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This is year 28 for Highways Performance Space and Gallery in Santa Monica, CA. It has been the venue for new artists in dance, theater, performing art and visual art. This past weekend three artists shared an evening titled !!!???!!!???!!!???, described as an evening of “convulsive-experimental performance.” They were Alexx Shilling of alexx makes dances, Maria Garcia with dance by Samantha Mohr and Carol McDowell, and Yao Zhang and Liang Guo from NoodleRice & Friends. Abstract art, like what was presented here, requires one’s full involvement and it causes one to think, ponder and analyze. It does not wash over you or entertain you like story ballets, musical theater or even some contemporary dance.

(L to R) Devika Wickremesinghe, Alison D’Amato, Alexx Shilling in “Rage Walk Rise” – Photo by Nguyen Nguyen

Rage Walk Rise was conceived and directed by Alexx Shilling in collaboration with Alison D’Amato, Alexx Shilling and Devika Wickremesinghe. It is a work that quickly draws the audience in with complex shifts of direction and facings, while using elegant movement phrases. It began with the performers handing out triangles of black material for the audience to wear in some way, or not. Most draped them around their shoulders while a few wore them as scarfs. Why is the question –  I never quite figured that out, except that it pulled the audience in to become part of the fabric of the work. The three women then stood next to a hanging wire sculpture by John Emison, making exaggerated exhaling movements before changing into long black dresses with the backs cut out.

“Rage Walk Rise” – Photo by Nguyen Nguyen

The movement in Rage Walk Rise began with simple walking that became faster and faster until all three fell suddenly to the floor in crawling positions. It was a simple but effective moment that drew everything back into focus. From there, elements of movement phrases were introduced using repetition and directional shifts, while each performer took a turn being the outsider. Wickremesinghe lay on her side making subtle defensive gestures as if fending off someone in her dreams, while Shilling and D’Amato performed an accumulative phrase that moved from upstage to down and then side to side. Shilling began crouched and then moved in and around the others as they mirrored each other’s repetitive phrase. Finally, D’Amato walks around the edges of the space while her colleagues perform an ever increasingly rapid phrase that ends in collision.

The live music for Rage Walk Rise was performed by Julio Montero and Craig Shields. I was reminded of my time with the Cunningham Company watching John Cage and David Tudor working with amplified instruments that were then turned into a score by their electronic equipment.  Shilling, Wickremesinghe and D’Amato performed the piece in a very straight forward manner that gave great importance to the shifting patterns, tempos and physical relationships to each other.

Maria Garcia in “IMPART – SCENES OF ABJECTION” – Video Still by of Wes Cardino

Impart-Scenes of Abjection is a performance piece and a bizarre black comedy about death, exploitation, sexuality and religion. It was conceived, performed and designed by Maria Garcia with choreography and performances by Samantha Mohr and Carol McDowell. The work was quietly funny, but somehow missed being excellent. Each separate scene was wonderful, but overall suffered from weak transitions between sections.

A performer dressed as a large black raven with a huge white beak sat motionless while the music built in intensity. Almost imperceptibly the raven head began to move side to side as if Death was seeking its next victim.

Carol McDowell was wonderful as the depraved, alcoholic nun. Her solo moved through every stereotypical image that we have ever seen of a nun praying, kneeling or lying prone before the church altar. It was satire in motion. She was then joined by Maria Garcia dressed as a Catholic Cardinal and a series of twisted events between these two exaggerated characters began. The nun kept nodding off while holding a lit candle for the Cardinal to read from a text on humanity. The Cardinal bent over and his clothing became the screen for a film that was very difficult to see. It appeared to be a accumulation of the characters involved in the work, but I could honestly not see it well enough to comment.

The Cardinal and the nun, who was now wearing blue sequined shoes, rehearsed a death scene that the nun planned to use to audition for a play. From the dialogue, it appeared that this was a regular occurrence between these two. Samantha Mohr then appeared and gave a stunning performance as a woman competing and winning the crown in a beauty contest.

The performers in Impart-Scenes of Abjection are wonderful and the concept is strong. Now the seams need to be tied more neatly and securely. The score, which was very entertaining as well, was by Wes Cardino and Grace Freeman.

Gema Galiana, Anthony Nikolchev – NoodleRice & Friends – Video Capture by Liang Guo

“HA HA HA” (aka Untitled 16) I am the Universe longing to know itself was conceived and directed by Yao Zhang and Liang Guo, with excellent performances by Gema Galiana, Anthony Nikolchev and Samantha Shay. In July of 2016, I reviewed NOODLERICE: UNTITLED at RedCat that included some of the very same elements used in “HA HA HA”. As in UNTITLED, Zhang and Guo brilliantly make use of ordinary objects to comment on how impersonal many relationships have become with the advancement of technology. A yard blower excites, and two duct elbows joints become instruments for long distance sexual pleasure.

Samantha Shay, Anthony Nikolchev, Gema Galiana – NoodleRice & Friends – Video Capture by Liang Guo

During one scene, we heard the voice of a woman giving instruction on the use of this new technology, while Samantha Shay stood still wearing an all telling smile. Her smile, however, ultimately turned into a grimace as she ran in slow motion to escape. Another yard blower was used to inflate a huge balloon while Nikolchev blew bubbles through a duct pipe on his head. Nikolchev and Galiana next laid together underneath the large balloon and the work came to an end as the balloon burst and filled the air with the smell of latex.

All the performances in “HA HA HA” were wonderful, as was the music The Land Between Solar Systems by Múm.

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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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