ArtBark International returned to Los Angeles to present its absorbing production of Alma.Sama.: Fragments and Accents from the Life of Alma M. Karlin (1889-1950). Performing at John Pennington’s ARC in Pasadena, CA., the company was joined by guest artists, The Hubbard Collective, which presented Sacred Matters choreographed by Artistic Director Irishia Hubbard.
Alma M. Karlin was a Slovene-Austrian traveler, writer, poet, polyglot (she spoke thirteen languages), teacher of languages, and a theosophist (collector of different forms of philosophical or religious thought based on a mystical insight into the divine nature). She traveled alone around the world ending back in Europe during World War II where she died poverty stricken. Karlin authored over nine books including The Odyssey of A Lonely Woman (1933), and The Death-Thorn and Other Strange Experiences in Peru and Panama (1934).
It was this extraordinary woman’s story that inspired the artists of ArtBark International to work together for two years to create Alma.Sama. that was presented at the ARC in Pasadena, CA. Misa Mandigo Kelly, Marijan Pušazvec and Stephen Kelly have created an inspiring work that traces Ms. Karlin’s travels around the world, exposes her hopes and fears, and celebrates her talents. It is a wonderful tribute to an amazing person.
Alma.Sama. begins with Misa Mandigo Kelly preparing suitcases for a journey. This sets up the work’s premise for Karlin traveling alone around the world. She is joined by two other women, each proclaiming to be the real Alma Karlin. It soon becomes apparent that all three performers, Kelly, Mojca Majcen and Trina Mannino portray Alma Karlin during different stages of her life. These three women bring very different interpretations to Karlin. Kelly is an experienced performance artist and a seasoned performer who brings life to Karlin through her acting and being comfortable working with props. She is Alma Karlin in one scene and then beautifully performs musically on brass bowls, a gourd, rocks in a jar and with her own vocals as Trina Mannino dances.
Mannino works with ArtBark International while based in Brooklyn, NY. Her performance throughout Alma.Sama. is steady, direct and stunning. She inhabits her characters and they come alive because of this, rather than by showing off her technique, which is strong.
Mojca Majcen is a beautiful dancer and excels during her solo that expresses the torment Karlin experienced while interned in San Francisco. The solo is too long and Majcen depends too heavily on her high extensions. They often detract rather than aid in expressing the emotion behind the solo.
The storyline, written by Misa Mandigo Kelly, Stephen Kelly, Marijan Pušazvec in coloration with Mojca Majcen, Trina Mannino and Cecily Stewart are beautifully crafted. The choreography by Stephen Kelly, Misa Kelly and Trina Mannino is beautifully structured and for the most part, manages to adequately portray the story being told. The costumes and props by Misa Kelly are beautiful but they do not always help depict what part of the world Karlin is in.
Alma.Sama. is a very strong work, but some of the sections are too long. I was also not clear what the long poles represented or why they were used in that way. Stephan Kelly’s original sound score greatly contributes to the where and when of Karlin’s life and Paul Tran did a wonderful job of creating the various atmospheres and environments. I am sure that Alma Karlin would have enjoyed and honored by this production.
Irishia Hubbard has created a wonderful venue for her very talented group, The Hubbard Collective. Her work, Sacred Matters is powerful and it expresses the struggles of the Black community in a sensitive and direct way. The work opens with four short vignettes that act like a table of contents. She shows us the lives of men in prison who are the victims of mass incarceration. Women dressed in their church finest, depict how wives and/or mothers are affected by this injustice. A young man is murdered by police when they mistake his toy gun for a real one, like the 2014 case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. This short but intense solo was performed superbly by Edgar Aquirre. The dance ends with the entire cast standing along the front of the stage with their right arms raised in the civil rights solidarity salute. It was an potent statement.
Performing to the beautiful music of Wynton Marsalis, The Hubbard Collective gave a wonderful performance. The dancers included Stephanie Johnson, Julienne Mackey, Julianna Cressman, Irishia Hubbard, Noelle White, Nicole Rivor, Tar-ra Laperdon, Carl Cubero, David G. Lee, Dominik Haws, Keegan Sullivan, Malcolm Dunbar, Edgar Aquirre and Thomas Harlin. The very nice costumes were by Julie Keen.