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Week two of the NOW Festival 2017 at REDCAT features an abstract work with animal masks, a multimedia cultural exposé and a dance about the loss of a parent. The title, New Original Works, suggests what has sadly not been realized. With a couple of exceptions, the first two weeks consist of recycled ideas without any illuminating results.

Mackenzey Franklin – Photo by Steve Gunther

A Dismal Glimpse at a Scrip We Create to Keep Us Moving Forward is a collaborative work by Megan Fowler-Hurst, Mackenzey Franklin and Sarri Sanchez; members of the group Tales Between Our Legs (TBOL).  Clouds hover overhead while a woman (Franklin) stands with her entire torso inside a bird cage. A cat (Sanchez) dressed in a black suit and holding a helium filled yellow balloon, walks in with a female fox (Fowler-Hurst). The cat and fox sit in red chairs for a heated conversation and the “caged bird” sings.

Sarri Sanchez, Megan Fowler-Hurst – Photo by Steve Gunther

The dance movements are brief and uncomplicated, but Sanchez and Fowler-Hurst perform them with amazing precision. Even more astonishing, they do so while wearing beautifully designed animal headpieces. There are very humorous moments. For example, what happens to the balloon when released and how the performers slowly “die” of boredom listening to a woman’s in-depth explanation of their work. The latter is a wonderful statement on how art is often over analyzed. To quote Gertrude Stein, “A rose, is a rose, is a rose.”

A Dismal Glimpse at a Scrip We Create to Keep Us Moving Forward is far from dismal. It has elements of invention, humor and excellent production values. I especially enjoyed the masks and props by Josephine T. Huang, Ian Fowler-Hurst, Daniel & Pamela Fowler and TBOL.  Lighting Designer John Garofalo did an excellent job creating a colorful and somewhat cartoonish environment.

Vivian Bang in Can You Hear Me/LA92 – Photo by Steve Gunther

Vivian Bang is an original member of New York’s Big Art Group, an experimental performance ensemble founded in 1999.  The group boasts using original text and pushing the boundaries of theater, film and multimedia. In her Can You Hear Me/LA 92, Bang does not expand these boundaries, but she does shine a light on the injustices heaped upon the Black and Korean communities during the Los Angeles riots in 1992. She incorporates video with her text to inform the audience and exposes the role that the police and media played to incite further rioting.

Vivan Bang – Photo by Steve Gunther

Dressed in white, including her hair, Bang uses a microphone and a voice altering device to inhabit the different personas of victims and participants. Her work contains information that is relevant to the present political environment and little-known facts about what transpired during the riots are revealed. I felt sympathy, but this verbose piece becomes increasingly tedious and long. Bang’s use of the microphone is awkward, and she relies far too heavily on the text when the videos projected behind her could be better facilitated. I admire the effort made, however.

The text and video for Can You Hear Me/LA 92 are by Vivian Bang, the lighting is by Derek Jones and the sound is “Salpuri,” a Korean Shaman Song to rid bad spirits.

Nickels Sunshine in Take Me With You – Photo by Steve Gunther

The loss of a parent is difficult and creating a dance about that emotional pain is even more challenging. There were parts of Take Me With You where I felt compassion for choreographer and performer Nickels Sunshine, but overall I was embarrassed for him. Raw anguish can be re-created through many different vehicles and movements, but Sunshine chose to overuse loud, angst-filled screaming while fleeing throughout the theater. There are sections, too, that belonged in a separate dance. Five performers, dressed in costumes that greatly distracted from his choreography, Sunshine has created lovely movement phrases inside complex patterns. The section with all five performing isolated but related solos is particularly memorable. Why they suddenly begin screaming in anguish and racing around the space is unclear. Perhaps it is life interrupting art, or death disrupting life.

A man’s beige coat is seen lying on the floor at the beginning of the work. Sunshine eventually carries it offstage. Near the end of his work, Sunshine dons the coat to express how he misses his father. The piece could end there, but Sunshine has more dancing and pain to vocalize offstage as the lights fade.

Nickels Sunshine – Photo by Steve Gunther

There are five dancers who join Sunshine in this disjointed dance/theater piece, and they perform with varying levels of skill. The two who excel are Bernard Brown and Alexx Shilling. The others include Barry Brannum, Maya Gingery, and Jmy James Kidd. The powerful music is Julius Eastman’s “Gay Guerrilla” as arranged by J. Clayton and the painted panels that line each side of the stage are by Dez’Mon Omega Fair and Nickels Sunshine. The atmospheric lighting design is by Carol McDowell. Costumes are by Johanna Jackson.

This program runs through Saturday, followed by one final week of the NOW Festival at REDCAT. For information and tickets, click here.

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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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