Home by Jeff Slayton Helios Dance Theater at the Ace: An Endless Series of Entanglements

Helios Dance Theater at the Ace: An Endless Series of Entanglements

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Helios Dance Theater - Photo by Jamie Caliri

Helios Dance Theater presented Minor Obsessions at The Theater at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The dream and vision of movie starlet Mary Pickford, The Theater at Ace Hotel is a beautiful venue. Built in 1927, Pickford had joined forces with Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, DW Griffith and Los Angeles architectural firm Walker & Eisen to build an independent production house that was unaffiliated with Hollywood. Once considered the United Artists crown jewel theatre, it closed in 1989 until it was restored in its present, amazing architectural form in 2014.

The Theater at Ace Hotel

Laura Gorenstein Miller is the founder and Artistic Director of Helios Dance Theater, and she has an impressive résumé as a choreographer. With Minor Obsessions, however, she has produced a never-ending series of lifts and gymnastic partnering duets that resemble a non-stop machine. Dancers move through a continuous entanglement without coherent rhythm or reason. After the third of ten duets, we had seen the full gamut of lifts, but Miller tried to disguise this lack of variety by shifting the order in which they occurred.

Helios Dance Theater – Photo by Jamie Caliri

I want to be clear. The nine dancers worked extremely hard throughout the evening. The cast included Kearian Giertz, Charissa Kroeger, Stephanie Maxim, John Origines, Chris Rodriquez-Stanley, Princess Mecca Romero, Melissa Sandvig, Drea Sobke, and Evan Swenson. I have seen many of them perform before and I know that they are some of Los Angeles’ best. Miller succeeded, however, in hiding the full range of their technical and artistic talents.

There was rarely a straightforward dance phrase or combination that did not end with two bodies twisting into a series of contortions or acrobatic balancing acts a la Cirque du Soleil. With few exceptions, these ten duets lacked a clear purpose behind them. There were hints of sexual attraction, love, playfulness, etc., but Miller’s insistence that one complex lift was followed by another and then another, prevented the dancers from expressing whatever relationship she might have sought to convey.

The sections that worked were I’m Not That Kind of Girl with Charissa Kroeger and Drea Sobke in a same-sex relationship. Here the partnering was limited and the choreography left space for their affection to exist.  A Little Death was a moving duet between Evan Swenson and Melissa Sandvig. Swenson physically partners his beloved’s limp body, recalling choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s death duet near the end of the Royal Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Sandvig deserves special mention here for her bravery, as she performed the entire duet with her eyes closed. Involving eight dancers, The Heart Is a Muscle was sensual and seductive, but Miller had used most of the lifts several times before which only weakened its impact. What saved it were the performances by her cast.

Cris Rodriguez-Stanley, Drea Sobke – Helios Dance Theater – Photo by Jamie Caliri

Minor Obsessions proves that these dancers are strong partners, but because the lifts went on for a full hour, fatigue set in and the partnering became uneven and the transitions between sections became the most interesting parts of the production. Rami Kashou’s costumes were completely unflattering, especially for the men. Their athletic styled suits were ill fitting and destroyed the outline of a dancer’s body while performing. One saw dancers struggling with the material during very tricky lifts, and thin women appeared heavy. Jon Griffin’s lighting design was as limited as the choreography. With few exceptions, identical lighting effects were repeated with only a color change to distinguish one section from the next. Near the end in what seems to have been a miscue, a male duet took place center stage in total darkness, while light beamed down upon upstage left. Without the constant use of smoke, Griffin’s design would not have been visible.

The evening also included virtual reality viewing stations of Heroes which, sadly, I did not have a chance to experience.

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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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