The second week of the New Original Works Festival (NOW) presented at the REDCAT Theater on August 25th, 2022 surely did not disappoint. Featuring works by Joe Diebes, Jay Carlon with Micaela Tobin, and Stephanie Zalatel (szalt), the audience was gifted an evening of curious intrigue.

The performance began with the captivating work, ENG by Joe Diebes. Structured like a news broadcast, two desks placed stage right and left brought the audience’s eyes to immediate attention. Two performers entered the space, sat at their desk, and began to take spectators on a journey through a broken-word opera structured news broadcast. Performers displayed the posture, tone, and rhetoric of a stereo- typical news broadcaster.

Using language that related to the authoritative voice that the American media portrays in relation to conflict in the Middle East, it was clear that the performance was a display of how influential the voice, and the media can be. The tone and rhythm of the language felt so familiar, that once the performers redirected and recomposed the voice, the audience was left feeling jarred and pulled out of a trance.

Projected behind the artists is the visual of a chalkboard with someone drawing furious lines and arrows in each and every direction. The geometric image gave off a strategic and calculated tone; one that felt directly related to the calculation that must go into how American media is created, produced, and distributed to the minds of this country.

The vocalists find their way to meet each other downstage, in front of their desks, looking directly at one another with their language continuously spilling out of their mouths like an automated track. The performers begin an engagement with hand gestures, giving cues to the other to slow down their voice, repeat phrases, and even speak different languages.

In a turn of events, the man leaves the woman behind as he returns to his desk. The woman is left with a confused, yet awakened disposition. As if she has awoken to a new world and is unaware of where she has been for the entirety of her life. The once broken dialect is suddenly accompanied by a poetic structure of language as she comes into a deeper realization. The woman’s monologue expresses her desire to break free of the chain of her voice. Burdened by the permanency of her words, she admits to the tiresome task of partaking in media within the structures of an American lens. This admittance offers relief to not just her character, but to the audience members who are hypnotically entwined within this performance.

Poignant and powerful, Diebes created a display that gave insight to systems we have become so accustomed to. Set to music, words, and projection by Diebes, lighting design by Chu-Hsuan Chang, and  performed by the brilliant Christina Campanella and John Rose, the tone was set for the evening.

REDCAT's NOW Festival - Week Two - Jay Carlon in "Novena" - Photo by Angel Origgi

REDCAT’s NOW Festival – Week Two – Jay Carlon in “Novena” – Photo by Angel Origgi

Following Diebes’ work was the captivating and powerful display of Novena, curated by Jay Carlon with sound performed and composed by Micaela Tobin. This piece was structured in a way that began before the audience was even aware of its beginning. In transition between pieces, Micaela Tobin mounts a platform wearing a white, flowing garment, while the stage crew hangs a chain with a punching bag from the ceiling of the theater to the floor. Without knowing, Carlon has begun entering the space before audience members are aware. Carrying a seemingly heavy bag on his back, the audience is drawn to attention once they realize the performance has begun. The opening of this piece set a tone that kept me on the edge of my seat as Carlon naturally captivated the eye towards his every move.

Carlon showcases his effort in carrying this burden of weight up the stairs of the lighting booths, and back down through the audience, making his way to the stage and collapsing in slow motion. Carlon and Tobin have an expertly curated way of having audience members re-imagine the space in which they are viewing the performance. Creating a new world through captivating spatial choices, clear emotional and physical intention, and soundscape that is in perfect relationship with the tone of the piece. Carlon molds his body with clear intention and strength that feels symbolic in nature.

There is an immediate relationship displayed of the burden one must carry. Carlon showcased a disposition of responsibility to carry the weight that was placed upon him. Exploring the themes of reimagining the Filipinx experience to strengthen the delicate web of pre-colonial expressions, Carlon performs with clear intention, a purpose so clear it often left me breathless. Making his way to the weighted down punching bag hung in the center of the stage, Carlon begins dumping the sand of his bag into the contents of the punching bag.

Setting the scene, Carlon wraps his hands in red boxing tape, then physically lifts the punching bag off the ground by leveraging its weight out with the chain. Squaring up with the punching bag, a battle begins. In complete silence, the tension between him and the battle of the weight that once held him down is a display of true internal struggle. After giving into his urge to fight, a display of physical strength turns to an intimate encounter with the weighted bag, as he creates a vulnerable duet with what once felt like a burden to bear.

Carlon skillfully creates partnership with the structures in the space as he maneuvers and partners with his materials. The imagery that Carlon created left spectators in awe, while the soundscape that Tobin composed and performed created a hauntingly spiritual tone. There was a clear arch of transformation displayed in the performance of Novena. One that turned the excruciating realities of grief into attainable joy and acceptance. This work was the highlight of the evening for me, and one that I would recommend everyone to see. Novena is an excerpt of a full length work by Carlon titled WAKE which will be premiering in 2023. I can only imagine the power and poignancy that the full length work potentially entails. It was an honor to witness this performance, and one that I will most likely never forget.

REDCAT's NOW Festival - Week Two - "5 basic movements" (Vagus Excerpt) by Stephanie Zalatel - Photo by Angel Origgi

REDCAT’s NOW Festival – Week Two – “5 basic movements” (Vagus Excerpt) by Stephanie Zalatel (szalt) – Photo by Angel Origgi

Ending the evening was a performance choreographed by Stephanie Zalatel, SZALT titled 5 Basic Movements (Vagus Excerpt). Performed by Cory Feder, Rosanna Tavarez, Tom Tsai, and Stephanie Zaletel, the work was performed with great ability and intention, but left me with questions.

The piece began in darkness with a chiming of bells being played by a dancer in the center of the stage. As the lighting brightens, there are four dancers entering the space seemingly existing in their own separate worlds. Each dancer displayed great physical ability to encounter abandon with an underlying control. Three of the dancers exit the space, leaving one soloist to dynamically shift the performance. This dancer, who moved with great momentum and surprising moments of stillness, that it provided a true testament to performative strength and kept me in a state of surprise.

The entirety of 5 Basic Movements (Vagus Excerpt) was set in silence and the only source of sound came from the use of breath, voice, and laughter. This quickly defined the relationships between the dancers as they formed duets that embodied varying tones of energy.

Each choreographic choice throughout this work felt incredibly thoughtful and was performed in detail that could be appreciated. However, the choices were hard to follow as the context of this work became more unclear as it went on. Halfway through the performance, a dancer enters with a small harp, and sits on the floor as another dancer undoes her hair. The now harpist sings a song that is quite melodically beautiful and trance-like. I was yearning for this theme to continue, but the context suddenly shifts to another tone.

The finale of this piece was a soloist performing in silhouette, a dramatic shift of lighting from what was previously shown, and the performer confidently explores the use of voice and its connection to movement and mood. Zalatel beautifully created an environment in which the context of the work felt much darker, however, I found myself questioning where the new found darkness came from.

Ultimately, the curation and performance of this work was evidently constructed in detail and performed with great quality. The confident commitment to each task was an impressive experience to witness. The context of the work, however, felt incomplete. Although I was left with many questions, they are questions that I am eager to solve. Zalatel has a masterful way of executing each choice, and with more attention to the through line of theme, this work has the potential to reach new heights.

REDCAT’s NOW Festival concludes next weekend September 1-3, 2022 with new works by Sarahjeen François, Sara Lyons, and The Rock Collection.  For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.

Safety Information
In keeping with CalArts policy and current Los Angeles County Public Health recommendations, and for the safety and comfort of our community, all patrons and guests must provide proof of full vaccination, including a booster if eligible.
Effective 5/13/22

Written by Rebecca Lee for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: REDCAT’s NOW Festival – Week Two – ENG by Joe Diebes – Photo by Angel Origgi