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Nate Hodges enjoys telling a story and, for the most part, he manages to do so extremely well. His company RhetOracle Dance Company presented FRIGHTFUL THINGS at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater in Long Beach, October 24th and 25th just in time for Halloween. The stories included a woman being buried alive, the Fates cutting short a musician’s life, torture, a haunted house, a serial killer and more. Each of the nine stories were introduced by a clever Master of Ceremonies, Death. With inventive, and often humorous, text by Matthew Davis, Nate Hodges and Kerry Hennessey the role of Death was performed with great energy and spirit by Matthew Davis.

The opening work, fearLESS, choreographed by Rochelle Mapes, began with a slow and somewhat somber solo only to burst open with a stage filled with high energy and moments of beautifully choreographed organized chaos. Performed extremely well by the entire cast of the RhetOracle Dance Company, fearLESS turned out to be the only non-narrative dance on this death and dying themed evening.

I’m Alive took us into the nightmarish scenario of being buried alive. Choreographed by Nate Hodges, I especially enjoyed his imaginative use of a coffin designed by Lynn Hodges. Pallbearers disassembled and reassembled the coffin as its intended occupant struggled to get out. The main character was beautifully danced by Katie Marshall, but her terror was not convincing until her final blood curling scream.

Hodges’ storyline in his work The Fates left me somewhat wanting. It was strongly performed by Rochelle Mapes, Courtney Ozovek and Kristen Volk who each had a short solo to introduce their roles in our lives here on Earth and their ability to control our destiny. The rest of the choreography, however, seemed unconnected to the plot even though it was a good visualization of the music. The Philip Glass score was wonderfully performed live by Nick Petrillo and ended magnificently once the Fates had their way.

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Photo: Nabil Wire

Other strong works on the program included Hodges’ They Had No Idea How Haunted It Was about a family haunted by mulitple ghosts and Hunger based on the tragedy at Donnor Pass Jia Huang’s Undone was also powerful. The narratives held together in all three of these works and I thoroughly enjoyed the inventive costume by Jia Huang in Undone. This imaginative costume/prop definitely helped to illustrate how one’s life can become unraveled by outside forces and how perseverance can help to overcome most challenges.

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Photo: Nabil Wire

Unfortunately, Courtney Ozovek’s Nothing To Fear was simply too long. By the third or fourth death we knew the process and the outcome. That teenage movie has been overdone many times. Nothing To Fear appeared not to be so much choreographed as it was directed.

Nate Hodges has a wonderful choreographic style that incorporates the different forms of dance that he has studied. He chooses his music well and his company’s production values are highly professional. Andrew Wroblowski Palomares is a beautiful dancer and performer, plus he has a great talent for costume design and construction. Lighting Designer Allen Clark did an excellent job realizing the macabre evening of FRIGHTFUL THINGS.

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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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