Performed at Highways Performance Space August 28 through September 1, 2019, DANCING THE COSMIC BODY was a concert presentation of work culminating a 5-day series of workshops described as “a rich exchange of ideas and diverse somatic practices that motivate creativity, as we tap into our human potential by allowing the body to lead the way in cultivating sensory awareness, well-being, embodied presence, and engaged community.”

Somatic practices are an array of educational/health/spirit systems intended to draw an individual’s attention to the body and become more deeply aware of elements integral to a healthy, happy human.  Many of these practices employ verbal cues and/or meditation to encourage thoughtful movement and healthier alignment. The workshops at SOMAfest bridged the concepts of healthy movement and creative expression, and explored both solo and group activities.

The performances illustrated a week’s immersion in a growth process. The evening offered variety, from fully choreographed energetic dance to what appeared to be well-structured organic improvisation featuring walking plus stationary and locomotor movement with thoughtful gesture. The attention to form, especially the concert of sound and movement, gave each piece a logical flow from beginning to ending.  Moments of stillness were never interpreted as endings, and each ending was a crystal clear conclusion, but never a hard stop. The intimate space allowed a true close up view of the dancers and the movement.

Liberation Within Vulnerability was the title of one of the workshops, led by Amanda Laabs, and she performed the opening work with the same title. She set the tone for the evening. The second she came into the stage area; it was clear this was no typical dance performance.  She wove smoothly, with percussive punctuation, on a circular journey of emotion expressed through movement, and took us with her. Dance technique was visible, but was only one of the tools in her kit. Her assurance made it clear that all bodies are designed to move.

Breath is clearly a part of the practice, as evidenced in the rhythms of many movements during the evening, and clearly evident in Second Sight, choreographed by Evan Rosenblatt and performed by Mr. Rosenblatt and Bethana Rosenthal. This work was an expansive look at relating as a duo in separate spaces and movement, and also in tightly intertwined partnering.  The somatic influences were present in the movement choices, like sweeping arm gestures, rolling, delicate touch, pushing/pulling, circling one another, parallel movement that appeared as motion of one. Deep panting breath naturally accompanied and followed extended periods of intensive dancing. Second Sight was the work most closely aligned with technical theater dance, but had an organic grounding that (ironically) lifted it from the formality of the proscenium.


Cool Molecules by Teri Carter Caryn Heilman Fred Sugerman photo by Leo Garcia Cool Molecules Teri Carter Caryn Heilman Fred Sugerman photo by Leo Garcia Cool Molecules with Teri Carter Caryn Heilman photo by Leo Garcia Second Sight Evan Rosenblatt Bethana Rosenthal photo by Leo Garcia SOMAfest2019-BethanaRosenthal,EvanRosenblatt2-photo-by-Russel-Mulockresized Bethana Rosenthal and Evan Rosenblatt SOMAfest2019-CarynHeilman,TeriCarter,FredSugerman2-photo-by-Russel-Mulockresized SOMAfest2019-CarynHeilman,TeriCarter,FredSugerman-photo-by-Russel-Mulockresized
SOMAfest 2019 - Cool Molecules by Teri Carter, Caryn Heilman and Fred Sugarman - Photo: Leo Garcia

Each of the other works was more deeply somatic in feel and execution.  Created by Fred Sugarman, Calling In was truly a gathering of 6, taking turns moving in an exploratory way, often in a slow, rolling gait (or actual rolling) toward and away from each other. At times one dancer joined another to create a duo, and then moved on, following their own path. Three times, a single dancer would pronounce a word and move upon that theme.  The words were evocative – WATERFALL, ANTICIPATION, and finally, STARLIGHT LONGING.  Each audience member nodded without moving at the memories that were conjured up with each word. In closing, the dancers came together in duos, and collected in one area forming a moving sculpture rooted on the ground.  Their arms and hands reached out to touch, but instead drifted apart by inches. The cast included Heather Rose Fenton, Niko Alburn, Anndrea Taylor, Pamela Nears, Colleen Sugarman, and Julie Coren.

Cool Molecules had a similar theme of gathering and individual exploration.  In the middle of this piece, there were changes in musical dynamics, and strong moments of pause balanced against running, rolling and scooting on the floor. As the molecules collected to close, it was as though they were dancing in molasses – slow, strong, together. Cool Molecules was created and performed by Teri Carter, Caryn Heilman, and Fred Sugerman.

Boundaryless was performed by the Members of the Somatic Performance Lab: Beverly B, Charlotte Lynn, Jane Hardman, Julie Coren, Kristina Keane, Lehua Altemus, Li Hua Jiang, and T’mimah Ickovits; and directed by Caryn Heilman, Fred Sugerman, John William Johnson, and Teri Carter, plus Colleen Sugerman and Russel Mulock.. The theme was a boundary, represented by a length of scarves stretched along the floor between 2 dancers.  The larger group examined, aligned themselves, and gathered to contemplate choices relating to this boundary.  Ultimately, they quietly destroyed it and concluded as members of a larger group.

Created and performed by Nana Simopoulis and Caryn Heilman, Circle Song was the closing of the week and the performance. Simopoulis led a multi-part vocalization while Heilman encouraged dancers to respond to the sound, and to their experience. Leading a group that is so deeply focused on movement creates a challenge for creating a strong vocal groove, but both voice and movement came together with joy.

DANCING THE COSMIC BODY was an apt title for an evening that took the performers and the audience on a shared journey inward, while reveling in each body’s expressive possibilities.

Written by Mary Pat Cooney for LA Dance Chronicle, September 3, 2019.

To learn more about the SOMAfest, click here.

For more information about Highways Performance Space and Gallery, click here.

Featured image: SOMAfest 2019 – Caryn Heilman, Fred Sugerman, Teri Carter – Photo: Russel Mulock