Misa Kelly is deeply dedicated to the building of community, both in her personal life and in the strengthening of her dance community through an organization called ArtBark International. She is also the Artistic Director of MD Kelly Dances. With TURF, Kelly brings together artists from Santa Barbara, New York and Los Angeles. They include Theatre Artist Ken Gilbert, Composer and musician Gregg Johnson, Pianist/Choreographer Stephen Kelly, and choreographers Mindy Nelson, E. Bonnie Lewis, Barbara Mahler, Misa Kelly, and Rebecca Levy. Rebecca Levy’s work came out of a project with choreographer and Artistic Director Nancy Evans.

TURF was originally scheduled to perform at the Electric Lodge in Venice, CA, but their concert there was abruptly cancelled, forcing Kelly to reach out to the Los Angeles dance community for assistance. Fortunately, the community rallied around her and generously gave of their time and knowledge to help her book TURF at the Pieter Studio. Kelly expressed her heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the LA dance community for their support and generosity.

The program opened with the lively Musical Invocation by Gregg Johnson. Playing on Tabla drums and singing what sometimes sounded like an eastern Indian dialect, English and scat-like vocals ala Ella Fitzgerald, Johnson skillfully wove his music around traditional Indian, Rap, and other more modern Pop rhythms.

Mindy Nelson - Photo by Daniel Wade
Mindy Nelson – Photo by Daniel Wade

Mindy Nelson’s Taut is a very personal dance which appears to mourn the loss of a child due to a miscarriage. Nelson begins sitting on the floor, patiently cutting out a string of dolls from a folded square of red cloth. She then cuts off one of the tiny dolls, placing it in the pocket of a white work-like vest that she is wearing. After pulling a long red elastic band from the center of this well-designed vest, Nelson proceeds to become entangled as she moves across the floor and dances upright. Nelson gave a very moving performance and manages to express a difficult subject with great tenderness and skill.

Choreographer E. Bonnie Lewis - Photo by Robert Salas
Choreographer E. Bonnie Lewis – Photo by Robert Salas

Ken Gilbert then gave a dramatic performance in h AM let, with Direction and Choreography by E. Bonnie Lewis. It was a movement exploration of the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, accompanied by a reading of that text interwoven with pieces of classical music. This work badly needed production elements to provide atmosphere and setting. Kudos to Gilbert, but this was not a memorable work.

Nikki Pfeiffer - Photo by Kathee Miller
Nikki Pfeiffer – Photo by Kathee Miller

Composer and musician Stephen Kelly collaborated with dancers Nikki Pfeiffer and Nicole Powell to create a wonderful duet titled I Never Had a Sister. Danced beautifully by Pfeiffer and Powell, they explore the relationship between two women; possibly close friends who feel like sisters. The dance needed more space for these two terrific movers, but they both rose to the occasion and triumphed. I Never Had a Sister was choreographed to music by Carlos Chavez, Gregg Johnson, W.B. Yeats, Jo-Ellen Bosson and Stephen Kelly. It is a fruitful collaboration and a pleasure to watch.

I was especially moved by the performance of Barbara Mahler in her work titled IT OcCurS to mE.  Performed in silence, Mahler drew us into her introspective world while moving almost totally lying on the floor. Her movements were, at first, static with accents of a hand, head or foot slamming against the surface. She hit thoughtful poses, but they never seemed trite or obvious. Mahler’s was movement that harkened back to an earlier era of Modern Dance, which she performed with great skill and attention. Unlike some, when Mahler finally stood, she proved just as capable dancing upright as she did while executing her floorwork. IT OcCurS to mE was one of the highlights on the program.

Another highlight was Rebecca Levy’s Three tasks for 5 minutes each, once a day, 25 days, a long title for an approximately 10-minute solo. This piece came from a project created by Nancy Evans, the Artistic Director of Nancy Evans Dance Theatre, inspired by her figuring that she would “dedicate exactly five minutes to creating new dance everyday” during her busy schedule. The solo was both rich in “pure movement” and dramatic expression, and beautifully performed by Jenn Logan to Thunders and Lightnings by Ezio Bosso.

Ghost Duet
Ghost Duet

Misa Kelly has been choreographing for over 20 years, performing her work around the globe. The experience shows in the two works, ??? and Ghost Duet. She has a wonderful sense of composition and comedic timing, combined with a clarity of statement. Kelly’s work has the feel of performance art, but it is more than that. If I had to put a label on Kelly’s work, it would be dance/performance art. She uses props such as a roll of tin foil in ??? that she moves across the floor dressed in a party dress, her tongue sliding across the tin foil while she tells a story. It is very funny even without understanding what she is telling us. The tin foil and dress are discarded and replaced with a simple blouse and pants for Kelly to move beautifully in.

Ghost Duet was conceived and choreographed by Trina Mannino. Kelly and Mannino are first seen cocooned in knitted orange, blue and green sacks; one still trailing a ball of yarn. The costumes bring back memories of choreographer Alvin Nikolais.  They conjure up images of insects emerging from their larva stage or spirits raised up from their deathly slumber to remember past lives.

Some of the works presented appeared to be enhanced by the intimacy and informality of the Pieter Studio. Others need the support of a good lighting designer. This, however, is not the fault of Kelly or the choreographers. That responsibility lies at the feet of the venue that acted very unprofessionally by cancelling the engagement just a couple of weeks prior to performance time. Not all the works presented in TURF rose to the professional level, but each had its own charm.


  1. Thank you for playing the vital role of the archivist Jeff. I would like to share the program information for Ghost Duet. Although I contributed to the process, and am listed as collaborator, Ghost Duet was Trina Mannino’s vision. As much as I’d love credit – it belongs to her. Gratitude! Misa Kelly Dances

    ArtBark International
    “In a time when successive generations of technology amplify human presence at distances for greater than the reach of the hand, what becomes the place and form of making at the scale and pace of the individual body?” Artist/Maker Ann Hamilton
    Title: Ghost Duet
    Choreography: Trina Mannino in collaboration with Misa Mandigo Kelly
    Performers: Misa Mandigo Kelly and Trina Mannino
    Music composed by: Stephen Kelly
    Knitted installations: created by Misa Mandigo Kelly
    This work was made possible in part by the Mystic Paper Beasts Dragon’s Egg Residency Program


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