8th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival (Thursday August 28, 2014)

by Beth Megill

The 8th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival is another feather in Amanda Hart’s cap. Each year the festival stays open to a variety of dance genres and levels of dance for a true sense of equality and community. The festival is a celebration of dancers and choreographers on their respective artistic journeys, and for that alone, it is incredibly exciting. Each piece offers a glimpse into the various worlds of dance with an open heart and warm applause waiting.

 Act I

MixMatch opened with After the Storm choreographed by Katie Jane Hagan. This contemporary jazz dance was performed by a group of female dancers who had a general sense of strength and line to their performance. The choreography began in silence with swinging and rebounding movements in an appealing spatial design of levels and facings. The modern dance qualities were a bit of a stretch for some of the contemporary jazz trained dancers who struggled to access their sense of weight and rebounding flow. Nevertheless, this work was a pleasing piece with committed dancers.

Wild is the Wind, by Gabriella Cataldo, was an unexpected and captivating pole dance performed by Stella Melina. This piece included two poles (one that seemed stationary and one that spun). The dancer was powerful, expressive and beautiful. I was most impressed with how Cataldo was able to create a dance in which the dancer (who was elegantly dressed in a nude bra and panty set) was able to expose the body to such a degree without sexualizing the it (even with a pole!). The movement choices behind the imagery in addition to the sheer strength and technique of the dancer made this both an impressive and gravely artistic piece.

Wild is the Wind Choreography

Wild is the Wind

Rochelle Guardado knocked my socks off with her strange and fascinating work, Apparatus set to music by Marc Houle and Miss Kitlin. Bleak lights illuminated three dancers with bandaged torsos, bare faces (no make up) and an authentic willingness to be exposed and even unattractive. The shock of this aesthetic difference was perhaps hard for the audience to swallow. The dancers slumped, heaved and scrambled through the space taking turns manipulating small colorful plastic objects in and out of white bowls, their hands and their mouths. I couldn’t see exactly what these small items were, at first I thought candy, then coins, and then implants? The ambiguity became increasingly comfortable for me as the dancers manipulated them in various ways. At times they gathered the pieces, “swallowed” the pieces, vomited them out and so on.   This performance had elements of surprise and visual design with a social statement that made it the artistically riskiest piece in the show. The conceptual brilliance was not revealed to me until the ending in which the male dancer drew dotted lines across his face, evoking images of plastic surgery that in retrospect pulled the performance into complete coherence. A well crafted stand out.

Apparatus MixMatch 2014

Apparatus Choreographed by Guardado

Elsa in the Dark by Hazel Clarke portrayed a female duet representing good and bad. The conventional use of the costuming (one dressed in nude and the other in black) reflected the simplicity of the message. However, the clarity of costuming and story telling made for an easily accessible piece that would be great for a general public who does not know much about dance. Despite a few hyper-emotional moments, the dancers were very strong and performed with the clarity and consistency. The overall clarity of the piece and strength of the dancers made the dance an overall success but made me ready for a second layer of increased nuance in the choreographic design.

Maha Afra got the audience dancing in their seats with Ritmo Latino. The piece included a blend of bachata and salsa, with a dash of samba thrown in to spice things up. As with all of Afra’s choreography, this piece had great rhythmic drive that the audience clearly loved. However, it was in this piece that the slippery floor (combined with suede bottomed ballroom slippers) became evident. This slip factor took a toll on the dancers’ performance in terms of timing and clarity, however the dancers managed to turn, slide and hip shimmy their way through the dance with a smile still on their faces.

In the first few moments of Zoe Keating’s familiar music, I wondered what Amber Robbin’s Harmony of Line was going to offer me that I hadn’t seen before. And, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this was not another modern dance but a contemporary ballet quintet. Set in ballet flats, this piece included a nice contrast to the former works in the program with its strong balletic lines and geometric design. The movement generation was well crafted and well executed by the dancers. The only downfall to the piece was in the inconsistency of the performers presence. Some were stern while others smiled which distracted from the abstract design of the movement.

McNeal Choreography

Harmony of Line choreographed by McNeal

Zareh Markarian presented DeTaunt, a contemporary ballet duet with the female on point. These young dancers were captivating. The power of their focus combined nicely with well executed partnering moments. Because these dancers were younger, the technical inconsistencies were easily forgiven. Plus, the challenge of the slippery floor made a true piqué on pointe near impossible. Nevertheless, this piece was a crowd pleaser for the male dancer’s presence and partnering and the female’s demonstration of flexibility and balance.

Amy Tabback’s athletic, contact improv influenced quartet, entitled For Those Of Us Who Move Forward, was a powerful closing number to the first half of the concert. This piece was tense and gripping as the dancers traveled from one corner of the stage to the other. The movement vocabulary was extremely challenging and highly physical as the dancers lifted, cradled, caught and leaped over each other through the space. Overall, I commend Tabback’s use of the four dancers in such a way that they had equal importance in the piece.

Act II

Jessica Harper and Chelsea Asman co-choreographed and performed a duet Eventual Fruit with original music by David Karaganis. The duet began in simple unison. The movement started understated and simple in design then grew bit by bit until the piece became a hugely athletic, risk-taking performance including extensive impact work and flying inversions. The two artists have a youthful passion and vibrancy that carried them through this demanding piece. The simple choreographic design and continuous use of unison allowed the physicality of the piece to be at the forefront. These dancers/ choreographers are clearly at the beginning of a fruitful artistic journey.

Metamorphosis, choreographed by E. Sophia Kozak and the Critical Mass Dance Company dancers, was vastly different from anything else on the program. This piece included very simple movements that were performed in a ritualized manner. The movement told the story of two women calling a third to life before they all danced together with fabric wings I learned (through a Google search) are called Belly dance Isis wings. A reference to chakra energy work and the very simple movement vocabulary consisting mostly of arm gestures, made me think this piece may be best suited for a community (participatory) performance rather than a concert stage. But, the healing aspect of the work and the passion of the dancers for their social mission of healing was powerful and a great example of how dance is not always about spectacle.

Amanda Kay White presented, Escapism, a quintet of passionate young dancers who were incredibly willing to dance non-traditional movement vocabulary full of intense off vertical and skewed gestures. I appreciated that these budding dancers were able to use isolation of the torso without alluding to sexuality. So often sensual movements get mixed with sexuality and yet, these dancers were incredibly committed to the eccentricity of the choreography showing incredible promise for their futures as dance artists.

Joshua D Romero’s FUSE dance company of Orange county showed a stunning duet entitled Part. A distant female repeatedly pulled away from her lover, staring into space with a distant and dispassionate stare. The male dancer, Brian Domino, was perfectly suited in his ability to support, and engage with the female while not drawing attention or making the piece about him or his performance. The female Olivia Hamilton was clearly classically trained, with strong line and clean technique. Overall this piece was a gem of the evening.

Fluxtaposition by Monilade Walker left me (perhaps appropriately) flummoxed. This ensemble work included a number of seemingly disparate images, a set of similar looking girls connected by a sheet (like an umbilical cord), colorfully dressed dancers who were reveled after crawling under white sheets, and a man dressed in white who takes turns seducing these women. The juxtaposition of the suffering twins (as I came to think of them) and the seduction of the colorfully dressed women, provided a disjointed feeling of intimacy and awkwardness for me as a viewer. As the figure retreated under the white sheets, I was left feeling a bit like I had missed something. I learned later that there was a video component that had not worked in the performance. I would be interested to see if that provides the framework for better understanding the other components of the work.

Alex Floyd presented a sweet female trio called Sun Hands. This piece was a joyful work that seemed rooted in the pleasure of dance. There was something about the movement vocabulary that left me unsettled as an audience member. Some of the movement seemed awkward. I realized that the movement vocabulary used what we daners call connectivity patterns in such a way that the dancers had to bind their energy to perform the movement sequences.  This is perhaps why I did not get the same sense of flow that I had come to expect in Floyd’s work.  Perhaps this piece is in a formative stage or a result of new choreographic exploration.

As always, Amanda Hart closed the show with her company. This evening she presented a quintet (turned quartet) called Drumming. This rhythmic driven jazz piece was fueled by a powerful groove in the music. The dancers however did not seem connected to the rhythmic components in the choreography. I learned that this piece was supposed to be a quintet and only this morning was hustled into a quartet. Overall, the fresh jazzy feel and Florence + the Machine soundtrack closed the show with strong energy.

Please note: My reflections here are aimed to support the artists in their growth while sharing the experience of MixMatch with a wider audience. All criticism is done with compassion. It is honest feedback aimed to support the choreographer and the dancers in their growth. I treat each dance work as a stepping stone on an artists path, and hope that this feedback will be useful in the artistic process.

Photo credits Victor Vic Photo
www.victorvicphoto.com

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