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The Rose Center Theater in Westminster, CA. is a wonderful venue with a 40-foot wide proscenium stage and a nicely raked seating. This was the site for the inaugural performance of the Orange County Dance Festival presented by AkomiDance which is run by Co-Artistic Directors, Marie Hoffman and Anthony Aceves. There were works by sixteen choreographers, with at least seventy-five dancers performing. It was a marathon two hours representing a variety of dance styles and levels of talent ranging from professional to very amateur. Due to limited space, I cannot write about all the dances. The range of styles included modern, contemporary, jazz, tap and hip hop and, to be honest, some of the choreography belonged in high school and college arenas.

Photo by Niko Montelibano

The host company, AkomiDance, presented two works that opened and closed the festival. The first, titled Divinity Lost was by choreographer and festival organizer Marie Hoffman. The piece was well danced by Anthony Aceves, Destany Churchwell, Daniel Diaz, Bailie Johnston, Jana Burleson Taylor, and Amy Walper, but the relationship between the live performance and the projected film was unclear. The central theme of the work was also ambiguous. There was a sense of ritual and sacrifice. The costumes were not helpful as they suggested indigenous peoples without placing them in a specific place. AkomiDance closed the program with a work titled Leaving Remnants by Anthony Aceves. It was a lively piece filled with highly aerobic movement and strong performances. Aceves would be better served to edit out the beginning, however, as it is far too sophomoric.

The strongest works in Act I were Sticks and Stones by Carisa Carroll, Muses by Francesca Lee, Panel by Joshua D. Estrada-Romero and Mine, a film by Laura Karlin.

Carisa Carroll – Photo courtesy of the artist

I reviewed Sticks and Stones in an earlier article for SeeDance and was pleased to see that Carisa Carroll had re-worked it. The adversarial relationship between the two dancers, Kaycee Jannino and Elise Matthews, is now well defined and the work has come together. Muses by Francesca Lee was interesting to watch largely because of the flowing gold costumes and the strong performances by Kristy Dai, Megumi Iwama and Andrea Rivera. Which muses these were or what their relationship might be was not clear, but the dancing was good.

FUSE Dance Company in “Panel” – Photo by Joshua Romero

I always enjoy watching FUSE Dance Company perform and Joshua D. Estrada-Romero is an interesting choreographer. His work Panel is filled with ever-changing patterns and shifting relationships between dancers; seemingly on the verge of becoming aggressive and/or confrontational. His company members are strong performers. They include Kathy Duran, Olivia Hamilton, Rebecca Levy, Phillip Lu, Rebeca Montecino, Joshua Romero and Katherine Shepersky.

This was my second viewing of Mine, a dance video choreographed Laura Karlin, Artistic Director of Invertigo Dance Theatre, set in an abandoned desert building. It is a romantic duet, performed beautifully by Jessica Dunn and Alex Malachi Middleton. Mine is a love duet, but what enriches its beauty is the contrasts of skin tones against the stark abandoned structure walls and the harsh lighting from outside. Dunn is a very pale skinned redhead and Middleton is an African American with a rich milk chocolate skin tone. As they weave in and out of Karlin’s complex lifts and partnering, those two shades mix like the batter of a marble cake. It is delicious to one’s eyes.

Act II included tap, modern, hip hop, and a beautiful dance film by Deborah Brockus. Souls of Soles choreographed by Amy “Catfox” Campion, the Director of Antics, was a fun piece involving the making of shoes. After a rap-like tale of a shoemaker’s family, the dancers became assembly line machines that passed along a bright red training shoe with an LED lit trim. It was a tad too long, but the dancing was a wonderful mixture of hip hot styles performed with passion by the members of Antics, Emeroy Bernardo, Bliss, Donald “BBoy Crumbs” Counts, Liezel Marie de Guzman, Ebonnee Arielle, Le’Triece, John “Magick” Liggins, Cyrian Reed and Stephen Velazquez.

Andrew Pearson – Photo courtesy of the artist.

this is not the end was choreographed and performed by Andrew Pearson to the music of HEADSPACE and an original score by Evan Monheit. Pearson begins by taping off a rectangular area with red masking tape, making sure it fit his dimensions by measuring it out with his body. He proceeds to perform a very introspective solo with movements, standing and on the floor, that appear to be measuring the space around him. He leaves the square and the movement expands. Pearson then returns to his confined area only to break out of it and simply walk off to his next adventure.

HAD WE BUT WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME is a sensual and somewhat seductive film by Deborah Brockus, the Artistic Director of BrockusRED. Dancers Deborah Brockus, Ruby Karen, Andrea Marblestone, Natalie Penn and Roxanne Reyes move through desert canyons, open desert land, urban sites and close by very large earth moving tractors. The movement is seductive and tempting as the landscapes and skies change. Bright sunshine changes into sunsets and canyons shift into city apartment complexes. The film is rich with texture and, for this viewer, a subtle political statement on how we continue to abuse Mother Earth.

Emergent Dance Company

Emergent Dance Company is a young group based in Huntington Beach, who performed Endless Repeats by Megan Pulfer. Pulfer, a former member of Clairobscur Dance Company in Los Angeles, has created a beautiful showcase for the talents of this youthful company. Dressed in brown dresses, the work had a sense of a cloistered group of women intent on a common goal. Pulfer has constructed this work in an unorthodox and intriguing manner that binds the women together but enables them to work individually; joined only briefly in unison. The cast included: Sarah Banks, Bridgette Burnette, Stephanie Lin, Jessie Mays, Jordan Nishkian, Katherine Shepersky, and Madison Simons.

Leah Silva is an extraordinary tap dancer! Her amazing solo, Love Me or Leave Me, was performed to the music of the legendary Nina Simone and she brought down the house. Never moving off a small, square wooden floor, Silva filled the stage without traveling anywhere. Her rhythms were crystal clear, and the emotions she conveyed through her complex footwork and powerful choreography were spot on with Simone’s lyrics and classical piano improvisations.

R.ED Rhapsody En Dance in SPEAK – Photo courtesy of the artist.

R.ED Rhapsody En Dance is a company that I would like to see more of. Speak, choreographed by Rhapsody James was filled with a wonderful blend of contemporary dance and hip hop styles. The dancers were strong and the rhythms James created in and around those of the music were amazingly steady. The company members included Jennifer Bermeo, James Cabrera, Tyquan Christie, Samantha Glennerster, Julio Marcelino, Miki Michelle, and Miesha Moore.

Other companies performing on the Orange County Dance Festival included: Palm Dance Collective; Suzy Miller Dance; Passion, Grace, and Fire Dance Company; Blurredink, Kairos Dance Company; and Louise Reichlin and Dancers/LA Choreographers and Dancers. The Festival theater staff included Managing Director Tim Nelson, Technical Director Chris Caputo and Karen Rymar on Sound. The production values for the Festival were excellent and everything ran extremely smoothly. The projected program credits which scrolled out after each dance like those in Star Wars, was a nice and very “Green” touch.

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