On Saturday, October 21, 2023, the Wichita, Kansas based Regina Klenjoski Dance Company presented the west coast premiere of Klenjoski’s The Golden Apple at the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation’s James R. Armstrong Theatre where Klenjoski debuted her company 22 years ago. Although she continues to have a strong affiliation with the TOCA and still maintains a long-standing dance education program there, Klenjoski moved her company to Wichita in 2014. In an earlier interview, Klenjoski stated that this felt like coming home.
Klenjoski is a fine choreographer and when her company was still based in Torrance, she was nominated 27 times for Los Angeles’ prestigious Lester Horton Awards for achievement in choreography, costume, music and lighting design. The Golden Apple would most certainly receive more nominations for the extraordinary Video Production and Animation by Stephen Goldblatt and Original Score by composer Michael Wall. Klenjoski’s choreography is strong in many areas but in Act I of The Golden Apple each section is far too long. The visuals are stunning and the music breathtaking, but once Klenjoski makes her point clear, she continued to where the work became repetitive and Goldblatt’s projections overpower the dancers.
The Golden Apple was inspired by the Macedonian folk tale, “The Boy Who Hid in the Golden Apple.” The tale is of a boy who journeys far to seek the hand of a princess. With the aid of poet and narrator Cydnee A. Reese aka Wanderer, Klenjoski transforms that young man’s journey into a quest to possibly inspire us to deepen our connection to Earth’s environment. It is a bold endeavor and one that almost worked – one that still has a chance of working with some serious editing by the entire production team.
Goldblatt’s images are simply magical. A single large tree in the distance slowly and almost without perception, comes closer and closer through the opening section Village. Here one meets the young man (The Protagonist), performed admirably by Rile Reavis, who encounters statuesque figures, animates them and dances with them. It is the beginning of his journey and one clearly sees both his eagerness to depart as well as his hesitance to leave his friends. Also, as the tree draws nearer, a Golden Apple grows larger until it almost covers the entire backdrop of the stage.
The following three sections are titled Earth, Air, and Water and feature individual performers. Timothy Portwood, who portrays the Fox in Earth, is a strong athletic dancer who can also perform with great sensitivity. Dressed in a brownish red costume, Portwood’s solo weaves in and out and occasionally makes physical contact with the others. He and our Protagonist have a wonderful duet but I, for one, lost track of the story. Here, Goldblatt triumphs again as the camera moves closer to a large gnarly tree, through its branches in up into the sky above.
Visually, Air and Water are again breathtaking. Dancer Madelyn Zaring dressed in a bright red, one-piece costume moves with large breathing movements in front of extremely large greyish wings that suddenly burst into a million particles as Zaring begins to move into the space.
Zaring appears to be struggling as our Protagonist enters and begins to revive and support her until she is able to exist again on her own. Sadly, Zaring is not a strong enough dancer or performer to completely carry off such a lengthy solo and one’s attention is drawn back to the ever-evolving particles that eventually turn into swirling clouds and dust.
After a provocative message by the Narrator, Water opens with a powerful solo by Aviance Battles performed with only to the sound of her gasping for air. Battles falls, rolls and recovers only to stagger about with movements that appear to threaten her life. Once the music begins, the Protagonist enters and again works to heal. Other company members enter and the group dances beautiful movement phrase, but to what avail? Behind them waves ebbs and flow and ocean grass sways accordingly. Another visual splendor.
Klenjoski regains her vision throughout Act II and we are treated to the extraordinary dancing and performance by the statuesque Rhiannon Vieyra as the Princess. The storyline remains in tact and the choreography is excellent and equals the strength of Goldblatt’s visuals. The Protagonist meets and woes the Princess and Fox, Air and Water return. Whether or not boy gets girls is left to the viewer’s imagination.
Special mention goes to the amazing Cydnee A. Reese aka Wanderer as the Narrator. Her poetry is thought provoking and her performance presence fills the space.
The costumes are well designed by Susan Rendal, but they appear hastily made. Overall, the lighting design by Zan de Spelder was excellent but at times he left the faces of the performers in shadow. I question, however, if he felt that he was in competition with Goldblatt’s visuals.
Over the years I have enjoyed Klenjoski’s work and I was so looking forward to liking The Golden Apple. As stated, the work had its moments and one hopes that Klenjoski can bear to undertake some editing. The Golden Apple has the potential to be a remarkable work.
Artistic Director and Choreographer: Regina Klenjoski
Company Members: Aviance Battles, Timothy Portwood, Rile Reavis, Rhiannon Vieyra, Madelyn Zaring, and Tristan Griffin
Spoken Word and Poetry: Wanderer
Original Score: Michael Wall
Video Production and Animation: Stephen Goldblatt
Lighting Design: Zan de Spelder
Costume Design: Susan Rendall
Costume Consultant: Denise Lichter
Costume Assistant: Cal Faer
Graphic Design: Stephen Schmidt, Morgan Martinez, and Stephen Goldblatt via Midjourney
For more information about the Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, please visit their website.
For more information about the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation and the James R. Armstrong Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: RKDC in The Golden Apple (Village) – Photo by Denise Leitner.