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The Music Center Launches Moves After Dark– Unable to attend opening night of Moves After Dark at the Los Angeles Music Center, I went a week later to the July 20, 2015 performance.  As I picked up my ticket at the Will Call table in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, I was given a yellow wristband and told to meet my group in a designated area at around 8:15 pm.  I looked around to see other audience members also wearing bands and learned that there were three groups; A, B and C.  Each group was instructed to stay together.  My group; I’ll call it the “yellow group” was led by three very nice staff members to four specific performance areas around the Music Center and the Walt Disney Music Hall.

The Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance Series has been sponsoring dance for several years, but this was a new adventure for the organization that was spearheaded by Williams Niles, vice president of programming for The Music Center.  As their press release stated, “The Music Center will ‘break down the walls’ of the conventional concert dance stage with The Music Center Presents Moves After Dark, a new site-specific series that juxtaposes contemporary dance performances with architecture and space.”  This is hardly a new concept, but it is the launching of a new series for the Glorya Kaufman Present Dance at the Music Center. Four very talented, accomplished and award winning choreographers were featured on the program and I will review them in the order that my group, the “yellow group”, saw them.  Notably, all four companies represented on this new series are headed by women.

At 8:30 pm our group was led into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Founder’s Room for the performance of Ate9 Dance Company – Kelev Lavan.  Choreographed by six dancers who were also performing, these six short dances were coordinated, edited and created an “ongoing installation for each loop of the performance” by the company’s Artistic Director Danielle Agami.  Agami was born in Israel and was a member of the Batsheeva Dance Company from 2002 to 2010.  She was the Artistic Director of Batsheeva Dance Company for two years and received the Yair Shapira Prize for Excellence in Dance in 2009.  A senior manager of Gaga U.S.A., a specialized dance training technique, Agami relocated to America in 2011.  After living and working in New York City and Seattle, Washington, she moved her company to Los Angeles in 2013.

We were told to find a seat on the Founder’s Lounge numerous chairs and couches and then immediately instructed to change our seating by Agami barking out instructions through a bull horn.  As I sat in my second seat and looked at the dancers sprawled out on a couch, I immediately thought of the 2013 Cosmopolitan Hotel Las Vegas commercial titled “Just the Right Amount of Wrong”.  The dancers looked like spoiled rich people overindulging themselves in decadence. Two dancers wore dog collars attached by a thin chain; two were attached from one’s mouth to the other’s chin by what appeared to be some type of tape and the cast of seven were dressed in white semi-underwear apparel.  Cards were stuck on different parts of each other’s body; food was fed to each other and the dog collars were exchanged to different dancers during the fifteen plus minutes performance.  Dancers moved around, over and between furniture in the room; up on top of the long bar at one end and three dancers moved an audience member still seated in his chair from one area of the room to another. There were moments of wonderful “dancing”; solos, duets, etc., but much of the performance felt like self-indulgent improvisation.  Perhaps that was the point; society’s self-indulgence.  The one dancer who stood out for me was Micaela Taylor who performed an extraordinary solo down the center of the room.  The other dancers included Ariana Daub, Sarah Butler, Thibaut Eiferman (the only male), Genna Moroni, Rebecah Goldstone and Danielle Agami.  I looked up the Hebrew meaning of Kelev Lavan and what I came up with was “White Dog.”  Seems fitting considering the white costumes and collars.  (Costume Designer and Composer not listed in the Press Release.)

Our “Yellow Group” was led next to the pool area in front of the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center for wade in el agua choreographed by Ana Maria Alvarez.  Although Alvarez is the founder/artistic director of CONTRA-TIEMPO, the dancers in this work were not her current company members but it did include former ones.  Sadly, for me, there was no listing of the dancers’ names in the press release.  It did state, however, that Alvarez is “currently in the process of building Agua Furiosa” into an evening-long work for her company CONTRA-TIEMPO, which will “challenge audiences to confront the harsh realities of race and water in the United States.”

Alvarez is a Cuban-American choreographer who has received many awards including Mujeres Destacadas from La Opinión, the Durfee Foundation Artist Award and Brooklyn Arts Exchange Artist’s in Progress Award.  She has studied modern, Afro-Cuban (Folklorico) and Afro-Haitian techniques and formed CONTRA-TIEMP in 2005.

wade in el agua opened with the incredible Magaly “La Voz de Oro” singing live and later included text from Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, 1966 and from a letter written in 1854 by Chief Seattle (Si’ahl), recorded music by d. sabela grimes and Dramaturgy by Michael Garces.  Magaly “La Voz de Oro”’s voice continued to enchant and haunt us throughout this piece of eight women performing beautiful stylized movements alongside pedestrian-like movements that expressed fear, anger and struggle.  At one point a very noisy helicopter flew overhead and an image appeared before me of immigrants trying to hide from view while wading in the middle of a bordering river. The movements that these dancers executed were not easy in the shallow pond in front of the Mark Taper Forum. I am certain that they can dance more technically difficult dance phrases, but Alvarez’s choreography got her message across beautifully.  The dancers were Jocelyn Adame, Stephanie Ballena, Leanna Bremond, Sarah Culberson, Jennie Gonzalez, Sandra Parra, Jocelyn Reyes and Maya Zellman.

Next the “Yellow Group” followed its leaders across Music Center Plaza, down some stairs and across the street to the exterior steps that lead into the Walt Disney Concert Hall to see the Lulu Washington Dance Theatre.  The Los Angeles-based Lulu Washington Dance Theatre was founded in 1980 and has become one of the most admired and respected African American contemporary dance companies, not only in Los Angeles, but in the entire western United States.  Message for My Peeps (The Message/Installation #5 – 2011) was choreographed by Associate Director Tamica Washington-Miller and according to Washington-Miller this work found its inception after the mortgage bubble burst in the United States in 2008 and after other struggles of the Black community were brought to light nationally.  Her quote in the Press Release includes: “The things we thought were true were lies.  People were killed over lies.  People had had enough.” 

Performed to music by Jimi Hendrix, Meshell Ndegeocello, Nas & Damian and Yo-Yo Ma; a poem by Jennifer Bowens, as well as a video designed by New Media Imaging, Message for My Peeps is about far more serious issues than homes in foreclosure.  It is about the struggles of minorities, black men and the hope of a better future for the younger, particularly the Black generations to follow.  Our first image is of a beautiful young girl sitting on the stairs looking forward.  She is soon joined by an angel-like figure and through a pantomime of loving gestures the child is given guidance and, I feel, wisdom learned from the past to help her design a better path forward.  The entire cast of the Lulu Washington Dance Theatre performed magnificently navigating the stairs and railings.   It is a powerful company of dancers and the section that we were treated to on Monday night makes this reviewer want to see more of Washington-Miller’s work.  It is full of drama, black struggles, despair, turmoil and hope; the latter being what we were left with.  Hope for all.

Back to The Music Center Plaza, we were directed to stand around three sides of a large, wooden and brightly lit yellow sculpture by Gustavo Godoy, a Los Angeles artist who received his MFA from Vermont College.  All three groups (yellow, orange and green) converged for this final performance of the night titled Restructure choreographed by Victor Quijada for BODYTRAFFIC.  Quijada has worked with acclaimed companies such as THARP!, Ballet Tech, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal; and created his own dance company, Rubberband Dance Group, in 2002.

BODYTRAFFIC, founded in 2007, is led by Artistic Directors Lillian Barbeito and Tina Berkett. Restructure was Co-commission by The Music Center and Dance Camera West.  Hailed by The Joyce Theater Foundation as “the company of the future” and listed in Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch in 2013, the company is highly regarded here and internationally.  Frankly, after all this hype, I was very disappointed in the section of the work that was presented on this series.  Yes, the sculpture is beautiful!  Yes, the dancers are highly trained and accomplished performers.  But much of the first three or four minutes of this dance was spent watching the performers creep around the sculpture seemingly searching for something that intrigued and/or frightened them.   The cast then ran around and climbed in and out of the tangled, maze-like sculpture pushing and pulling each other on different levels of the structure. The highlight was a beautiful, if somewhat manipulative duet on the center “platform” of Godoy’s sculpture which worked well with the powerful score by Jasper Gahunia. I look forward to hearing more of his work.  AT the end of this work, however, I was left with a feeling of being let down or cheated. The three other works on this night felt complete, even when they were excerpts or a section of a larger dance work. It felt like the audience had been given a guided tour of the sculpture, but I did not see the point of the dance.  Perhaps Restructure must be seen in its entirety.

Moves After Dark was a fantastic concept by Williams Niles and I hope that it becomes an annual event at the Music Center.  What we were treated to was definitely a dynamic debut flight.  A big bravo goes out to The Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance, the four choreographers and to all the dancers, designers and composers for a wonderful evening.  Thanks also to our lovely staff guides!

Photo credits:  Lead photo, Alvarez’s wade in el agua; Ate9’s Kelev Lavan; Lulu Washington Dance Theatre’s Message for My Peeps and BODYTRAFFIC’s Reconstruct by Heather Toner.

Learn more about Jeff Slayton at www.jeffslayton.org

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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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