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Rebecca Lemme founded Acts of Matter in 2014. Until now, however, her company has only performed on shared programs. This was the first time for Lemme to present a full evening compiled of only her choreography. rep.er.toire, presented at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, included one premiere and three works previously seen in Los Angeles. Following this performance, what revolves around in my head like New York City’s Times Square ticker tape sign, is that Acts of Matter is about acts that matter. Lemme’s choreography looks at community, relationships, empathy and, as in Love Letter, inclusivity.

Acts of Matter in “Retrouvaille” – Photo by Kristie Kahns

Retrouvaille (a French word meaning rediscovery) had its premiere in 2013, and it is a beautifully mysterious work that ends far too soon.  Retrouvaille felt like the beginning of a much longer work; unresolved, like watching a train filled with people enter a dark tunnel, but never seeing the train exit or learning the fate of its occupants. Unresolved problems are not necessarily bad. They simply leave us wanting answers. The work is filled with tension, rich with superb partnering and, like much of Lemme dances, bursting with fluid floorwork. One never figures out, however, just what or who these characters are retreating from or what lies ahead in their future. The piece simply stops like a premature light cue. The dance artists, who throughout the evening demonstrate that they are truly fine dancers, were Laura Berg, Katie Istvan, Charissa Kroeger, Megan McCarthy, Jobel Medina, Montay Romero and Gracie Whyte. The music, played live by the group ISTANBUL, adds to the work’s mystery with an insistent drone-like rhythm.

Acts of Matter in “Fragments” – Photo by Jamie Carr

I reviewed The Fragments (2016) last year, but it has matured and evolved in a manner that caused me to take another look at its meaning. It is still, I think, about community, but the additions and changes give it a less feel of the Amish-like community that I wrote about earlier. The performers enter singing a hymn a cappella which gives a spiritual tilt to the work. The lyrics, however, are more about hope for what lies ahead. Joey Navarrete dances alone during this song. The solo, which Navarrete performs with great control, is welcoming and grounded. The people singing enter as a group, but they soon break off into individual relationships. Here too, the partnering is exquisite and one feels the trust and unity between the dancers. There is great empathy between them and their contact feels honest. When one falls, she/he knows that someone will be there to catch them. A head is placed lovingly on another person’s back, or a hand tenderly caresses a someone’s forehead.

The one thing that worked against this performance of The Fragments was the small space. The live music by ISTANBUL was refreshing, but having the group onstage aided in making a limited area even smaller. It was a welcomed sacrifice, however. All the performers gave wonderful performances. The three that stood out were Charissa Kroeger, Megan McCarthy and Montay Romero. Kroeger’s passion and physical abilities always causes me to want to dance again. McCarthy has a mystery about her that is hard not to watch and her technique is seamless, and Romero’s talents are many and, I feel, just beginning to take off.

Acts of Matter in “as may be felt” – Photo by Philip Knowlton

as may be felt was first performed in 2015. The work still has a sense of unity and relationships, but there is a kind of tension not see in the previous two works. Performed to music by the RIVER SONG QUINTET, there are moments of intimidation, exile and determined resolve. Jobel Medina and Katie Istvan give a wonderful performance in a duet that looks at a combative relationship. Megan McCarthy, Laura Berg and Gracie Whyte each hold their ground in this piece with their low-key aggression. The ending of as may be felt is unique and surprising. I will not ruin it for others by describing it here. I particularly liked Emily Moran’s costumes for this piece. The raised seams on the blouses came across as deep scars which added to the sense of understated aggression or anguish.

Love Letter made its debut on this concert and it took Lemme in a slightly different direction. Here she takes her inspiration from the lyrics of songs by Santo & Johnny, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Elliott Smith, and words by Charlie Chaplin. There is humor in Love Letter, but it is bitter sweet. Medina gives a strong performance in his solo that is quietly teeming with loneliness and fear while we listen to Elvis Presley crack himself up while singing. His performance is strong because he underplays the internal struggle of this man with his subtle hip, torso and eye movements as Presley’s laughter echoes thorough the room. Katie Istvan and Taylor Worden’s same-sex love duet is beautifully and honestly performed. I applaud Lemme for having the courage to create it. The transition from this duet to Romero’s entrance helped make sense of his wearing a skirt. Romero’s performance in this long-distance relationship with Joan Holly Padeo who sits quietly singing Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender is powerful.

Lemme’s work is beautifully made. I always look forward to seeing her company perform, and I applaud the humanity in her work. I also applaud and appreciate the work by Lemme and her dancers to create a truly unified company. After observing a full evening, however, my main criticism is what we witnessed at Highways was monotonic in energy. Lemme found stillness and subtly in Love Letter, but what is missing throughout is a wide range of energies from high to low, sharp to soft or harsh to subdued. The movement in the first three works felt continuous or non-stop; like sitting by a gentle river and watching it flow by without interruption. The music performed by ISTANBUL therefore took on that same quality. It also had an underlying pulse that seemed to never vary.

The musicians in ISTANBUL are truly talented, and their names are Lauren Baba (Violin and Viola), Steven Kai van Betten (Guitar), Louis Lopez (Laptop/Live Processing), Andrew Rowan (Piano), and Gregory Uhlmann (Guitar).  RIVER SONG QUINTET artists include Lauren Baba, Harrison Kirk (Trombone), Alina Roitstein (voice), Andrew Rowan (cornet) and Gregory Uhlmann. I was not as impressed with the Lighting by Bryanna Brock. It lacked variety and it was consistently too dark. Mystery has its place, but when you cannot see the performers clearly, especially in a small venue like Highways, it is the choreography that suffers.

Once again, I wish to reiterate the need of a dance theater in Los Angeles that is affordable for local dance companies which is not located on a university or college campus. The city needs a theater with an ample sized stage, appropriate seating capacity and ample parking. The dance scene in Los Angeles is exploding right now and the city should be supporting its own artists by supplying them with a venue they can afford to rent and where they can help build an audience.

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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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