Megill & Company (MeCo) presented 5 works at John Pennington’s ARC with guest choreographer Teresa Heiland and guest performances by Hexagon Dance Collective. MeCo was founded in 2002 by Beth Megill and her sister Heather Reba. Together they create, produce and perform modern dance and musical theatre productions. Both Megill and Heiland are well grounded in Dance Education while continuing to be creative dance artists on a non-professional level. Megill teaches different dance styles at Moorpark College and she is the current Co President of the California Dance Education Association (CDEA) for Southern California. Heiland is an Associate Professor at Loyola Marymount University focusing on pedagogy, dance wellness, composition, Laban Movement Analysis and much more.

Calgon by Teresa Heiland - Photo by Beth Megill
Calgon by Teresa Heiland – Photo by Beth Megill

The program began with a light duet choreographed by Heiland titled Calgon (1996). Performed beautifully by Erin Sofley and Karissa Smith, Heiland looks at how people spend their time and energy on looking good. Each dancer takes turns becoming a chair or sofa for the other to sit on while primping. The movement phrases are designed to put focus on the two characters’ preoccupation with grooming and presenting a pretty face to the world. Calgon is a very well-constructed work and a nice opening dance for the program. Adding to the mood of this sometimes-humorous dance was the music of Eubie Blake, Andy Razaf, Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian.

Annie Chung, Karissa Smith, Natasha Wolfe in Dance for Peace by Beth Megill
Annie Chung, Karissa Smith, Natasha Wolfe in Dance for Peace by Beth Megill

Choreographed by Megill and performed by Annie Chung, Karissa Smith and Natasha Wolfe, Dance for Peace seeks healing for the world’s turmoil. With hands over their hearts the dancers move almost spiritually in unison before breaking apart, only to reunite with the same sense of reverence. It is a short dance which manages to send a much-needed message, world and inner peace. The music for Dance for Peace was an interesting vocal score by Beth Megill that added greatly to creating the atmosphere for her work.

Hexagon Dance Collective - Photo by Colbert Davis
Hexagon Dance Collective – Photo by Colbert Davis

Six women who met while studying dance at Loyola Marymount University have joined forces to form the exciting Hexagon Dance Collective. Presenting two very different but equally strong works, Hexagon Dance Collective shows great promise and it is a company to watch for. Both works, Proxemics and Excerpt 1 were performed and choreographed by all six members; a true collective. These gifted women include Brigitte Axelrode, Sam Blaz, Anna Chorneyko, Tina Dossa, Kathleen Kenny and Gigi Todisco. They are strong dancers and collectively, good choreographers.

Proxemics is a powerful work that incorporates repetitive unison to drive home its message. The definition of proxemics is “the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel it necessary to set between themselves and others”. Proxemics demonstrates this in unison movement that borders on being robotic before it splinters off into more individuality and back again. The score by someone else + mistake helps lead the dancers forward to deliver their message. There is a sense of urgency to this work; it is as if their time is limited.

Excerpt 1 uses a very different choreographic intent to express a somewhat similar message. Here outside forces come together to mold and influence others. We see a person literally moved into different poses by the other five before one by one they are all absorbed into the fold. Unlike their previous work, Hexagon uses stillness with deliberate and directed physical contact to unify their world. Once everyone has come together, however, the society breaks down, leaving the original person behind and unchanged. The music for Excerpt 1 is an atmospheric score by the German-born British composer Max Richter who have been influential in the post-minimalist music genre since the early 2000s.

The program closed with a work by Teresa Heiland that took a very different approach to the use of Labanotation; a system or method and language for describing, visualizing, interpreting and documenting all varieties of human movement that was created by dancer Rudolf Laban (1879-1958). Normally one uses Labanotation to record a dance that has already been created. In her work titled Tethered, Heiland has reversed that process, using the Labanotation symbols to choreograph a new work. It is an intellectually interesting and complex work that caused me to wonder how much “chance” also played in the making of this piece.

Language of Dance Motif Notation Score by Teresa Heiland
Language of Dance Motif Notation Score by Teresa Heiland

Using five or six dancers from the audience and six pre-set commands, Heiland gave a very abbreviated demonstration on her process. The six commands included Start in a Shape, Travel, Spring, Stillness, Quick Turn to the Right and finally a Slow Turn to the Left. Each dancer created their own shape, traveled wherever they chose, and so on. When completed, there were six individual variations of the given instructions. Per the program, Tethered is “a dance made from motif notation scores conceived by Teresa Heiland and Rachael Riggs Leyva.” Those motifs included Refrain, Hitch-a-ride, Zones, Tether Duets, Action Recycling, Refrain, Shape Recycling and Refrain. Heiland stated that she will be publishing a paper on her process, to be presented next year at a conference in Beijing.

Heiland shared that her work Tethered examines the many ways in which we are connected, including physically, emotionally, and spatially. The dance begins with all 12 women clapping in rhythm before they move together into a circle. They then break apart, form groups, share phrases and return to the circle only to break off again into lines. The work is a bit academic and one can see and follow the results of Heiland’s earlier demonstration, but the dance has also taken on a humanistic life beyond that process. The twelve women, of varying technical levels, who took part in this journey are Annie Chung, Katilyn Desautels, Jennifer Jimenez, Tess Listick, Michelle Peters, Karissa Smith, Erin Sofley, Alli Sulka, Amy Vaillancourt, Amanda Wilson, Natasha Wolfe, and Shira Zaid. The exciting and often joyous music score for Tethered was by composer, songwriter and vocalist Dina Maccabee. The unifying costumes were by Cynthia Megill.

The ARC (A Room to Create) is a beautiful studio equipped with the basic of lighting equipment. The Lighting Design for the entire production was artfully executed by Allen Clark, who managed in this non-theater setting to create a separate environment for each of the five works.

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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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