It was a vision of Licia Perea to create a venue solely focused on the works of Black and Latina/o choreographers. She managed to make that dream a reality and has now produced the fourth season of the BlakTina Dance Festival at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. The festival runs for three nights and includes works by Rubí Morales, Keilah Glover, Briseyda Zárate, Anthony Aceves, Irishia Hubbard, Christopher Smith, Primera Generación Dance Collective, Alvin Rangel and Rhapsody James. As with most dance festivals, the program is uneven and includes works by choreographers of varying levels of expertise. It is, however, an evening of some very exciting dance, and one that should be seen and supported to continue.

Of the nine works presented, the choreography of six stood out above the rest for this reviewer. Those were Ascendancy by Rubí Morales, My Little Deaths, Mis Pequeñas Muertes, by Briseyda Zárate, Sacred Matters by Irishia Hubbard/JazzXchange, Ni Fú, Ni Fá by Primera Generación Dance Collective, Rises/Falls by Alvin Rangel and Human Metabolism by Rhapsody James.

Ascendancy - Choreography by Rubí Morales
Ascendancy – Choreography by Rubí Morales

Rubí Morales got her BFA from the CSU, Long Beach Department of Dance. Her work Ascendancy shows a sophisticated level of choreography which required stamina as well as technical strength from her cast members Jason Anaya, A.j. Dirickson, Elena Gillogly, Katie Hitchcock, Amber Morales, Crystal Morales, and Gaby Mulder. Performed to the driving music by Colin Stetson, Ascendancy is filled with visions of frantic struggles of survival, control and it hints at an apocalyptic outcome for the human race. One flaw in this piece is the nearly constant screams that permeate throughout. Those screams lost their power due to overuse.

Briseyda Zárate - Photo by Angela Solange
Briseyda Zárate – Photo by Angela Solange

My Little Deaths, Mis Pequeñas Muertes, was choreographed and performed beautifully by the esteemed flamenco dancer Briseyda Zárate. Zárate demonstrated outstanding technique in a work that expresses personal conflict and suffering. Her dramatic use of a large green shawl helps to accentuate this pain and frustration as she twirls it around her head, tosses it to the floor and then picks it back up to express her acceptance of her fate. Zárate’s flamenco technique and her acting are breathtaking to watch.

Sacred Matters - Choreography by Irishia Hubbard/JazzXchange
Sacred Matters – Choreography by Irishia Hubbard/JazzXchange

Sacred Matters by Irishia Hubbard/JazzXchange is a powerful look at the very current subject of mass incarceration of men of color, and its effects on the women who love them. This work is filled with strong and direct performances by Akinoyla Adabale, Alize Irby, David Lee, Dominik Haws, Thomas James Harlin, Irishia Hubbard, Edgar Aguirre, Eric Whitehurst, Julienne Mackey, Nicole Rivor, Noelle White, Ongelle Johnson, Robert Jimenez and Tara Laperdon. The section with the six men dressed in orange prison jumpsuits is intense and powerful, giving us a glimpse into the lives of these imprisoned men who struggle to survive under horrific conditions. The six women dressed in church-going dresses and hats, gave a beautiful and soulful performance. A brief solo at the work’s end is a poignant look at how violence begets violence and destroys the life of our youth. The costumes by Julie Keen are a perfect representation of the characters depicted in this dance.

Primera Generación Dance - Photo by Ernesto-Huerta
Primera Generación Dance – Photo by Ernesto-Huerta

Ni Fú, Ni Fá by Primera Generación Dance Collective is a sometimes humorous but satirical look at the stereotypes so often placed upon the Latino population, from their clothes down to their chips and salsa. The Riverside based collective includes Alfonso Cervera, Rosa Rodriquez-Frazier, Irvin Gonzalez and Patty Huerta who gave very strong performances to music by Selena Quintanilla. Their choreography included some inventive lifts, humorous use of props and wonderful facial expressions. According to google, ni fú, ni fá translates as so-so or neither good nor bad.

Alvin Rangel
Alvin Rangel

Alvin Rangel is a beautiful dancer and performer, and one of the quietest dancers I have seen in years. In his solo Rises/Falls to the wonderful original composition/music by Alec Chojnacki, Rangel barely made a sound as he landed from leaps and he literally melted into the floor when his choreography took him there. This was a wonderful marriage of pure movement mixed with a very personal choreographic statement of Rangel’s masculinity. Performing shirtless, Rangel demonstrated that a man can express both strength and softness in the same person.

Rhapsody JamesHuman Metabolism is a mixture of jazz, hip hop and modern dance in the best sense of the word. One style blends seamlessly into the other with powerful performances by Jennifer Bermeo, James Cabrera, Tyquan Christie, Rebekah Denegal, Samantha Glennerster, Maria Malmstrom, Miesha Moore, Gab Robert, Raphael Thomas and Keenan Washington. Dressed in bright costumes and dancing to the music of Burial and Ziro, Human Metabolism explores several different human experiences, including what appeared to be a woman’s drug overdose. The choreography is strong and beautifully structured, but it does suffer somewhat from a lack of focus as the theme is oftentimes difficult to follow.

Rhapsody En Dance (R.ED)
Rhapsody En Dance (R.ED)

The remaining works on the festival’s program included We Matter by Keilah Glover, which was a very brief statement on the struggles of the Black community; benEATh which is an unclear choreographic statement that relies too strongly on the lyrics by Shane Koyczan, but which has very strong performances by Anthony Aceves, Daniel Diaz, Marie Hoffman, Amy Walper and Mitchell Webb; and Speak of the Devil and he will Appear by Christopher Smith that is a confusing look at enslavement to different human emotions.

The production crew of the BlakTina Dance Festival also deserve special mention. After a delayed start due to technical problems, the crew ran a truly tightknit show. The evening lasted approximately ninety minutes without intermission, but the transitions between dances were so beautifully choreographed and rehearsed that the time went by very quickly. That crew included Wouter Feldbusch – Lighting Designer/Technical Director, Jose Garcia Davis – Stage Manager/Videographer, Raélle Dorfan – Managing Director, and Kim Tillman – Assistant Stage Manager. I am certain that Licia Perea, Director of Dance also shares credit for how smoothly the evening ran.

The BlakTina Dance Festival continues for two more nights at the Bootleg Theater. For more information, go to http://www.blaktinafestival.com/blaktina-2016.

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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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