were she still alive.

Forti and Dietrich next revisited one of Forti’s historic and celebrated works, See-Saw. Together they assemble the see-saw and proceed to have a tender non-verbal conversation as they slowly work the often childhood apparatus. Here too, the love and respect that these two women have for each other shone through. The stark but beautiful lighting design was by Carol McDowell.

REMATCH pays homage to Forti’s historic artistic past while keeping the conversation deeply rooted in the present. If there are any seats left, one may be able to see these two incredible artists perform tonight at Highways Performance Space; for information and tickets, click here.

Feature photo: Courtesy of the artists.

To visit the LA Dance Chronicle Performance Calendar, click here.