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Two dance companies, The TL Collective and WHYTHBERG, joined creative forces to present JACK, a tribute to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson at the new Los Angles dance venue known as Parish. Run by dancer/choreographer Chris Bordenave, Parish is a 1500 sq. ft. artist’s space with a loft with exposed brick and concrete walls that is available for rehearsals, bookings and intimate performances. Recording artist Mayer Hawthorne has rehearsed there. No)one. Art House has performed at Parish, as have the music groups Sensational Bobbi, Alé Von Allure, Quiñ, and Mayanicol + Sudan Archives.

Choreographers Micaela G. Taylor, Laura Berg, and Gracie Whyte chose to work with several well-known songs by Michael Jackson, including one from his early years with The Jackson Five. There were brief movement references to Jackson artfully displayed throughout JACK, including his iconic moon walk and the famous photo of him dancing with a gloved hand on his hat, but the movement truly belonged to Taylor, Whyte and Berg. Taylor’s signature style was prominent, but woven beautifully together with the strong work of Whyte and Berg.

The Parish is small, but JACK incorporated every inch of available space. One by one the dancers, costumed in all black, entered down a flight of wooden stairs, crossed the space performing short solos that introduced each of their personal performance styles. The beautiful Charissa Kroeger began the parade of dancers and it ended with the tall, incredible Micaela G. Taylor, whose body isolation leaves one breathless.

(L to R) Micaela Taylor, Carissa Kroeger, Gracie Whyte, Laura Berg in JACK – Photo by Jobel Medina

As is the case with some of this new breed of LA choreographers choosing or being forced to present their work in alternative spaces, the audience was moved back and forth by the performers. In this case, from the Parish waiting area into the studio. Following a very nice duet between Whyte and Berg, the audience was guided into the studio space to view Sam McReynolds perform upstairs in front of two glass windows. Unfortunately, where stood determined how much of the solo one saw. I only managed to see an arm here, a leg there or McReynolds dancing past the windows. Directed back into the waiting area, we were treated to a quartet by Taylor, Kroeger, Whyte and Berg connected like the body sections of a centipede before they split apart to fill up the studio space with dancing that tested their strength and flexibility. There were amazing twists on the floor that flipped their bodies over and up to their feet, incorporating Taylor’s popping style but utilizing each woman’s individual way of moving. They were followed by a strong trio of men danced wonderfully by Sam McReynolds, Montay Romero and Cody Brunelle-Potter that filled the performance space with energy.

Taylor performed a quirky, but touching solo to the Jackson Five’s Rockin’ Robin. We were shered back into the studio and Montay Romero performed upstairs behind the windows to the lyrics and music from Jackson’s hit movie Thriller. Again, it depended on where one stood, and again my sightline was hindered by the limited viewing spots. Frankly, the sound was so loud that it destroyed any appreciation of the music and I ended up covering my ears until the torture stopped.

The second half of the program began with the audience standing throughout the Parish space while seven dancers moved separately, in unison, or periodically freezing in a movement pose. Here, one could see almost everything, or if not, focus on one or two individual performers. The results was quite wonderful. This transitioned into a striking trio with Kroeger, Whyte and Berg performing in front of three mirrors placed in one corner of the studio. They performed close together, shifting in and out of moving tableaus while the audience stood nearby. The mirrors helped create a sense of theater in the round, allowing one to see them from all angles.

There was an enjoyable and quietly athletic duet between Cody Brunelle-Potter and Sam McReynolds, before all seven performers made a brief appearance that dissolved into a final duet between Carissa Kroeger and Sam McReynolds. Kroeger’s technique and control is incredible. She executes movement with an amazing ease, melting into the floor or moving through positions like liquid mercury, but she can suddenly hold an extension or balance with astonishing strength. McReynolds, who is also a very strong talent, makes an excellent partner for Kroeger.

JACK was filled with wonderful choreography and amazing performances, but the Parish space is too small a venue for these very powerful artists. Part of the audience had to stand while others sat on the floor in front of them, or everyone stood in a group, filling up the studio. The sightlines were sometimes obstructed and the dancers appeared confined; the freedom of their movements seemed severely restricted like wild animals inside a small cage. Again, the very talented cast of JACK included Micaela G. Taylor, Carissa Kroeger, Laura Berg, Gracie Whyte, Sam McReynolds, Montay Romero and Cody Brunelle-Potter.

The volume levels seemed quite high at times; far higher than an experienced sound engineer could possibly want to subject an audience to. I was near a speaker and was often in audible pain. At those levels, the music seemed to crash against the walls and slam back into one’s eardrums, distorting the lyrics and causing one’s innards to vibrate.

Katelan Braymer did a beautiful job of literally changing the look, feel and depth of the Parish space with her lighting, and the sleek and sensual costume designs were very flattering to the dancers.

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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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