The second program of Fringe at the Los Angeles Dance Festival 2017 which took place at the Diavolo Dance Theatre gives one hope for the future of dance in LA. Many of the eight choreographers presented are independent artists and they clearly demonstrated that their talents are strong. These dance artists have much to say and how to say it. This is the fifth season of the Los Angeles Dance Festival produced by Deborah Brockus, presenting four weekends of master classes, auditions and performances. This year the festival adds a second venue for the week end of May 11 – 14. Brockus has chosen to present four nights of performances at the Theater Raymond Kabbaz, located on the campus of Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles on Pico Blvd.

Annalee Traylor is a very gifted dancer and I have enjoyed watching her perform with several Los Angeles dance companies. Now she has proven with how the Quiet won that her talents also extend to choreography. Featuring the extraordinary Megan McCarthy and the versatile Raymond Ejiofor, how the Quiet won takes one along the journey of two people bound together by a common struggle, addiction. The movement is taut, entwined, with one person sometimes attached to the other to signify their dependency. The costumes by Liz Nankin are appropriately harsh and help accentuate the characters’ connection. Traylor has created a beautiful and intense work to the music of Amon Tobin, Senking, Harry Nilsson and Blixa Bargeld.

Jordan Saenz has created a work that draws one into a peaceful but troubled world. Choreographed to music by Jónsi & Alex, and Arthur Russell, Quiet Room is a starkly beautiful work portraying several women seeking inner serenity. Images of a psych ward, a rehab center or the secret rooms of a person’s troubled thoughts come to mind. There is a beautiful duet with Saenz and Sarah Butler at the beginning of Quiet Room that creates both the tension and the solidarity of these five women. The work is haunting and disquieting, and one that needs to be seen multiple times to grasp all the intricate detail. The three very talented performers not listed above are Amir Rappaport, Belle Jessen and Kim Thompson.

I first saw Bernard Brown perform his work Box on the Fireside Series at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. It is powerful work about Henry “Box” Brown, a 19th century Virginia slave who in 1849 escaped to freedom by mailing himself in a wooden crate to abolitionists in Philadelphia. Brown clearly expresses the perimeters of the crate and the fear, trepidation and joy, that this man experiences once he arrives at his destination. Brown is an amazing dancer, performer and storyteller. Box is performed to the wonderful music composed and performed onstage by Steven T. Gordon.

Radiant is choreographed by Pia Vinson to the music of The Singing Comet 67P C-G, Michael Goldort and Bellini. It features two women, danced strikingly by Shauna Davis and Julienne Mackey, who move together through a series of encounters, both serious and humorous. The work is well constructed and very enjoyable to watch. I especially loved the unique and beautifully timed ending.

The Battle is an excerpt from Anaïs, A Dance Opera choreographed by Janet Roston that I wrote about after seeing it at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles. It is a brief duet featuring Michael Quiett and Kate Coleman that examines the problems of a couple trying to work out their differences. Each period in their journey is separated by them splitting apart to remove articles of clothing. When they get down to their underwear, they realize that the relationship is over and they move on. The Battle is a wonderful duet filled with many emotions including humor. The music is by Cindy Shapiro, video projections by Joe LaRue and costumes by Allison Dillard.

Andrew Pearson first presented this is not the end at the first Orange County Dance Festival. The work has grown, matured and Pearson’s dancing talents shine as he moves through this very introspective work. Pearson created this is not the end after being faced with the feeling that he did not have adequate time, space or money to create new work. He demonstrates how he choreographed in his kitchen and bedroom by measuring out a small area on the stage with red masking tape. He leaves the confines of this limited area to move through calm and expressive phrases. The original score by Evan Monheit rises and falls in intensity while Pearson’s strong musicality helps him work with and against Monheit’s quieter and more emotional sections. He moves in and out of Monheit’s rhythms in a very sophisticated way. As this is not the end matures, its different layers become richer and more defined.

Tamica Washington-Miller presented an excerpt of a work in progress titled There’s Always Tomorrow. It is a powerful comment on how many go through life not facing reality or paying attention to what is going on throughout the world around them. Sunglasses are used to represent seeing life through “rose colored glasses” and a dark gray cube acts as truth or reality. The performers laugh and enjoy themselves while wearing the glasses, but their world changes when they near the cube or remove their filters. This section is lengthy and would be better served with some editing, but I look forward to seeing the finished work. The amazing dancers include Krystal Hicks, Michael Tomlin III and Haniyyah Tahirah. Kudos to Krystal Hicks for her solo on the cube, much of which was performed standing on her head. The music/sound design is by Marcus L. Miller, lighting by Michael Ricks and costumes by Lula Washington.

Tom Tsai also performed his solo A Fantasy of Going Home on the previous Fireside Series as Bernard Brown. Here we saw only an excerpt, but the work has become a more powerful and intense statement about Tsai’s struggle to find his place in the world. Tsai was born in Taiwan, a country that has been struggling to gain independence from China for many years. His family moved him here to the US where the government refuses to acknowledge Taiwan as a separate country to maintain political relationships with China. A Fantasy of Going Home is, however, not just a protest work. It is about Tsai’s journey to realize that through dance he has managed to find where he belongs; in the here and now. One line in Tsai’s piece resonates while he is speaking of moving forward to resist injustice; “The first step is only the beginning”.

The program ended with a powerful and timely work by Ken Morris, of Ken Morris Project, titled Brothers’ Keeper. It opens with a young black man wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. The words of former President Barak Obama are heard as he speaks about the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the reasoning behind the black community’s reactions to that killing. Jamie Burton gives a wonderful performance in this solo and throughout the work. He is joined by Juquari Baskin, David Mitchell and Davieone Williams, each who give extraordinary performances. Brothers’ Keepers conveys the struggles of young black men in this country. We see their anger as they march downstage, slam down chairs and use them to confront a non-caring society. Rather than turning to violence, however, these men join forces, select a leader and move forward to create change.

The LA Dance Festival 2017 continues through May 21 with performances, master classes and auditions. For information and tickets, click here.


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