An unlikely combination of choreographers joined forces at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles. Lula Washington, considered by many to be Los Angeles dance royalty, founded the Lula Washington Dance Theatre in 1980. Her company has toured worldwide and she has changed the lives many inner city youths and dance artists with her choreography, teaching and mentoring. Her daughter, Tamica Washington-Miller is also well known and has received several awards for her choreography.. Jamie Carbetta Hammond founded Pony Box Dance Theatre just five years ago (2011) and therefore her work remains unknown to dance audiences outside of Los Angeles. Although encouraging to see a more established dance company joining forces to bring exposure to an emerging one, the differences in the choreography presented by these two companies was profound.
Hammond presented two works, The Line (2015) and The Collective (2016), which place us in very different environments with the use of sets and props, but she does not explore or offer a wide range of movement vocabulary. Christian Beasley, Cody Dylan Berkely, Raymond Ejiofor, Christian Espinel, Jack Vigra Hall, Isaac Huerta and Malachi Middleton make up the all-male cast. They are all beautifully trained dancers and very strong performers who worked extremely hard to try and make Hammond’s choreographic vision become a reality.
The stronger of Hammond’s two works, The Line, includes a large square area bordered off with white elastic or rubber tape and performed to the music of Douglas Hammond, Thomas Yorke and Olafur Arnalds. At times the bare-chested men appear confined or limited to staying inside this area. Further on in the dance they lift the borders with their feet and hands in an attempt to venture outside these constraints. It is unclear exactly what rules, restrictions or lines are not to be crossed, but it is nice to see and feel the energy of seven strong male dancers performing together. Malachi Middleton, who possesses a commanding presence, excels in this dance. His character dares to go against the norm and therefore is ostracized, punished and banished by his peers.
The Collective is simply too long and the many sections appear to be a collective of unrelated ideas. This work comes across as a reason for Hammond to create movement in and out of a battered wooden structure, to make static poses and formations with poles and beautiful masks by Ashley Castillo and Joseph Umali Fernandez, and for the performers to utilize illuminated head pieces. The seven men were extremely professional and they did an amazing job at trying to make sense of this piece. It was wonderful to watch them perform but Hammond needs to help them out by clarifying her vision and editing out the moments where dancers seem to be simply filling up time in the music with extraneous movement. Lighting Designer Brandon Baruch tends to create dark worlds for Hammond; too dark at times to see the movement clearly. The open wing areas featured in both works give the feeling of spaciousness, but it also distracts from the work as theater’s crew members move about doing their job.
“Black Lives Matter!” This is the theme of Lula Washington’s Search for Humanism (2015). Performed to live music by Marcus L. Miller, it is a meaningful, timely and powerful work aided by the magnificent performances of Queala Clancy, Tehran Dixon, Chris Frazier, Shonnita Johnson, Jack Virga Hall, Krystal Hicks and Michael Tomlin III. We see the anguish caused from the loss of loved ones who are senselessly slaughtered by those in power as they attempt to dehumanize and control the Black population. This is one of Washington’s strongest creations of her most recent works. The cries of “STOP” are still echoing throughout my being.
The apple did not fall far from the tree when it comes to Tamica Washington-Miller’s talents as a choreographer. She has found her own choreographic voice while maintaining the roots that she grew as a lead dancer with the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Together (2011) opens with a touching and, at times, humorous duet. Raymond Ejiofor and Krystal Hicks brought life to these two characters and we care about them immediately. After a disastrous event separates the two lovers, we follow their search to be reunited. Performed to live music by Marcus L. Miller, Together is a commanding work enhanced by dynamic performances from Ejiofor and Hicks.
The evening closed with an amazing show of brilliant dancing performed by the entire company. It was straight out dancing that was so much fun it felt almost wicked. Lula Washington has given her dance artists a vehicle to cut loose and show us what they are made of as dancers and how much they love doing it. Washington’s fusion of dance styles in GLOBAL VILLAGE (2010) causes the audience to dance in their seats and to jump to their feet with thunderous applause before the dancing actually ended. She makes beautiful use of the Kimono-like costumes that she conceived herself and we see and feel her wonderful musicality to the music by Fela Kuti. Michael David Ricks also deserves mention for his gift as a Lighting Designer. His work stands out, but does not disrupt the choreographer’s vision. Ricks lighting excels because he remains a true collaborative artist.