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Supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, DANCE/BACK presented seven companies at the Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park this past week end. The companies donated their time and talents and admission was free. The audience was encouraged to bring donations of food and/or toiletries, and any monetary donations went to the dancers. It has been many years since dance was presented at the Madrid Theatre and BrockusRED and the city of Los Angeles hope this performance is the beginning of a new expansion of LA dance into the surrounding communities.

The force behind DANCE/BACK is Deborah Brockus, a red headed Wonder Woman and one of Los Angeles’ dance treasures. In addition to her long teaching career, she is the Founder and Artistic Director of BrockusRED, formerly known as Brockus Project Dance Company, and the producer of Dance in LA showcases that include: Los Angeles Dance Festival, Spectrum, New Perspectives, Split, Caught Between (multi-media) and the Why We Dance Series. Now, she has added yet another series to her long list of impresario adventures, the DANCE/BACK series designed to give back to the community by providing food and personal supplies to the those in need. It is no wonder that Deborah Brockus was once said to be “the single most important person in Southland dance”.

The companies that graciously donated their talents for DANCE/BACK were Luminario Ballet, Kairos Dance Company, BrockusRED, Ken Morris Project, Rubans Rouges Dance Company, AkomiDance, and the Lula Washington Dance Theater. A big thank you goes out to all of them, the entire staff at the Madrid Theatre and the volunteers who helped make this event possible.

Luminario Ballet = Photo courtesy of the artist.
Luminario Ballet = Photo courtesy of the artist.

Luminario Ballet premiered Listen To My Heart, choreographed by Judith FLEX Helle and performed to the music of Silhouettes I, II, III, and Floating Points. Helle’s work combines ballet, modern dance and aerial work. Her choreography is a marriage of art and entertainment, and for this program it was beautifully performed by Damien Diaz, Zachary Guthier, Rebekah Burke, Ben Windu Sayles, Sadie Black and Adrian Hoffman. The choreography was strongly balletic, with lifts that were echoed in the duets by aerialists Burke and Sayles. A very memorable moment came near the end when Burke was lowered spinning onto one pointe and who continued to pirouette en pointe with the aid of her partner. The company looks strong and the work was beautifully executed.

Kairos Dance Company presented Perspective, choreographed by Hazel Clarke. Performed to the music by Max Richter, the choreography suffered because of uneven performances by Katelyn Martin and Bailey Johnson. The work is a look at the lives of two people struggling to make their relationship work.  The work has potential, but what was presented at the Madrid was unfortunately miscast.

BrockusRED presented two very nice works on the program; American Dream and Soul. The creation of American Dream spanned from 1998 to 2016 and includes music by Tracy Chapman, Diana Reeves, Manhattan Transfer and poetry by Bill of Rights, Langston Hughes and Deborah Brockus. It is a dynamic and dramatic work with a strong message of protest, struggle and hope of national unity. The work needs time for the dancers to become comfortable in their roles, but it is a piece that proves that Brockus is one of LA’s leading talents. The cast included Micaela De Pauli, Anne Lee Taylor, Rachele Donofrio, Will Clayton, Brance Sousa and James McQueen. Micaela De Pauli gave a powerful portrayal of a woman struggling to keep her family together. De Pauli is a dancer to keep an eye on. She is truly extraordinary.

Soul is a collaboration between Brockus and Anne Lee Taylor. Performed in silence by Taylor and Rachele Donofrio, it is a beautiful sculptural work due to the lighting. The sole lighting is produced by the two small flashlights that each dancer hold in their hands; otherwise the stage is dark. Their movements are what focuses the light and we only clearly see what movements they choose to expose: the length of an extending leg, a pointed foot, or an arm curving gracefully overhead. There is enough offstage light that bleeds onstage and we can just make out the silhouettes of these two beautiful dancers moving close to one another. What adds to the charm and power of this work is, however, what we cannot see. Soul is a work that can be seen again and again with different outcomes.

Ken Morris is a former member of the Lula Washington Dance Theater and now a choreographer in his own right. Here Morris presented Clearing, a wonderful solo for young dancer David Mitchell. It is a coming of age dance; a young warrior’s adventure into manhood. It is also a strong showcase for the current and potential talents of Mitchell, who performed Clearing with great clarity and control.

Rubans Rouges Dance Company presented Coeur de Verre (Heart of Glass) choreographed by Noelle Andressen. Danced to the music by Zoe Keating, Coeur de Verre is a love duet that shows us beautiful pictures and exudes romantic emotions, but one that suffers from inconsistencies and non-kinetic movement. Performed by Andressen and Albertossy Espinoza, the dance moves from picture to emotion filled picture without much connecting movement flow. We see the passion of the two lovers, but what stands out is the static emoting rather than a story told through movement.

A duet that does work is In Another Life choreographed by Marie Hoffman, Co-Artistic Director of AkomiDance. Here the movement is very kinetic, honest and the emotions live within the movement. Performed very well by Daniel Diaz and Destany Churchwell, we see a relationship develop, go through trials and finally come together in happiness. It is an old story, but freshly told by Hoffman. Churchwell’s performance stood out in this duet.

Closing out the evening was WORK IN PROGRESS by the iconic Lula Washington, Artistic Director of the Lula Washington Dance Theater. There was an extremely sensual duet performed by the gorgeous dancers Quaela D’ross and Christopher Frazier, a sensitive portrayal of a struggling artist danced magnificently by Bernard Brown, and a light and fun filled trio performed by Christopher Frazier, Krystal Hicks and Tehran Dixon. WORK IN PROGRESS was performed to music by Earth, Wind and Fire, Yo-Yo Ma, Samuel Barber and Ludwig Von Beethoven and I look forward to sitting in the audience for the finished product.

Deborah Brockus deserves big thank you for organizing DANCE/BACK. Thank you to the City of Los Angeles for supporting her efforts and helping to bring dance back to the Canoga Park community. Hopefully the Madrid Theater will now present more dance. Finally, special thanks again to all the dancers, choreographers, and company directors who donated their time and talents to this wonderful cause.

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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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