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The Nancy Evans Dance Theatre presented WORKS 2017 at the ARC in Pasadena, featuring choreography by Jenn Logan, Ashleigh Doede and Nancy Evans Doede. The all-woman cast explored a wide range of subjects including futuristic humanoids, loss, obsession and territorial conflict. Nancy Evans Doede possesses a wonderful sense of theater and form, and her production values are always excellent even in a venue like the versatile ARC. A Room to Create, run by the Pennington Dance Group in Pasadena, operates as a studio for classes and rehearsals while providing a welcoming, affordable space for small companies to showcase their work.

“Automata” by Jenn Logan – Photo by Roger Martin Holman

Jenn Logan is member of the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre and a guest choreographer. Her most recent piece AUTOMATA peers into the life of a human-like robot questioning its existence. The work is set to a beautiful and haunting cello score, with costumes that help to create the characters. Bright red puckered lips give the six A.I.s a genuine man-made appearance. Ashleigh Doede is perfect as the robot that cannot come to terms with having human features without being truly alive. She tries to spread her fingers, only to have them snap back into mechanic, paddle-like hands. The other five robots see the struggle and begin to question who or what they are. AUTOMATA feels unfinished. It ends abruptly without solving the robot’s dilemma. The cast includes Katrina Amerine, Noel Dilworth, Ashleigh Doede, Jen Hunter, Karina Jones and Natalie Kramer.

Jenn Logan in her work “I Leave You With This” – Photo by Roger Martin Holman

I Leave You With This is a reflective piece choreographed and performed by Jenn Logan that explores the effects of loss. It is not clear if this is the end of a relationship or if she is grieving the death of a spouse, but the reason is not necessary to feel her pain. Logan is wonderful performer. Dancing without the support of music or sets, all eyes are focused solely on her, and Logan holds the stage.

“Slip” by Ashleigh Doede – Photo by Roger Martin Holman

SLIP is an emotionally taut work exploring the struggles of maintaining control of driving urges and the consequences of relapse. Slip is a term used in recovery programs to describe a relapse back into addiction after having achieved sobriety, but it can apply to losing control in any situation. Choreographer Ashleigh Doede uses the costumes to depict restraint and the loss it. Having bright colored underwear underneath the bland colored sweaters and skirts is an inventive idea. The three women are united in their aspirations to find serenity, and when one slips, the others rally in support. In this work, however, the lure of the desire is too strong. SLIP feels long, but it is a good work performed skillfully by Katrina Amerine, Jen Hunter and Jenn Logan.

“Slip” by Ashleigh Doede – Photo by Roger Martin Holman

In a previous review, I challenged choreographer Nancy Evans Doede to move beyond her creative comfort zone. With TERRITORIES, Doede not only accepted my challenged, she exceeded my expectations. Using a very cleverly designed set by James Doede, she has created two competing societies.

The work is presented in eleven sections. The opening, titled Closing, establishes how the two societies have grown to mistrust one another. It goes on to define each community, show confrontation, the consequences of conflict and a new beginning. TERRITORIES is a timely work, but it is more than a political statement. Doede has made a work that takes a delving examination into humanity with all its flaws and strengths. In Friends, two women (performed by Katrina Amerine and Noel Dilworth) from opposing sides seek a forbidden friendship. Searchlights scan the area to make sure no one escapes or transgresses. A war breaks out, people die while others become refugees seeking asylum. Doede retains hope for humanity by demonstrating how peace is achievable through compromise. In a final show of optimism, Doede titles the last section of her work Opening.

TERRITORIES is a new work and the intervals between sections need to be greatly tightened, unison phrases rehearsed and movement memorized by one or two dancers. This new piece by Nancy Evans Doede is, however, an powerful work that time and rehearsal will only improve.

The excellent lighting design for WORKS 2017 is by Azra King-Abadi.

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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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