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The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts held a weekend-long free WelcomeFest to help jump-start its 2016/2017 season. The entire center was open to the public and buzzing with activity. The long list of artists and performers included works by the Tony Award-nominated director and artist-in-residence Michael Arden, and LA-based contemporary dance group Jacob Jonas The Company.

I attended much of Saturday’s events and while walking through the Center I came across performers improvising in hallways, cafés and outdoor spaces. I stood and watched a beautiful Geisha performing a fan dance. Poet Jacqueline Suskin sat in the lobby most of the day at a table marked “Poem Store” typing poetry on an ancient typewriter. There were performances by the Beverly Hills High School Marching Band, the Forshay Jazz Band, and the Praizum Gospel Choir. I watched a beautiful woman in a bright green dress perform while seated at a table in the Center’s glassed-in café. She also reacted physically with small children who placed their hands on the glass like kids interacting with large fish at an aquarium or animals at the zoo. They appeared fascinated by this mysterious beauty with fiery red hair who was willing to spend time with them.

Debbie Allen Dance Academy in "Chicago" - Photo by Lee Tonks
Debbie Allen Dance Academy in “Chicago” – Photo by Lee Tonks

Outside on the Promenade Terrace there was a wonderful and high-spirited performance by tap dancers Melinda Sullivan and Sarah Reich, members of the group The Sole Sisters, to recorded jazz and classical music. Next was a terrific performance of the Cell Block Tango from the Tony Award winning musical Chicago by members of The Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s Ensemble. Members of both groups later taught a short dance class to willing visitors. I saw children and adults of all ages participating.

The Wallis WelcomeFest - Melinda Sullivan and Sarah Reich - Photo by Shadow Dragu-Mihai
The Wallis WelcomeFest – Melinda Sullivan and Sarah Reich – Photo by Shadow Dragu-Mihai

Tucked away in a side, outdoor hallway was a young performer whose costume was reminiscent of Rene Magritte’s The Son of Man; equipped with black clothes, red tie, Bowler hat, and a green apple. He performed in a chair facing a window that looked into one of the Center’s hallways, and later moved about reciting words that I was unable to clearly understand due to all the ambient sounds around him. I was fascinated by his performance and stood watching him for several minutes. He was part of the “movement theater and dance performances inspired by the textures and lights of the building, choreographed by Madeleine Dahm and featuring students from GRoW @ The Wallis’ The Art of Choreography class”, which took place throughout the campus.

Jacob Jonas The Compay - Photo by Zachary Alexopulos
Jacob Jonas The Compay – Photo by Zachary Alexopulos

The highlight of the day for this reviewer of dance was a duet designed specifically for the Center’s Sculpture Garden by Los Angeles based choreographed Jacob Jonas. The yet untitled duet was performed on three landings that led from the Promenade Terrace down to the Sculpture Garden. Jonas used not only the flat landings, but he expertly incorporated partnering on the cement stairways. This engaging work was beautifully performed by two members of Jonas’ company, Jill Wilson and Ron Myles. Dancing outdoors, on cement and in the bright sunlight is not the best of conditions, but these two made it look easy. Jonas wisely chose a strong, urban-evoking score titled The End by Bobby Krlic that added power and depth to his work. Jacob Jonas The Company will be presented by the Wallis in the Bram Goldsmith Theatre on January 13, 2017.

Other artists included on WelcomeFest were Matthew Bourne, KCRW’s Aaron Byrd, Syncopated Ladies, Tutu Sweeney, Portrait Artist/Calligrapher Emily J. Snyder, Historic Los Angeles Video Installation by Gina Marie Napolitan, Harold Lloyd Film Screening with Pianist Michael D. Mortilla and an ASL Storytelling Hour.

There was interactive art for children and adults, food trucks were parked nearby and beverages were sold. It was a spectacular weekend designed to entertain and to educate.

See the incredible line-up of dance companies coming to the Wallis in 2016/2017 at TheWallis.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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