“Freedom” was the word mentioned over and over again throughout YoungArts Los Angeles’ “Dance, Theater & Voice” Performance in CAP UCLA’s Royce Hall on March 30. Directed by Urban Latin Dance Theater company CONTRA-TIEMPO’s founder Ana Maria Alvarez, the show’s 19 segments highlighted a variety of disciplines fueled by the finalists’ personal narratives and experiences. Framed much like a variety show, the performances were endearing. Though not all were clearly related, each piece felt purposeful and altogether helped paint a picture of Gen Z’s perspective of today’s world, their motivation for creating art.

Since the program’s initiation in 1981, The National YoungArts Foundation has sought to uplift the new generation’s artists through professional guidance and education, while providing them with strong networking connections for their future. Several of these programs take place in cities all across the United States and conclude with a showcase of all of the winners’ work after an intense week of refining their concepts in master classes led by artists such as dancers/choreographers Bill T. Jones and Debbie Allen. Since the Los Angeles branch’s inception in 2012, the program has partnered with UCLA to showcase their presentations in a series of exhibitions and concerts divided into categories of Design, Photography & Visual Arts; Film & Classical Music; Jazz Performance & Writers’ Readings; and of course, Dance, Theater & Voice.

Saturday’s show, the penultimate in the series, began with the full company of around thirty alumni gathering on stage in the dark holding small candles that barely illuminated their hands, and at times, the tops of their heads. Vocalizing like an a capella group before starting a song, the piece, called “Genesis” was a rough introduction to the collaborative efforts, which would be featured throughout the rest of the evening.

The combination art medleys undoubtedly made up the best parts of the evening. Usually cheerful, they created exciting points of passion during which the artists could show off their talents while playing off of and encouraging one another. “Fuerza del Arte” featured Maya Alvarez-Coyne, Mia Benitez, Juliet Burks, Alaysia Duncan, Hannah Franklin, Sophia Frilot, Sydney Kidd, Evan Klein, Alyzza Marquez, and Kekuahiwi Woods. The group took turns dancing, crisscrossing each other’s paths until the rest of the company joined them and they seamlessly transitioned into the all-encompassing “Change the Channel”. This following piece more clearly helped the artists distinguish themselves and based its strength in music and recitation.

“Fuerza del Arte”’s standouts included Woods whose stylized hip-hop helped him literally soar above the rest as he launched himself upward into the air each time he set out to break dance within the crowd, slicing the space around him with strong straight kicks downward into the ground. Alvarez-Coyne and Frilot stuck out as powerful contemporary dancers. Frilot’s flexibility and torso undulations helped her standout from the crowd, while Alvarez-Coyne’s Irish step/contemporary fusion provided a nice, complementary contrast to Frilot’s movements. Both girls danced in another piece called “Sisterhood Interruption” where they were joined by tap dancer extraordinaire Addison Loving. Her yellow shoes created much of the rhythm within almost every piece she partook in, especially as she dragged her feet across the wood, creating an additional layer of sound and palpable texture the other dancers felt and factored into their dancing. This aspect to her choreography was especially interesting when she faced off with Cipher Goings in “Vocal/Rhythm Play”, who included more hip-hop and attitude in his style as a contrast to Loving’s peppy one.

2019 YoungArts Winner in Dance Cipher Goings_photo by Em Watson resized 2019 YoungArts Winner in Dance Sophia Frilot_photo by Em Watson resized 2019 YoungArts Winner in Dance Sydney Kidd_photo by Em Watson resized 2019 YoungArts Winners in Dance Addison Loving and Cipher Goings_photo by Em Watson resized
2019 YoungArts Winners in Dance Addison Loving and Cipher Goings - Photo by Em Watson

Within “Change the Channel”, different performers took turns singing completely different song genres. A small group of artists sat with their backs against the audience as a variety of singers stood in trios or quartets along different sides of the stage. Operatic styles rivaled modern/pop singing as the band of observers made quick sound effects to change focus between the groups, spotlighting performers such as tenor Adam Catangui and soprano Lucia London. Their voices created a pleasant echo of synchronicity, while Amelia Aguilar’s pop voice took on an R&B Mariah Carey vibe. Her pitch flawlessly cut through the air, sweetening with every new note. The pieces were interspersed with Loving reading several definitions of “freedom” from a large dictionary. In the end, each of the pieces discussed freedom in their own way, whether romantically or as a human right, all explanations coming together through their interweaving styles.

Although the dance and voice pieces commanded the most attention, there were quite a few notable short videos and monologues delivered throughout the show that were both inciteful and fit the theme. Loving’s “The Road” was a very simple, single cut image of a winding road shot from within a moving vehicle. Though it did not appear to be much at first, the imagery included a voiceover of Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” poem, which compared the adventure of freedom with the dream of its reality. London’s more abstract “Freedom” video juxtaposed her performance of Janis Joplin’s “Bobby McGee”, then had the original version play overhead. She discussed her feelings about what it means to fully embrace and use the freedom we are supposedly granted as Americans living in this country, encouraging the audience to act upon them, primarily by exercising our right to vote. Meanwhile, Joplin’s rendition of “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose/Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free” rang out in the background.

Hannah Franklin’s monologue “Untitled” gave the word its deepest and most tangible meaning when she revisited an incident she experienced with an old boyfriend during which a cop came to taunt her while she was sitting on the passenger’s side of his car. Franklin, who is African American immediately realized why she was being questioned instead of the driver. Her white boyfriend never even noticed the discrepancy or felt the fear Franklin did as the police officer lay into her with question after question about where she was from and why she was out late. The passage ended with Franklin realizing that her boyfriend most likely never knew what it was like not to feel free.

Living in a Trump-fueled America, the next generation’s fear of his presidency’s consequences on their future is natural. And the fact that most of their art consisted of conversations about finding their place in its future is indicative of the weight these times bare on all of us. However, the joy they can find as a bunch of teenagers clowning around on stage in between these graver moments is also a sign of the hope and happiness that lies in the future generation’s willingness to continuously fight the darkness with art.

For more information on The National YoungArts Foundation, click here.

For more information on CAP UCLA, click here.

Featured image: 2019 YoungArts Winners in Dance May Alvarez Coyne and Sophia Frilot – Photo: Em Watson