Simone Forti and Carmela Hermann Dietrich have a “Rematch”

Pushing and pulling, Simone Forti and Carmela Hermann Dietrich rejoined in performance to honor their shared journey in dance improvisation. Forti and Herman Dietrich explored their post-modern dance aesthetic with arms and legs intertwined in struggle in a seesaw of layered memories, stories, and political investigations. The warmth, humor, patience, political bent, and personal insights with each other, made it seem like we were in a family living room with old friends, and in a lot of ways we were. The audience was filled with many life-long friends, students, and collaborators. In the black box space of Highways, in Santa Monica, Forti re-engaged with her historic artistic past using seesaws, stories, props, trusting in the moment, and in her relationship with long-time friend and Los Angeles choreographer Hermann Dietrich.

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Simone Forti and Carmela Hermann Dietrich in “Rematch,” photo by Carol Petersen.

The two dancers enter the theatre, curiously examining the space as if they had never seen it before, whistling as they looked to and fro. Forti sings a lovely song in Italian and accompanies her singing by shaking a cooking pot, her censor, filled with nails (See Saw and Censor, 1961-2017 courtesy of her collection at the Museum of Modern Art, New York). The two dancers roll slowly toward each other and engage in a wrestling tug of war, typical of two kids who want the same toy and they talk while both grasping it. They push and pull, while holding onto each other with hands and feet, finally rolling away. Forti takes shelter in a sawhorse tipped over on its side on a moving-blanket.

Hermann Dietrich takes center stage, shifting from one position to another, with her long arms and legs stretched, reaching into her kinesphere. Each time she changes shape, she looks in a new direction and describes exactly what she sees—a brunette, a light, a piece of dust, tape on the floor. The simplicity is whimsical and lacks pretension. Simon emerges and pulls on a blanket to drag a long plank of wood out to center stage. She remarks about how “it feels good to pull on something,” to push and to pull simultaneously. She begins improvising and telling a story, but she digresses, switching from station to station on a radio, thus seeking for improvisational inspirations. She draws a blank, so Hermann Dietrich takes over, while Forti pushes the board further downstage.

Standing still at a microphone, Hermann Dietrich reads a prepared script reciting a conversation between her deceased mother and herself, quite a different aesthetic than the previous scenes because it lacks in movement or improvisation. Hermann Dietrich asks her mother, who achieved a PhD in political science, for advice about what to do in response to the current political climate. Her mother encourages her to trust herself. This scenario might have been strengthened had Hermann Dietrich improvised to Forti reciting the script, or if she had read and danced the story using some form of cue card or chance system.

Hermann Dietrich speaks about the Cuban military and how they marched with 90-degree battements, perfectly. She marches in place with alert battements. Forti reemerges from her hideout under the sawhorse to talk about twenty-three years of experiments in Philadelphia by Einstein to see if people could be transported through space—and some did not make it. The non-sequiturs revealed moments of memory from prior rehearsals that did not quite gel in this rendition, but it was whimsical nonetheless.

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Simone Forti and Carmela Hermann Dietrich in “Rematch,” photo by Carol Petersen.

Hermann Dietrich and Forti link and walk in a circle while talking about events in the Honduras, anticipating their recall of their theme for this section, which never comes to fruition. Circling, storytelling, partnering, and walking in a circle while linked was interesting in itself because of who they were together.

They drag the sawhorse to center stage and place the plank atop to make a seesaw. Forti checks to make sure it was carefully centered and safe. Brushing her white hair back to get a better view, she says, “It’s good.”

Forti climbs on to the left side, as a child would, like she must have done many years ago in her original See Saw dance. We hear squeaking swing set sounds, the familiar sounds of a playground. Hermann Dietrich holds her end still, as any good friend would, and leans on it to level the plank. Finally it hovers level with the ground, Forti keeping a toe hold below her. Hermann Dietrich leans forward and rests her elbows, looking straight across at her friend. Forti props her chin on one hand. They look at each other with familiarity, respect, and joy at being able to play together again. Hermann Dietrich shifts her legs and curls up cozily on her side. The two are balanced in space. Hermann Dietrich swings her legs to face Forti and she slides down hill, like on a sliding board, to meet Forti at the bottom. Forti helps her off, and the two leave the playground hand in hand.

Courage to confront the trajectory of life, physical and cognitive limits, and the current political situation transmitted courage to the spectators. Spending an hour or so with post-modern improvisational experts and friends is relaxing and inspirational, and you will probably not see the same performance twice. I saw the Friday December 9th performance. Rematch will be performed again on Saturday the 10th at Highways Performance Space, in Santa Monica.


Malpaso Dance Company Brings a Luscious Blend of Virtuosic Dance to Los Angeles

Beautiful, connected, skilled dancing from Cuba—a luscious blend of ballet, modern, release-technique, partnering, and street dancing, providing a movement vocabulary that can say just about anything. The Music Center’s celebration of Cuban arts as one of three parts of the Getty’s Far-Reaching Arts Program presents Malpaso Dance Company (Malpaso) in its Los Angeles debut. Malpaso, a Cuban dance company, and an associate dance company of The Joyce Theater Productions, founded in 2012 by Osnel Delgado (company director and resident choreographer), Fernando Sáez (executive director), and Daileidys Carrazana (dancer), performed three dance works at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on December 2, 2017. The bill included a modern work by Delgado, a contemporary jazz work by Sonya Tayeh, and a contemporary-modern work by Aszure Barton. I experienced the 2:00 p.m. matinee performance.

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Malpaso Dance Company performing “24 Hours and a Dog” by Osnel Delgado, photo by The Music Center.

Live music introduced and accompanied the opening dance work, 24 Hours and a Dog (2013), choreographed by Osnel Delgado. The jazz music by Arturo O’Farill, Aberlardo Valdes, and Astor Piazzolla filled the hall and supported the well-crafted choreography and polished dancing. The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble musicians Arturo O’Farrill, Vincent Cherico, Carlo De Rosa, Seneca Black, Keisel Jimenez-Leyva, Carlos Maldonado, Rafi Malkiel, and Ivan Renta performed with a delightful, spirited resonance. While the music was rooted in rhythm throughout the 33-minute dance, curiously, the dance started out rather ignoring the rhythmic component of the music. Instead, line, shape, and design of bodies was the focus at first, and rhythm began to emerge as the piece evolved through the seven sections of the dance that represent the 24 hours of one’s very busy day. Soloist and choreographer, Osnel Delgado, with his long legs, supple body, and smooth movements, changed shape with a smooth, controlled flow while changing from middle to high to low levels. Four more male dancers entered and created relationships between partners, each showcasing connected relationships with each other, creating patterns and designs in space. Four female dancers enter and dancers take a stance of “readiness,” with a searching gaze that goes quite a distance. Dancers reveal strong connections to each other by intertwining in complex relationships. The piece gradually explores the rhythm of the jazz music more and more, which was satisfying. The piece ended with eight of the dancers succumbing to gravity at the end of their day with feet facing the audience, a position Delgado revealed earlier in the dance, but this time Delgado ends in a crouch with hands held in front of his face, seemingly exhausted at the end of a rough day. The piece is well crafted, whimsical, and showcases the virtuosity of the company well. Dancers in this piece were Dunia Acosta, Esteban Aguilar, Maria Karla Araujo, Fernando Benet, Daileidys Carrazana, Osnel Delgado, Manuel Durán, Beatriz Garcia, and Abel Rojo.

Malpaso Dance Company performing “Face the Torrent” by Sonya Tayeh, photo by The Music Center.

Malpaso premiered Face the Torrent, a dance representing a mesmerized struggle choreographed by contemporary jazz choreographer Sonya Tayeh and commissioned by The Music Center and the Getty-led initiative Pacfic Standard Time: LA/LA. Tayeh was assisted by Austin Goodwin and Chelsea Thedinga. The pace was hypnotic at first, as a line of dancers gradually walked side-by-side toward the audience swaying to and fro with each step. One man gestures in anguish and shudders while the others ignore him. Finally, a woman reaches toward him offering assistance. They relate to each other, pairing their struggle as one. She eventually releases him and rejoins the group. The man shudders and shakes again, eventually rolling upstage alone. The others are affected by something they hear, and two more dancers start leaving the slow motion wave-like walk. The dancers become increasingly sinewy, powerful, and alive in relation to each other. The value is placed equally on emotions and the movement. The man shudders again. The hypnotic walking begins again interspersed with floor work, women traveling slowly together with bent postures, flexed arms, and outstretched fingers, all but one leaving the stage. The men lift the last woman, carry her, and toss her. She looks sad, heavy, and forlorn. Whispering voices in the music begin to fill the space. There is a mood of struggle, sadness, and fear. The hypnotic people in the line walk away from the audience, swaying to and fro. A shudder or pulse occurs in the bodies. On a final downbeat in the music, the dancers twist to cast an intense gaze at the audience. Dancers performing in this piece were Dunia Acosta, Esteban Aguilar, Maria Karla Araujo, Fernando Benet, Daileidys Carrazana, Manuel Durán, Beatriz Garcia, Abel Rojo. Music was by Seed/Stem/Calyx, by Colette Alexander with the Bengsons.

Malpaso Dance Company performing “Indomitable Waltz” by Aszure Barton, photo by Judy Ondrey.

The third piece, Indomitable Waltz (2016), choreographed by Aszure Barton, and assisted by Emanuell Alsberry, delights in its effortless use of body connectivity patterns and weaving relationships between dancers. Dancers flow, touch, lift, tilt, lean, support, and undulate using a plethora of interesting relationships that reveal care, sensitivity, play, curiosity, and sharing among a community that exists in the meter of ¾ time. While the movement phrases are crafted with great care, and the dancing is splendid, the disparate music selections seem not to have been well joined to create a whole. The music shifts abruptly in timbre and mood between the six pieces of music, and the dancers are left to mend the conspicuous breaks with movement segues. The music selections were three pieces by Alexander Balanescu, Waltz, The Young Conscript and the Moon, and Love Scene; one piece by Michael Nyman, String Quartet No. 2: II; and two pieces by Nils Frahm, Circling and 04:33. Despite the abrupt music editing, this piece is a delight to watch, due to the well-rehearsed and talented dancers: Dunia Acosta, Esteban Aguilar, Maria Karla Araujo, Fernando Benet, Daileidys Carrazana, Osnel Delgado, Manuel Durán, and Lisbeth Saad.

Twyla Tharp’s “50th Anniversary Celebration,” spirited, but lacking in unity

Rika Okamoto in the air clinging to Matthew Dibble’s neck in Yowzie. Photo © Ruven Afanador.

14 January 2016 — LOS ANGELES, CA — See my review of Twyla Tharp’s “50th Anniversary Celebration” at Bachtrack:



Contra-Tiempo’s Agua Furiosa twists with The Tempest at Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater

Agua Furioso photo by Kathleen Schenck

14 January 2016, — LOS ANGELES, CA — A soulful, water goddess song invites us into another world, wind blows fabric at sunset, and the deity Oya dances with a rhythmic, undulating spine. We enter a magical unknown place filled with mystery that is luscious, tempting, tropical, liquid, intoxicating. Scream, crash, broken plastic, breathe; how can I breathe? A child’s voice tells us to breathe one more time, if we can. Are we dying? Rhythmic patters, accented ephebic spines, and stepping patterns from Afro-Cuban dances are intermixed with urban body attitudes revealing a juxtaposition of nature and nurture, of the natural and of destruction. Agua Furiosa, directed and choreographed by Ana Maria Alvarez, is a dance theatre production by Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater in five acts inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Oya, the Afro-Cuban deity of wind and storms. The dance theatre production challenges audiences to confront the harsh realities of race and water and locate themselves inside a complex and transformative conversation.

The opening night of the 90-minute dance theater piece presented at the Gloria Kaufman Dance Theatre merged live vocals, dance, themes of freedom and water, and hope for a more just and compassionate future for us all. Agua Furiosa is a counter narrative to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, taking on many of the themes of the original play, including magic, the soul, and justice, but contrasts by using a unmistakable feminist and contemporary perspective. Two characters, drawn from The Tempest, the slave Caliban and his mother Sycorax are adapted for Agua Furiosa. Sycorax, known here as Ella/Oya, narrate the struggles of four distinct Caliban’s. Four additional players support, challenge, and deliver messages about struggles with overcoming environmental and racial injustice. Pyeng Threadgill masterfully performs Ella, and the eight players, performed by Isis Avalos, Christopher Cuenza, Jannet Galdamez, Bianca Golden, Samad Guerra, Francisco Javier Herrejon Zuñiga, Bianca Medina, and Diana Toledo, perform with clear intent and strong emotions.

Ella, an Afro-Cuban deity, which Alvarez links to Sycorax, channels wind, air, lightning, fertility, and magic by bringing the change, transition, and chaos in order to gain liberty or to break silence. Threadgill’s commanding soulful delivery provides a powerful context and narrative thread that steers Agua Furiosa, driving it by pinpointing focus and casting a spell of determination through the space. Her spirited voice is captivating and her embodiment of Elle suspends time and place. Her voice demands rapt attention.

Agua Furioso photo by Kathleen Schenck, Contra Tiempo

This evening-length work gelled and was fully realized because the message had sensitivity and clarity, the performers were fully committed, and the production choices were integrated into a unified whole that spoke deeply about issues related to colonialism, slavery, and environmental destruction. Dance was the main medium of delivery of the message, using a blend of contemporary theatrical dance, Afro-Cuban dance, Latin social dance, and capoeira, among others. Live singing and a rich soundscape of urban rhythms with layered text, by d. Sabela grimes, served to weave the story together and to explicitly deliver messages. The production choices, including a painted fabric drop that was gently waving in the wind made by hidden fans, scrim panels, back and front lighting, and plastic buckets and bottles, by Masha Tsimring, magically created an idyllic environment abused by trash and disregard. The bold, proud, colorful, lush, costumes for Ella, by Rosalida Medina, were fabulous, each showcasing her powerful character.

The development of the story through scenes, narrative, and dance provided clear messages that were a painful reminder of global issues related to unequal human rights and the uncertain health of our planet. Contra-Tiempo has asked many personal, local, and global questions in order to develop this work. Metaphors were used often, such as holding a pole behind one’s neck, marching with high knees, and being caught in a net, all symbols of capture and loss of liberty. Buckets were handed down the line arriving empty at the last person, a symbol of inequality, mismanagement, civil disregard, and corruption.

A woman being objectified on a pedestal reminds us of slaves being inspected at a slave auction or terrorists, gangs, or even cliques laughing at their victims, while onlookers party all night with complete disregard for anyone’s needs or feelings. These images are powerful and used to great effect in this production. A simple game of musical chairs, which we all hated as children, is used to portray a common disregard for others; meanwhile an embarrassing relief overcomes those lucky enough to have what they need to survive. The narrator asks in jest, “Did you win?”

Agua Furiosa photo by Alfonso Gomez, Contra Tiempo

The choices of movement styles in Contra-Tiempo are rooted in the culture of all the company members, including Africanist aesthetics; Afro-Cuban dance; folk and ritual dance; and urban contemporary dance forms, which are bridged with Alvarez’ modernist choreographic intentions toward meaning-making, story-telling, and connecting with the audience through art making. This rich blend of intentions, along with Contra-Tiempo’s imaginative collaboration between music, song, sound, set, and costume, create a culturally inclusive theatrical medium representing a worldview that transcends boundaries of this post-post modern city of Los Angeles. The result is both personal and global.

A need for development hinges on uncomfortable shifts between movement genres, when dancers transition from a traditional Afro-Cuban movement into a contemporary dance movement into a pedestrian movement. It is in those shifts that my disbelief is no longer suspended, and I become conscious of the styles of dance switching. If one does not know dance styles and forms, then this might not bother, but if one does recognize the styles and origins, one gets pulled temporarily out of the dance and into noticing transitional shifts between cultural styles. By being generative with transitions, theme and variations, and choreographic devices, the shifts between dance styles will not be shifts but, rather, conversations among cultures.

Strength in ensemble work occurs when a trio of women performs in unison, signaling a common struggle that leads to an effusion of relief. The ending of the dance was powerful, when Caliban 4, danced by Samad Guerra, demonstrates a gripping portrayal of a life of torment from being silenced, and yet he does speak through movement and then voice. Caliban’s speech, from The Tempest, seemed superfluous, as I already knew from his dance what he was saying. Caliban 4 had been beaten enough, and he could take no more.

While Contra-Tiempo works with Latin American themes using Africanist aesthetics, Agua Furiosa transcends boundaries of race, culture, and time. Agua Furiosa reminds us that we must honor human rights and, earth’s most precious resource, water. Was Shakespeare raising a concern about colonialism when he wrote The Tempest in 1613? No one is sure, but we can be sure that we know better today. Updating Shakespeare’s metaphor of a tempest, Contra Tiempo draws an interesting parallel, a simile, showcasing the power and the fragility of the human voice and our earth, both which we abuse as often as we honor.

Agua Furiosa can be seen January 14-17 and 21-24, 2016.

Jessica Kondrath | The Movement presents Shared Spaces with RE | Dance Group and Reneé Murray

Jessica-21723 Aug 2015 — LOS ANGELES, CA – Kondrath’s movement mesmerizes. The carving torso and limbs combined with challenging changes of level, reaching of limbs into twisted shapes, teetering balances, and darting limb accents reveal a level of deep control, clarity of focus, and understanding of the body as medium of message. Jessica Kondrath presented Shared Spaces at MiMoDa Studio on August 22, 2015 featuring three dance works for her company, Jessica Kondrath | The Movement. She also performed a duet with Reneé Murray, created by Murray and Kondrath, and shared the evening with RE | Dance Group, who presented two works. The collection of dances offered an array of aesthetic approaches to dance theatre.

Kondrath instills a deep emotional and visceral response in viewers. She powerfully connects the core and the limbs to convey an emotional, human experience, especially evident in the performance of You Can Be Anything, Forgotten or Lost (an excerpt from Fleeting), which I had seen before, but experienced more deeply this time with Taylor Worden’s powerful performance. Worden’s approach to space is secure, steadfast, uncompromising at middle level and high levels and in her floor work. The strength she portrays is compelling as she twists through the kinesphere, changing shape with resolute decisiveness and clarity with her powerful yet sensitive approach to Kondrath’s line and form.

The Wit of Small Things, performed by Francesca Butler, Quetta Boyd, Shelby LaRosa, Michaela Marie Pickett, Kayla Montgomery, and Taylor Worden is a compelling work that holds rich layers of expressivity between movement and music revealing solid balances and pliable torsos that hollow, arch, and twist through Kondrath’s sinewy designs of the body in personal space to reveal the discovery of small, secret things that are hidden in plain sight. Dancers waver, balance, tip, turn, penché, and pas de chat, each in Kondrath’s own way. Exploring daydreams and dreamlike states, Shelby LaRosa, Kayla Montgomery, and Taylor Worden sensitively and resiliently performed I Still Haven’t Learned How to Dream Wide Awake, to music by Brian Wood.

I Still Haven't Learned to Dream Wide Awake, Kayla Montgomery, photo: Denise Leitner
I Still Haven’t Learned to Dream Wide Awake, Kayla Montgomery, photo: Denise Leitner

With Jeanette & Barbara, choreographed by Reneé Murray and performed by the choreographer and Kondrath revealed two women who intermittently engage in a fairly remote relationship with one another. One woman uses movement qualities encompassing bound-flow carving that is strong and sustained, using pressing, central spatial tension, and force. The other woman engages in a free-flow, gentle, light force to initiate body part leading, turning, and shape change. The two varying forces meet up from time to time, side-by-side, and relate momentarily, only to once again be forces regulating through the world on their own.

RE | Dance Group presented two works. Abbott & Viv, choreographed and performed by Lucy Riner and Michael Estanich, explores a tenuous relationship between a man, a woman, and their material gain—represented by a large glass bowl. The Baroque cello music by J.S. Bach reveals that this dance was intended to be serious. While showing discomfort and irregularities about relating to one another, the dancers aim for the ultimate goal of obtaining the prized bowl for themselves, yet they reveal their false pretenses. The figurative representation of the bowl might have been strengthened had the symbol evolved to take on new meaning by the end. Riner and Estanich danced well, but the pretense of relationship and ultimate deceit could have been strengthened had the dancers modulated their energy qualities to reveal the different attitudes required to relate to one another while one covertly deceives.

Circle, run, spin, repeat; Lucy Riner’s solo What Brings Me to This Place seemed to be an autobiographical account of the daily life of an overworked dancer/mom/teacher/choreographer, who rides out the pattern of keeping all the cog wheels of a woman’s life spinning fluidly. To the energetic music of DJ High Maintenance, Riner makes circle after circle through the space, getting more and more lost in space, time, and her duties until she eventually runs out of steam. What Brings Me to This Place is a symbol, of many women’s lives, that signals to us that Wonder Woman’s job was really only designed for a cartoon character.

Allen Clark expertly designed lighting design for the evening.