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An aridity index (AI) is a numerical indicator of the degree of dryness of the climate at a given location. One definition of aridity is a deficiency of moisture, especially when resulting from a permanent absence of rainfall. Laurie Sefton is a native Californian and states in her company’s program that she sees this and other issues through an “emotional lens”. This is clear by the works presented on her company’s program ARIDITY at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles. Sefton’s dances are not narrative in nature, but they are definitely about important issues facing humanity. It is also clear that Sefton remains one of Los Angeles’s most gifted choreographers and her company one this city’s finest.

Memory Lapse - Genevieve Zander, Megan Pulfer, Annalee Traylor - Photo: Denise Leitner
Memory Lapse – Genevieve Zander, Megan Pulfer, Annalee Traylor – Photo: Denise Leitner

Anyone who has ever cared for a loved one or relative with Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia will be strongly affected by Sefton’s Memory Lapse. It had its Los Angeles premiere last year and has matured into a truly powerful dance about the impact of these diseases on its victims and those who love them. The dancers; Cody Berkeley, Haylee Nichele, Megan Pulfer and Annalee Traylor are strong technicians, but it is their artistry that enhances their performances. Megan Pulfer stands out in Memory Lapse during a solo that is filled with one tour de force moment after another. Even here, Pulfer’s passion for dancing and her strength as a performer allows us to see Sefton’s vision, not just her truly awesome technique. This was not her best performance of this solo and yet she was still breathtaking. Haylee Nichele gives a soulful portrayal of a woman dealing with effects of aging and as a spouse coping with her partner’s disappearing memory of her during the moving duet with Cody Berkeley.

Crawl Xipe Totec - Jacqueline Hinton and Megan Pulfer - Photo: Denise Leitner
Crawl Xipe Totec – Jacqueline Hinton and Megan Pulfer – Photo: Denise Leitner

XIPE TOTEC was the Aztec god of spring and of new vegetation. As a symbol of the new vegetation, Xipe Totec wore the skin of a human victim – the “new skin” that covered the earth in the spring and was believed to be the inventor of war. Sefton’s Crawl Xipe Totec is a primal yet extremely sensual dance which has been made even more powerful with the addition of the opening solo performed by Cody Berkeley. Berkeley’s long, malleable body seems to have been designed for this dance and his intense gaze demands that you watch him. The majority of the dance is performed in a crouched position and the dancers only briefly stand erect. Also extraordinary in this dance are Jacqueline Hinton and Megan Pulfer, and the music of Parallax Beat Brothers, Pete Lockett & Scanner adds a layer of fierceness.

To Dust is a film that truly makes us even more aware that the effects of Climate Change are upon us. It is hard to watch because of its honesty. We see how we are misusing and wasting our water supply and how the drought has made a wasteland of areas in California that used to be covered with water and vegetation. The Composer, Director and Editor is Bryan Curt Kostors and the Director of Photography is Michael Pietrobon. To Dust is a film that should be seen by everyone; especially those who are in denial of what man has brought about by his disregard of Mother Earth. It seemed a tad long for this particular evening, but it was important for us to see.

The final work on the program was the premiere of Sefton’s desiccated earth/California which draws a direction connection to the above mentioned film. Movements of water, dryness and diminishing clean air to breathe are woven into those of human activities. There is a strip of green turf onstage that, with the aid of Katiana Brosz’s lighting, slowly turns brown. Here too, the performances by Ellen Akashi, Cody Berkeley, Samantha-Jane Gray, Megan Pulfer and Evan Swenson are outstanding and they are lucky to have found a choreographer who knows how to bring out the best in them. These are some of Los Angeles’s best and that includes Costume Designer Leslie Karten and Composer Mark Hadley.

desiccated earth/California - Photo: Denise Leitner
desiccated earth/California – Photo: Denise Leitner

desiccated earth/California needs time to mature and for each section of the dance to develop its own identity, gestures need honing and this work definitely needs a different Lighting Designer. What we saw at the Nate Holden does not, with the exception of the browning grass, give a feeling of intensifying heat or dryness. Brosz’s lighting appears to try to hide Sefton’s intricate choreography; choreography that is rich in gestures, meaning and message. The overall lighting was minimal and even too dark at times. I was also taken by surprise that the dance ended so abruptly. Are we to assume that our future is left to interpretation? Is Sefton leaving it up to us to wonder what is going to happen to mankind? Both those things are fine, but this present ending appears unfinished and inconclusive.

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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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