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Highways Performance Space is in its 29th year of presenting innovative and experimental new works. This weekend that tradition continues with the commanding and sincere production of this is a blank page, a story in motion conceived, directed and performed by Andrew Pearson. Also featured is Mollie Wolf in her compelling work this is chapter 4. These are two talented performers and dance artists whose work is inventive, intelligent and for this production, based in revealing reality.

Pearson is a native Californian who presently performs with the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company and facilitates the Contemporary Dance Practice: LA. Mollie Wolf calls herself a mountain woman from Colorado. She is a multi-media dance artist who freelances as a dancer, choreographer and instructor. Together these two are quite formidable.

Pearson and Wolf are found onstage as the audience enters the black box space. Wolf is seated in a chair seemingly taking notes on her choreographic ideas. She subtly moves, ponders and then jots down her thoughts. Pearson is nearby, lying on the floor and he too is writing. His writing is interrupted when he looks over her shoulder more than once and reads a page that Wolf has crumbled up and discarded. She notices, walks offstage and returns to give Pearson a notebook of his own and they depart through separate exits.

Mollie Wolf – Photo courtesy of the artist

Mollie Wolf is a luscious mover and a wonderful storyteller. In this is Chapter 4, she speaks directly to the audience, explaining that she will read chapter 4 of her book. She sets the scene by pointing to an empty chair, stating that there is a boy named Gregory seated there. The audience, Wolf explains, is traveling in a bus that smells of cheese. We later find out that this is because Gregory is rolling up and eating slices of Swiss cheese from out of a brown paper bag.

Wolf’s movements are isolated and contained at first as she conjures up memories of being with her mother, and she periodically draws attention back to Gregory. Wolf somehow manages to fill up the space while not traveling very far. She sweeps the horizon with a leg or an arm, only to return to her central theme, chapter 4. Her character ages and becomes wiser, and in a moment of truth, acknowledges that her book is not really about Gregory, but more about her. this is chapter 4 is a captivating work and Wolf is a commanding performer.

Andrew Pearson – Photo courtesy of the artist

Andrew Pearson has taken two years to create this is a blank page, a story in motion, showing sections of it at different venues along the way. Anyone who thinks that they have already seen this work, however, is truly mistaken. Pearson has taken his solos and woven them together in a manner that adds depth, insight and transparency to his work. He tells his story via text, movement and with the artful use of props. The props are symbolic of his journey and perceived obstacles along the way. They also become tools for introspection and solution.

Andrew Peason in this is a blank page, a story in motion – photo courtesy of Kentucky University

this is step 91 reflects on Pearson’s childhood and his enjoyment of being at home in only his underwear. It is his coming of age and aware of his sexuality. Pearson’s early training was in hip-hop and for this solo he dances in his underwear to various pop songs. He acts out a love song, lip syncing the female lyrics while signing the male part. The section is humorous, revealing and exposes a vulnerable side to Pearson.

After a sobering and beautiful transition, Pearson reappears dressed in a long teal colored tank top and jockstrap to begin this is the story about a boy named lucky. Again, the music is from the pop genre and he works with numerous red, white and blue poker chips. The section is laced with humor, but it is primarily thoughtful and conflicted. The chips become a vehicle for Pearson to contemplate on the parts of his life that have and have not worked. He inspects what he considers to be obstacles and discovers that they are positive choices that he has made. In an artful act of balancing the chips on different parts of his body, Pearson sorts out his options and chooses a path forward.

Andrew Pearson – Photo by Cheryl Mann

Pearson deposits the chips into a small cardboard box and seals it with red adhesive tape that rolls to him from offstage. He carries the box off and soon re-enters dressed in black jeans and tank top to begin the final section titled this is not the end. Seeing this section at the end of the other two, brings an entirely new perspective to the solo. We have watched the progression of Pearson’s life and career and now get a glimpse into his current state of mind.

Pearson tapes off a large rectangle with the same red tape; using his body to map out its dimensions. He performs small angular movements in silence, restricted by the space that he alone has created. As he discovers a way out, we get to see Pearson demonstrate his amazing dancer skills as he performs to the exquisite original score titled Headspace by Evan Monheit. Pearson weaves in and out of the music’s rhythms and quality shifts with a mature musical sense. He does, however, allow Monheit’s crescendos to envelope him and to give him flight.

Andrew Pearson – Photo by Cheryl Mann

This is the strongest of the three sections, but their construction clearly demonstrates his personal and artistic growth. Some of the humor in the first section is forced, but he knows when to pull back and his acting sensibilities are strong. Pearson never emotes. He is aware of his life’s path, the choices he has made and his good fortune as a performer. He has kept his eyes and ears open and learned his craft well.

If you are reading this review in time, go see this production by Andrew Pearson and Mollie Wolf at Highways. You will not be disappointed. For more nformation and ticket, click here.

Feature Photo by Casey Kringlen.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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