So L.A. Thinks It Can Dance

nowmason1.jpegBenn Widdey reporting on the Los Angeles dance scene.

The three weeks of the annual New Original Works Festival opened at Redcat this past weekend with a trio of performance and dance pieces created by Los Angeles (or nearby)-based artists. The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, one of the more prestigious venues in southern California, drew a highly hopeful crowd to the initial Friday night event (July 20).

The highlight of the first program was Rodney Mason’s My Mother’s Son, a spoken word/movement featured/video extended autobiographical peek into this engaging artist’s current life and dramatic background. A Gulf War veteran who was born and raised in the City of Brotherly Love’s housing projects, Mr. Mason played multiple characters, including his own mother, grandfather and himself, as “Duck Butt Baby“ (so named by his sister). Humorous anecdotes were punctuated with snippets of breakdancing and beautiful stillnesses while balanced on his head. These culminated in some very cheeky dramatizations of his present day involvement in the film and television industry. As the current spokescharacter for Tanqueray Gin, Mr. Mason threw a bit of polished British accents, Shakespeare and upper class affectation into his very entertaining half hour soliloquy. One of his video moments (by Christina Choe) included a hilarious interview with a man whose face sat just below the inveterate Hollywood sign and who proceeded to encourage talent representatives to send specific tribes of “actors” from the African continent to his casting call for the United States. In doing this, Mr. Mason deftly brought his heritage into this current experience as well.

nowluyten.jpegCorporeal Mime performers Elke Luyten and Kira Alker presented A Little of More, an austere abstraction of Shaker ideas and writings. Danced in silence, save the recitation of original religious texts and a cappella hymn-like singing, the work’s precise minimalism, enigmatic development and almost surreal accompanying narrative revealed a plain yet disturbing society. Slicing arms, banging sticks, fluttering fingers and heads resting against three-feet high pentagon-arranged posts kept the beige and brown work in an ongoing depression. Against texts that spoke of, among other topics, a bloody dissection of a human body and a list of simple gifts, Luyten rolled on the floor or struck sculptural poses as her partner wandered on and above the stage (Redcat’s multi-level possibilities). Deliciously, however, the final image still resonates: a dropped watermelon, with its red meat being calmly yet voraciously devoured by the two characters, pits spit onto the stage and determined gazes directed at the audience. Perhaps this may be interpreted as the disclosure of a subliminal passion and vibrancy among this otherwise emotionally suppressed religious community.

nowlux.jpegComing north from Tijuana, the seven member Lux Boreal Danza Contempor‡nea came to the NOW Festival with Natural Breakdown. Choreographed and directed by one of the company dancers, Ángel Ar‡mbula, the multi-sectioned dance showcased some fine modern dancing, in spite of a collaged score of techno dance music, street sounds and American and Mexican television audio bytes (by another dancer, Henry Torres). The work was inspired by the effects of today’s media and communications systems on an individual, and the ensemble presentation made that sameness very clear. Well rehearsed partnering, changing grouping patterns and classically abstracted gestures made for a full and active stage. A floppy pillow/chair served as a base for boob-tube-watching and some interesting gambits with gravity. Nevertheless, with so much going on, it was hard to tell what was important, what mattered most or why I should care about the generous performers who were there. If this is, in fact, a premiere public staging of the dance, perhaps future presentations will allow a little more time for editing and fine-tuning of the intended message.

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