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This is the first season of ‘DANCE!’: Odyssey Theatre, a collaboration between the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and other dance and theater organizations. THE LAST ONE is a physical theater work presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Galiana & Nikolchev’s Useless Room. Directed by Gema Galiana, THE LAST ROOM is an intense and very physical exploration into the struggles between building up and the tearing down of society. It is a physical tour-de-force for the three actors Emily Meister, Anthony Nikolchev and Julian Sandoval, and they are exciting to watch.

Born in Spain and now based in Los Angeles, Gema Galiana is an actress, director and a photographer under the pseudonym La Mujer Tranvía. Actor and writer Anthony Nikolchev was born in California’s Bay Area and met Galiana in 2010 in Wroclaw, Poland. They are two of eight founding members of Studio Matejka, a physical theater laboratory, at the Grotowski Institute. Part of their press information states that they are a “melt between two people with very similar questions and with very similar contradictions, often in opposite ways”.

The Last One – Photo by David Meister

The set for THE LAST ONE is stark and harsh; consisting of two piles of jagged rocks that appear to have come from the demolition site, a large pile of dark brown dirt, an unfinished wooden A shaped ladder and two rock filled silver pails hanging from the theater grid. Throughout the set is part of the physical action and the sound score as the actors manipulate the rocks, stand on them, hit them together and literally pile them into the arms of Emily Meister near the end of the production. The ladder is used as a table, a tie rack, a vehicle to a high place of aspiration, and the instrument of death.

For THE LAST ONE, none of the characters have been given names. Dressed in a long black dress, Emily Meister’s character is treated as a symbol of beauty, a sexual object and a force of nature to be reckoned with. The two men, Nikolchev and Sandoval are controlling, sensual, competitive, chauvinistic and even sadistic.  Together these three represent the totality of society; its complexity and its losing battle with self-destruction. The dialogue is sparse, but poignant; stating only what is necessary to tie together loose ends. The two males use limited words to incite laughter or violence toward each other. This is physical theater. The choreography and staging, though sometimes brutal and violent, is beautiful due to its authenticity and realism. None of the actors hold back. They are fearless.

The Last One – Photo by David Meister

THE LAST ONE journeys through many emotions and situations. The characters embrace, clash, and engage in a three-way drunken “dance” that travels from one end of the space to the other and becomes dangerously close to causing physical injury. Dressed in matching suits, the two male characters have a combative duet that makes wonderful use of their ties; treating them as instruments of personal comparison and weapons of battle.

Meister digs a bull’s skeletal head from the pile of dirt, drags it across the stage with her teeth, dances with it, whispers to it and kisses it. Is she embracing death or inviting destruction? Eventually she is placed on a pile of rocks, made to hold numerous rocks in her arms, only to be covered with dirt as she lays dying. In a wonderful piece of staging, Nikolchev totes the ladder and leans it against a side wall. He then climbs between the ladder and the wall, drapes himself over it as his character dies. The lights fade as Sandoval, who has just finished covering Meister with dirt, moves in a slow dance of death behind her. He is the last one standing.

This production takes the audience on an emotional journey of highs and lows. It brings one to the edge of boredom and then to the edgy of one’s seat as the action accelerates. The original score by Michael Daregon helps to realize these feelings and in one section incorporates the sound of rocks hitting together. The lighting design manages to separate the medium-sized space into multiple areas with pools of light in both bleak and warm colors. The Lighting Designer for Useless Room is Benjamin Wilson and for the Odyssey Theatre, Maria Viterelli. Set Consultant was Mark Kanieff.

‘DANCE!’: Odyssey Theatre continues with performances by Olé Flamenco on Sunday, January 22 at 2 p.m. and L.A. Contemporary Dance Company production of Force Majeure on January 27 & 28 at 8 p.m. More information: www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

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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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