Speak Hill Dance Debut: This Is Me

Marlita Hill  debuted her new company Speak Hill Dance in the Los Angeles independent dance scene this month with a two-week run of This Is Me at Grand Arts High School in downtown Los Angeles. I attended the closing show, feeling lucky to have gotten a seat in a sold out house. The cast of nine female dancers (and two guest performers) formed a beautifully diverse group of movers (cast listed below*) who each had unique qualities and performance energy to offer to the evening of dance. The studio-turned-performance-space helped set the scene for an intimate evening of heartfelt dance.

The show opened with Pnuema set to music by Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek. The dancers wore sage colored tops and kaki shorts, creating a fresh feeling that reminded me of seaside breezes. From the beginning of the piece, Hill’s keen sense of subtle and clear dynamics was evident. Hill has an incredible ability to make phrases that are unexpected, nuanced and perpetually intriguing. I greatly appreciated the recurring use of body percussion that continually woke me to the physicality of this performance, keeping me firmly planted in a sense of now. Clean modern dance shapes contrasted the occasional jazz line and isolation. This contrast offered the audience a refreshing aesthetic that seemed both familiar and fresh. The thematic material was repeated and varied through the piece, gradually revealing Hill’s aptitude at intelligent design. The piece followed a slow arc to a section of traveling and prancing, before it followed very slow decrescendo to the ending.

The show continued with In Conversation with Change, another ensemble piece that included some of the same compositional structures of Pneuma, but with a strikingly different dynamic palette. The movement seemed to be a direct lineage of the African American Modern Dance greats, characterized by power, a firm sense of groundedness, articulation of the torso, and asymmetrical shapes. The urgency and harmonic dissonance in the music by Anthony Genge did not always fit with the near joyful tone of the dancers’ performance- this disconnect made me uncertain about the statement of the work. However, the strength of the movement phrasing was enough to keep me engaged. The highlight of this piece for me was a stunning solo by Adrianna Audoma that had her floating across the stage in effortless floor work that was sensitive, powerful and articulate.

Selah, set to music by Arvo Pärt, featured two guest dancers who are also Hill’s current students at Cortines High School for the Visual and Performing Arts. These two dancers, Liessa Son and Ella Hoodheart, performed this ballet-influenced duet in perfect unison. The likeness of the two dancers in costuming, coloring, hair length, and stature made this “twin” performance a visual joy. The young dancers were confident and skilled, performing the movement with clarity and ease.

The show closed with a high-energy piece called Holy ShiFt, set to Max Richet’s re-composition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This piece included the thumbprints of Hill’s choreographic voice as seen in the previous pieces, including strong phrasing and dynamics, playful movement generation, and a willingness to embrace the vernacular. Hill heightened the use of jazz dance styling in this piece using it to teasingly contrast the classical music. Audrey Crabtree was especially captivating in this performance, embracing the balance between the classical and playful with confidence. Well-performed fan kicks and layouts by the cast made this piece an exuberant closing to the show.

Overall, Speak Hill Dance’s debut performance made a strong first impression, demonstrating Hill’s fearless honesty in designing movement phrases that are unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable. There were a few moments of imperfect unison in the performance that is perhaps typical of a premier season in which the dancers are just becoming familiar with each other and the choreographer’s style. This cast of young dancers will only grow together with time, and, with such clear passion and conviction, I am looking forward to seeing how Speak Hill Dance will grow and develop in seasons to come.

*Cast of Dancers: Audrey Crabtree, Baja Poindexter, Bernadette Sebastian, Adrianna Audoma, Aneiki Randolph, La’Raia Gribble, Imani White, Jasmin Williams, and Keverlie Herron.

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