I arrived just as the last audience members filed into the Diavolo Space. Despite the heat, there was a palpable excitement flowing through the audience. A full house awaited the first piece, of the last evening of the Los Angeles Dance Festival. Fans whirred in the background as a lone dancer took her place onstage. Still somewhat lit by the sun pouring through the windows, she reached her arms in the air. As the music began and the single spot fully illuminated her figure, the first piece of the night was already underway.
With the pressure of setting the tone for the evening, no)oneArt House’s presentation of Concrete, signaled a night of fairly solid choreography, with a nice platform for both emerging and established choreographers from the southern California region. Choreographed by Roderick George, we were focused immediately on a dancer pulling and grasping the air. With upward cast eyes, she reached for something unattainable. The slow, Gaga-esque, tension-filled stretching and pulling continued as other dancers slowly appeared. Then a shift: A sharp physical and musical change took over the second half of the piece. A beat dropped, and the song started bumping as the dancers, instead of reaching and yearning, began fighting back against these forces. The grounded dancers stuttered, tugged, chugged, and grooved against whatever they had been originally seeking. Perhaps stuck in repetition, or confined to concrete ideals, the dancers took turns breaking out of the patterns and rejoining the pack.
With the lights fading upon the circling group of dancers, we then quickly transitioned to the next two works by Lula Washington. TURN THE PAGE and an excerpt from Healers, offered two different solos from the established choreographer’s repertoire. Despite being previously danced works (TURN THE PAGE 2013, Healers 2010) by referencing Trayvon Martin’s shooting in the first piece, and a man seeking absolution in the second, together both dances still have extremely poignant and relevant subject matter. I would venture a guess that this is Washington’s own societal critique on the inability for society to move past this page in history, and right the wrongs that have occurred and are still happening presently. I found this choice profound, but thought the choreography somewhat safe. Using Horton modern as the technical base, at times we would be taken out of the narrative because the codified steps would become the focal point of the piece, instead of the message.
The third piece of the evening focused on the beauty of small details within choreography. The Clairobscur Dance Company, danced an excerpt from Laurie Sefton’s soon to premiere full length work Memory Lapse. The piece, originally set to music with the same title by Bryan Curt Kostors, had the happy accident of having their music cutoff a third of the way through the piece. The fans that had been so diligently blowing during the first couple pieces had overheated the sound system, and now we had a silent performance. Sans music the dancers, already too far into the excerpt to stop, continued dancing. Although I would have loved to have heard the music accompaniment, I found the experience really interesting. With the dancing becoming the only avenue to tell their story, the dancers, poised and still very much working together, really shined in their performances. Featuring three dancers, the excerpt contained small, meticulous hand gestures that evoked a sense of preciousness palpably held within their hands. Two of the women spent the majority of the piece on the outer portions of the stage working in tandem, while one lace clad dancer mostly remained center stage dancing apart. Near the end of the piece, just as the two dancers joined the central dancer in the same movement sequence, the music came blasting back through the speakers. Ending perfectly on time, we all couldn’t help but cheer on the dancers and the well-rehearsed choreography for a seamless performance.
With all pieces being fairly serious, Rosanna Gamson’s work in progress, Restless, offered an upbeat alternative as the closing dance of the first half of the evening. The movement both had a sweeping as well as technical feel, with fun moments sprinkled within each section. Reminiscent of the stereotypical “Parisian” tune you might hear played in movies, the first portion of Gamson’s and company’s piece had a funky accordion based music setting the tone of the dance. The playful sounds sent dancers hopping and shooting into the center and sides of the stage. Like no)oneArt House, Gamson opted for a musical change in the latter portion of the piece. The music became jazzier, louder and, at times, overwhelmed the movement at hand. This tension of music versus movement created an interesting battle between the dancers and the sounds they were embodying. Keeping in mind the title of the piece being Restless, seeing the almost complacent beginning, devolve into the more staccato, impatient movements and duet pairings, really solidified the direction in which Gamson and her dancers are heading. I look forward to seeing the culmination of her process in the future.
After a brief intermission, and the fundraising formalities of revealing of who won which raffle prize, we dove right back into one of the most unique pieces of the evening. Originally created for Home LA, Lollieworks, the company founded by choreographer Lindsey Lollie, brought an excerpt from her twenty-minute site-specific piece, The Takers to the Diavolo space. Working within the confines of a long red mat spanning the length of the stage, but only about four feet wide, we watched entranced as two women began the piece by accidentally, then purposefully breaking hardboiled eggs. A mixture of structured improve and set landmarks, danced to a backdrop of a meticulously thought out soundscape, I found myself entranced with each new evolution of the dancers. Seeing Lollie push herself and her co-dancer, to take these risks in a live setting definitely add some major muscle to the emerging contemporary-meets-post-modern dance scene finally emerging in Los Angeles.
The second to last performance of the evening offered the final solo of the show. A single blue tinted spot appeared stage left, as a figure haunted the peripheral of the light, shrouded in darkness. Making his way in a manner that seemed at once pedestrian with gesturing, but very nuanced due to the usage of motif, Kevin Williamson was able to break past the invisible barrier between the audience and himself, immersing us in his thought process in action. The aptly titled piece, body of ideas, exerted such focus and intention, that we saw seamless transitions between staged portions and spur of the moment decisions. With such an intimate stage setting, I appreciated Williamson's usage of the space, since few companies broke past center stage, and found the direct eye contact refreshing from the current trend of introverted gaze.
Once the houselights came up, and were asked to exit for the next showing, I thought on the evening as an interesting look into the future of contemporary dance in Los Angeles. It seems as if The Los Angeles contemporary dance scene is on the cusp of becoming the next location for emerging contemporary artists. Although reminders of LA’s archaic interpretation of contrived modern dance still exist, with performances from Sunday evening still fresh in my mind, I am hopeful that local LA artists will continue pushing the boundaries of dance within our Southern California borders. There are so many possibilities and emerging opportunities for those purposeful and driven enough to seize this moment of new dance happening here. Despite the uneven presentations of the evening, seeing our local dance community bring together so many choreographers for this evening alone, shows that LA wants, and is fighting for, contemporary concert dance’s success.