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The Live Arts Exchange (LAX) Festival is taking place in venues all over Los Angeles, showcasing independent artists and companies. Since joining the review staff at SeeDance, I have attended dance and performance art in studios and alternative spaces that I did not know existed in this city. Tonight I went to see WHYTEBERG perform As Occurred, As Recalled at the Automata, located on Chung King Court in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles. The Automata is an extremely small space with a cement floor and blue walls. WHYTEBERG solved the space restrictions, however, by performing four of the work’s six sections in the outdoor hallways of the business complex.

Automata - Photo by Roger Martin Holman
Automata – Photo by Roger Martin Holman

WHYTEBERG was founded in 2014 by collaborating artists Gracie Whyte and Laura Berg. Performing with them on this evening were Matt Luck and Jobel Medina, and for much of the time everyone was dressed in all black and wearing sunglasses. Berg, Luck and Medina began As Occurred, As Recalled in the courtyard standing atop a large concrete block looking like FBI agents, while Luck casually smoked a cigarette. After two of them jumped down, they began moving with static elements of Hip-hop dancing. Luck discarded the cigarette and continued moving on top of the structure. If one believes the evening’s program, this section was inspired by people with a “F U” attitude, but aside from exuding a standoffish attitude, no real statement was made.

The audience was led inside Automata for a powerful two-part solo performed by Whyte. Dressed in professional boxing shorts and white tank top, Whyte made movement references to that violent sport. In Round One, she was knocked about and to the floor by an unseen opponent. In Round Two, Whyte was again battered around until she simply stood her ground and received a series of punches without resisting. The solo felt like a statement on how we too stop fighting back while being taken advantage of in some way.

Matt Luck with WHYTEBERG in Chinatown LAX Festival
Matt Luck with WHYTEBERG in Chinatown LAX Festival

We were led back outside to stand and watch Berg and Luck sitting at a table wearing shades; Luck once again smoking. Berg sat playing chest, but there were only chessmen on her side of the board. She continued to make moves against her opponent who sat idly smoking his cigarette as if she didn’t exist. It was a short section; a passerby’s look into a one-sided relationship.

In another hallway we discovered Medina slow dancing with an invisible partner to Glenn Miller’s 1939 Moonlight Serenade. While constantly being pulled by an unseen hand, Medina’s movements became jagged and frantic until violently being flung into the arms of an audience member. This instigated several audience members being escorted to sit on a blanket while we all watched a bizarre love/hate duet between a couple setting up a picnic on another blanket. Medina brought them fruit and bread, but Whyte tried instead to devour her partner’s arm. The duet had elements of contact improvisation, but it was the conflicting interactions between the two that held one’s interest.

WHYTEBERG in As Occurred, As Recalled - Photo by Roger Martin Holman
WHYTEBERG in As Occurred, As Recalled – Photo by Roger Martin Holman

Three of the four performers led us a la the Pied Piper back inside the Automata. Now transformed into a dance party atmosphere with balloons and streamers draped across the room, it was Luck’s turn for a solo. Performing to Heart of Glass by Blondie, his movements were the same sporadic style that we witnessed throughout the work. The work drew to a close soon after Luck was joined by the other performers for a short disjointed quartet. While they silently directed audience members to join the dance and assist them in popping several of the glitter filled balloons, the event transitioned into an after-performance party.

WHYTEBERG in As Occurred, As Recalled - Photo by Roger Martin Holman
WHYTEBERG in As Occurred, As Recalled – Photo by Roger Martin Holman

Choreographed by Whyte and the dancers, As Occurred, As Recalled ran approximately 40 minutes and included music genres from classical to rock, edited together by Paul Matthis. Whyte’s work was engaging and sometimes provocative but there were elements throughout that felt unfocused, as if ideas were simply dropped in order to move on to the next thought. The title suggests coming upon situations as they happen or witnessing a re-enactment of a remembered past. For the most part Whyte fulfilled that promise.

Many people do not want to go to these out of the way spaces in order to see experimental dance or performance art. I can sympathize, but it is in these small studios, black box theaters and other alternative spaces where the ideas of young creative artists are taking root. Trisha Brown began dancing on rooftops and performing on rafts in lakes. Twyla Tharp and other now famous choreographers began showing their work at Judson Church in the West Village of New York, or in very small loft spaces such as Dance Theater Workshop before it expanded. One never knows from where the next choreographic genius might emerge.

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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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