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This weekend Highways Performance Space presented New Shoes 6 “an ongoing series of new and in-development dance and physical theater works by emerging and established Southern California-based choreographers, directors and ensembles”. Three choreographers’ works were showcased and the strongest of those was by Sophia Stoller, a Los Angeles based choreographer, dancer and dance educator, currently teaching at Gabriella Charter School. Bernard Brown, who choreographed two of the four works on the concert, also showed strong potential.

In Greek mythological Sirens were beautiful, alluring and extremely dangerous women who are said to be the daughters of the most important of the river gods, Achelous. Depending on the author, their mother was either Terpsichore (Muse and goddess of Dance and Chorus), Melpomene (Muse of Singing and later of Tragedy), or Sterope (one of the Pleiades and the wife of Oenomaus). Sophia Stoller’s Siren does an excellent job at telling their story in a relatively short time. It opens with two men dressed all in black, seeming to be very good friends. Their very strong and somewhat intimate duet is performed with a nice professionalism by Tariq Mitri and Andrew Pearson before the Sirens enter to wreck their magical havoc. Danced seductively, with just the right touch of menace, by Becca Green, Yvonne Lacombe and Dina Lasso, they proceed to separate the two men and then drive both of them mad. Siren is a very luscious, well-made dance and I look forward to seeing more of Stoller’s choreography.

Photo: Aron Altmark
Photo: Aron Altmark

One of my favorite moments in Siren is when the performers and the music by Justin Scheid become sharp, hard, crisp and very fast. It is a dramatic moment and demonstrates when the Sirens real power over these men takes hold. What I appreciated about Scheid’s music is that he did not try to imitate the songs of the Sirens. Instead there was a subtle reference of them woven throughout his score.

The dark atmospheric lighting was designed by Aron Altmark, and the costumes were designed by Yonit Olshan. The dresses for the Sirens are lovely, but what does not work are the dance socks. They are far too modern and athletic looking for this otherwise haunting dance.Brown3

Bernard Brown is a Los Angeles based artist who choreographed and performed in the solo work Revel. Dressed in white tights, Brown enters carrying a suitcase and wearing a headband covering his eyes. Revel appears to be about moving on while discovering, struggling with and coming to terms with one’s identity. We see Brown go through different personality shifts before settling on one that seems to be his real self. As the lights fade, however, the struggle continues.

Two things to Brown to consider. One is the title, Revel. The definition of that word is “to take great pleasure and delight in”. This solo was far more personal and internal than that. The ending demonstrates that this man is not yet delighting in the path he has chosen. The second is Brown needs more rehearsal time with his props. His black veil and the suitcase presented physical problems that distracted us from the work.Brown

Brown’s Chromosome is a quartet danced very well by Kristin Baylis, Khamari Bendolph, Bernard Brown and Silvia Park. Also performing in this dance was Violist Stephen Spies who interacts with Brown in a solo/duet at the end of the piece. Often musicians are simply placed onstage to be listened to. Not here. Spies becomes part of the choreography, moving quite well with and around Brown. Chromosome is also a dark and thoughtful work with an ending that hints at a painful outcome. Although a good dance, it needs to be looked at by the choreographer more closely to decide where its focus lies. The opening is beautiful, but the dance later falls apart as an ensemble work and takes on a second idea at the end. Was the solo the result of unhealthy or diseased chromosomes? Not at all clear to this observer. The other characters were simply dropped without any choreographic explanation.

CreatureTube left me wondering what Darrian O’Reilly’s intent was with this dance. She tried to be cute and she worked too hard at being funny. I honestly did not know if these four women were Poodles or everyday cats. Sometimes they danced as ballerinas and other times they acted like “creatures.” The title suggests that we were watching one of those now popular YouTube channels that shows animals going about their incarcerated lives in a shelter. Interesting if one has nothing more productive to do. The costumes by Alex Kahn and the hair styles pointed to these being cats, but instead they appeared simply as humans acting very poorly like animals. The best part of this dance was the bloody end when two of the creatures kill the other two. It was a relief. The dancers Alexsa Durrans, Karrian O’Reilly, Sarah Summers and Gracie Winston danced very well, but their efforts could not save this dance.

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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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