Sean Green was a Principal dancer with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company for 20 years, and he was one of this country’s finest dancers. Now in his late sixties, Sean Green has formed a new company of his own titled, Shieldwall. According to Daisy Mohrman, company who doubles as dancer and Company Manager, “The name “Shieldwall” refers to the shield wall, a pre-modern military tactic used by the Greeks, Romans, Vikings, etc. Sean believes that there can be no person or detail overlooked in a company, that the shield wall is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Presenting The Family of Man at Highways this week end, the program consistes of five very different dance works without intermission. What these dances had in common, however, is that they all investigated different aspects of the human existence: death and dying, our relationship to nature, infidelity, coming of age and love. Green’s choreography is what some would reference as “old modern dance” because his work is about emotions. It is not abstract in the sense of postmodern dance or the avant-garde. Green isn’t afraid of expressing feelings through his work and he has gathered together a dedicated group of young dancers who, in spite of a very small audience opening night, performed like they were at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with a sold out house.

Shieldwall in rehearsal = Photo by Marylouise McGraw
Shieldwall in rehearsal = Photo by Marylouise McGraw

The Last Breath performed to a beautiful score by Arvo Pärt examines the process of dying, saying goodbye and its effects on those we love. It is dramatic and the end borders on the spiritual, but performers Samuel DeAngelo, Leslie Duner, Natalie Harber, Kaycee Jannino, Daisy Mohrman, Norma Phillips, Nicholas Shopoff, Charlotte Katherine Smith, and Jake Waiblinger help keep it real with honest, straight-forward dancing and by not over-acting.

5 Women with Big Balls (rehearsal) - Photo by Marylouise McGraw
5 Women with Big Balls (rehearsal) – Photo by Marylouise McGraw

From its title one assumes that 5 Women with Big Balls is going to a humorous piece. Not at all! This dance is fun to watch because of the movement these five women accomplish on very large green exercise balls, but 5 Women with Big Balls is where Green comes closest to creating an abstract dance. It still exhibits frustration and anger. I have to say there are a few times when these fearless women executed grande jetes (large leaps) without ever loosing contact with the balls that, as a dancer, made me smile. Performed to the amazing vocals of Meredith Monk and in beautiful costumes by Diana MacNeil, 5 Women with Big Balls was a hit with the audience. I do think that Green should have a more professional copy of the Meredith Monk score made to fix the ending.

I reviewed Betrayals at the 2016 LA Dance Festival and was glad to see that it has matured. It has also been rehearsed and I was no long concern for the dancers’ safety. With an original score by Brian Wood, Betrayals takes on the consequences of infidelity. Leslie Duner gives a powerful performance showing us the pain of being betrayed and the strength gained by refusing to accept her lover’s actions.

Final duet from Famiglia del Enferno (1995) is not one of Green’s strongest works. It is a overly dramatic look at a young girl reaching womanhood and finding love. Performed to music by Puccini, Samuel DeAngelo and Daisy Mohrman give strong performances.

Bells for the Blind (rehearsal) - Photo by Marylouise McGraw
Bells for the Blind (rehearsal) – Photo by Marylouise McGraw

The program closed with Bells for the Blind performed to the music of Ravel, arranged by Nick Wagner. In this work Green shows us how love is love. It is a very timely work because we see a woman discovering their love for another woman, a man for another man and a heterosexual pair also falling in love. Green shows if we open our eyes to what is real and not just what is expected, we can find happiness.

Martha Carter deserves mention for her lighting design and Diana MacNeil for her beautiful costumes. Shieldwall has two more performances at Highways and, as Sean Green said last night during a Q&A session, go and support live performances.

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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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