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Choreographer Kevin Williamson took three bare white walls, three dancers, three video projectors and a music score to create a totally riveting evening of art. TROPHY was presented by Human Resources LA which was founded in 2010 by a group of artists who “seek to broaden engagement with contemporary and conceptual art.”  Williamson definitely succeeded doing so with TROPHY. The hour long work flew by like a lighting flash, and yet it drew the audience in to experience every second fully.

Kevin Williamson's TROPHY - Photo by Rafael Hernandez
Kevin Williamson’s TROPHY – Photo by Rafael Hernandez

Human Resources LA’s performance area is a very spacious room with a cement floor and a really high ceiling. For TROPHY the audience was positioned on one side with three video projectors grouped together downstage center in close proximity with the audience. Each projector was focused on one of the three blank walls. Blank yes, but soon to come alive with the extraordinary Video Art by Cari Ann Shim Sham*. The large windowless room was quickly filled to capacity with the energy and precision of three gifted dance artists Barry Brannum, Jasmine Jawato and Kevin Le. For the first half of TROPHY they were dressed head to ankle in all white sweat cloths and black athletic shoes. The opening movement is percussive, repetitive and in total unison. A precision that the dancers strongly maintain throughout the hour. After shedding their white uniforms to reveal boxer-like outfits, the cast gets to take a very brief but much deserved hydration break. They quickly return without a single lapse in energy that they exhibited throughout the previous half of the production.

The three walls are sometimes covered with projections of different sizes and shaped trophies, tall human figures which appear to be drawings but suddenly come alive to move into different tableaux-like formations. There is also ever-changing pastel and primary color patterns that completely cover the walls like kaleidoscopes, strobe lights or rapid moving strips of light. The projectors are so expertly positioned that there is absolutely no overlap of the projections at the wall’s corners.

Kevin Le, Jasmine Jawato, Barry Brannum in TROPHY - Photo by Rafael Hernandez
Kevin Le, Jasmine Jawato, Barry Brannum in TROPHY – Photo by Rafael Hernandez

Williamson’s choreography is athletic at times, filled with contemporary movement, and laced with Contact Improvisation-like partnering. Then suddenly he throws in phrases that are reminiscent of flashy commercial dance. The performers convey straight forward personae then seamlessly shift into exaggerated stereotype gay walks and poses. Paper masks of the dancers’ faces are used to represent the public face people present to the world in an attempt to hide their true feelings or to not expose personal insecurities.  The movements that Williamson has brought to this work feel universal at times, but some might be recognizable only to dancers or those who work with them. Through his choreography, Williamson demonstrates the tension between competitors, how they support each other or how they sometimes work to undercut a rival.

TROPHY takes a look at the competitiveness of human activities. Dancers vying for the trophy of competitive commercial dance, or seeing who has the highest leg extension. There is a runner who is working hard not to fail during a meet and a woman struggling with her urge to succumb to failure.  But, Williamson’s TROPHY is so much more than that. His work highlights the internal struggle of the human spirit. The trophies represent individual triumphs as well as social ones. It brings to light the sweat, tears, humor and camaraderie we experience while trying to excel at whatever it is we attempt to do in life. There is a wonderful moment near the end when there is a projection of trophies lined up on the back wall. When some of them begin to topple, one realizes that underneath those trophies lies a human figure. The figure struggles to work his way from underneath the weight of those symbols of victory in order to live a life without external or superficial approval.

The music of Jeepneys is driving and rich with content. Lighting Designer Katelan Braymer and Production Coordinator Amy Oden manage to bring all of these visual elements together into one outstanding whole. Nothing here is left unfinished. No detail is ignored. The choreography, the performances, the videos, music and the lighting are beautifully rehearsed and developed to near perfection.

Williamson’s choreography for TROPHY is strong and would succeed on its own, but when presented in conjunction with the other artists who collaborated with him, it is a totally fulfilling, intelligent and exciting work of art. Through the use of the projections, and the shadows cast by the performers, three figures become nine moving about the space. Near the end those same three figures slowly multiply into just over twenty by the appearance of seven figures on each of the three walls. In the end, however, there is but one exhausted figure left seated on the side. The trophies are gone.  They were mere objects that symbolized a single, fleeting moment of triumph.

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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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