The 8th annual So-Cal Dance Invitational presented by the South Coast Dance Arts Alliance took place on March 23, 2019 in Long Beach at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater. Under the leadership of Nannette Brodie, the eleven works by twelve choreographers from southern California demonstrated that there is a lot of choreographers in the area whose work has rarely been seen. Not all of it was excellent, but much of it was interesting and certainly worthy of further investigation. Some of the choreographers such as Deborah Brockus, Evan Rosenblatt, Nannette Brodie and Lester Horton were names many in the audience knew, but others were known only by a very small circle of viewers.
The brief section of DUNES, choreographed by Deborah Brockus, Artistic Director of BrockusRED, was an excerpt from a longer work and involved a beautiful sand colored set that represented windblown sand dunes seen at ocean beaches or deserts. By the traditional Middle Eastern music, one deemed that this was a desert scene. At first it looked like three hills of sand, but one soon realized that there was a woman waist deep atop each ridge of sand. As their torsos straightened, arms, torsos and heads danced to the winds and shifting sand. Perhaps these women represented Amun-Ra, the goddess of Sun and Wind, or with a twig of desert grass attached to their heads, they were simply the dancing sands. Either way, DUNES was visually pleasing.
The lovely creatures atop the dunes were Cersha Burn, Julienne Mackey, and Hailey Taransue. The gorgeous set was by Deborah Brockus and the dancers created the costumes.
Watching Patrick David Bradley’s beautifully performed BEFORE THE FALL, I kept thinking that this work would be wonderful seen from above. The repetitive swirling movements and the reoccurring circle within a circle tableau captured the essence of visuals seen through a kaleidoscope. Here, the all female cast of dancers were costumed in long black full-circular skirts and the formations felt ritualistic, but the effect was similar with its spinning outward from the center and back again.
BEFORE THE FALL was a lament, and beautifully choreographed to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The movement brought back memories of early modern dance blended together nicely with more contemporary style dance. It was performed excellently by the youthful members of the San Pedro City Ballet: Kaela Alvarez, Helena Ghekiere, Violeta Lemoh, Lauren Ortega, Paige Roach, Amanda Sais, Chelsea Salinas, Nicolette Tombu, Erica Wond, and Elliot Zuvic.
HUMAN BEHAVIOR, choreographed and performed by Hyoin Jun and dancers, had its moments but did not hold together as a solid artistic work. The dancers, Hyoin Jun, Joseph Lister and Elizabeth Villalobos were energetic and fearless while executing dare devil-like lifts and Jun’s double tour en l’air (double turns in the air) were exquisite, but the work itself had moments where one felt that they were endeavoring unsuccessfully to fill up the music.
The third piece on the program, EVERY SOLDIER HAS A STORY was first seen on the 30th Anniversary concert of the Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre. It was then and now a dramatic and powerful tribute to the men and women who sacrifice so much to protect this nation. Conceived by Brodie, sections were choreographed by Brodie and Company; others by Stephanie Maxim, and Erica Villalpando. The work took us through the recruits first encounter with armed services massive paperwork and bureaucracy, boot camp training drills, the loneliness of deportment, the struggles of maintaining relationships, the horrors of battle and the struggles veterans face when they return and try to assimilate back into society. The work incorporated short film projections to help create some of these environments, but the movement clearly spoke to the subject. One of the most poignant film sections was the final one that showed veteran Charles Henry Williams telling his story of enduring the Jim Crow era and racism aboard a naval ship.
Brodie paid a beautiful tribute to our veterans without glorifying war or taking anyone’s side on the issue. Her strong cast and members of Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre included Priya Chisti, Evyn Davis, AJ Dirickson, Dennzyl Green, Rebecca Martin, Stephanie Maxim, Megan McLean, Matthew Reiner, Teresa Rios, Jennie Sustaita, Jana Taylor, and Erica Villalpando. Videos were created by KP Wilson, and Javier Armijo. Speakers in the videos included Trenton Brodie and Nannette Brodie. Costumes were designed by Nannette Brodie.
Based on a newspaper article about a man who murdered his wife with a Bible, THE BELOVED is a dance classic choreographed in 1948 by modern dance pioneer Lester Horton and Bella Lewitzky, Horton’s muse and on whom he created the Lester Horton technique. Performed here by Li Rothermich and John Pennington, the work suffered from a slow start, but soon took on its full dramatic intensity. Pennington was taught the work by the late choreographer and dancer, Bella Lewitzky and his performance was powerful from the onset. Rothermich is a beautiful performer but she was slow to fully inhabited the role of a repressed and abused wife of a religious fanatic.
The music for THE BELOVED was by Judith Hamilton, costumes by Lester Horton and Bella Lewitzky, and the lighting design was by Eileen Cooley.
Choreographed by Michelle Shear to the music by Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, EL TIEMPO CURARÁ had a feeling of separation, isolation and suppressed angst. Costumed in what appeared to be peach colored leotards with skirts that each had unevenly cut hems, three women moved from individual light pools into unison movement that beautifully made use of canon; the same phrase begun two or three beats after each other. The dance was well constructed and performed quite well by Kendyl Fournier, Julia Hamilton, and Antoinette Simental. One translation of the title that I found was “time would heal” and Shear’s work expressed the sense of these three women allowing time to bring about closure.
The costumes for EL TIEMPO CURARÁ were by Michelle Shear, and the very pleasing lighting was designed by Ben Tusher.
One of the highlights of the evening was a duet choreographed by Evan Rosenblatt titled SECONDSIGHT (Excerpt). Performed beautifully by Evan and Bethana Rosenblatt, the work moved from light to dark with a reason that might be better understood within the complete version. That said, the piece was very professionally crafted and executed by two highly skilled performers. The couple do a series of double takes directed at one another as if not quite certain that the other is truly there. The dance then shifts to reveal that perhaps one of them is not or that there has been a loss suffered. What intrigued and delighted me, was that I was not certain which partner had suffered the loss. Both were moving together, partnering and lifting the other, and yet the loss and separation was crystal clear.
The music for SECONDSIGHT was by Senkin, Rene Aubry, and Olafur Arnolds, and the lighting was by Evan Rosenblatt with Paula Thomson. Costumes were by Bethana Rosenblatt.
The full meaning of Chelsea Johnson’s RUDE AWAKING was never clearly revealed, but it was rich with luscious movement and beautiful performances by the newly formed group 7th Street Dance Company based in Long Beach. Beginning with what appeared to be seven restless sleepers, the dance then dropped that theme to become more of a pure movement piece with seamless transitions and nice configurations moving in and out of group unisons. The music score hinted at the dramatic, but the dance felt like a series of half-awake dreams had by the opening occupants. There was a lovely tableau in front of a gorgeous sunrise that seem to predict a pleasing day ahead.
The talented dancers in RUDE AWAKING were Emily Crumpler, Sydney Smith, Elise Gardelle, Becca Landrum, Marilla Aldrich, Alexa Taylor, and Hitomi Misawa. The costumes were by Chelsea Johnson.
SAMBA PA TI was choreographed by the late jazz dancer, choreographer and teacher of Dance, Gyrotonics, and Pilates Christine Baltes. Performed with great clarity, Spanish dance flair and sensuality, by Janell Burgess, it was a wonderful tribute to Baltes’ memory. Burgess’ outfit and large white scarf were by Donna Dickerson and Tomo Swan, with lighting design by Hama.
Kindra Windish has created a very interesting work titled ALONG THE EDGES (excerpt), but like trying to review many excerpts, it is not clear where the dance was going. I enjoyed the movement and the line that defined the “edges” and how, one by one, the characters stepped beyond their boundaries. My eye was especially drawn to the wonderful dancing and performance by Kyreeana Alexander.
The part of the dance that was presented on this evening ended right when one began to get interested, but I will withhold further criticism, pending a finished product. The dance does, however, hold promise. The music was by Kyle Sanna and costumes by Kindra Windish.
The final dance was titled FLURRY, choreographed by Stephanie Maxim. It was a straight forward and lighthearted dance piece, designed to close a program. The title became clearer with the closing flurry of feathers thrown at a central figure at the end. Although the dancers did an excellent job and it was a nice closer for a two-hour concert, the dance itself was not very memorable.
The cast of FLURRY included: Priya Chisti, Evyn Davis, AJ Dirickson, Dennzyl Green, Stephanie Maxim, Megan McLean, Matthew Reiner, Teresa Rios, Jennie Sustaita, and Jana Taylor. The sassy costumes were by Diane De Franco Browne and Stephanie Maxim with music by The Cinematic Orchestra and The London Metropolitan Orchestra.
Kudos to Nannette Brodie for giving these choreographers a platform to be seen. A special shout out goes to Light Designer Johannah Caley for helping to give each dance its individual environment, and to the entire crew for running a very professional production. I only noted one miscue. Very nice for an evening that featured eleven works.
For more information on Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre, click here.
Featured image: Evan Rosenblatt and Bethana Rosenblatt in Secondsight – Photo by Steven Shea
For information and tickets for the upcoming Los Angeles Dance Festival at the Luckman Theatre April 12-14, 2019 and FRINGE Showcases April 26 – 28, 2019 at the Diavolo Performance Space, click here.