Sophia Stoller’s Siren Haunts and Seduces at Highways

SirenImage1I had the privilege of seeing an installment of New Shoes 6 October 16 & 17th. New Shoes 6 is an ongoing performance series of new and in-development works dedicated to showcasing emerging and established Southern California-based choreographers, directors, and performance groups presented by Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, CA. Choreographers Bernard Brown, Sophia Stoller, and Darrian O’Reilly presented an incredibly diverse and thought-provoking evening of dance.

Of those presented, Siren, presented by Sophia Stoller (co-founder of Soul Lab Dance Project) offered the most refined and compositionally sound outlook, conceptual and otherwise. Two male figures entered the space, performing locomotor gestures that rebounded between them like an innate conversation between an external figure and his subconscious. Their connection gave me the feeling of standing between two inward-facing mirrors, casting and reflecting every image into infinity. Lifting and throwing weight with ease, these men offered their overt physicality to each other like a gift, devouring the space around them. Three women in flowing robes entered and tension immediately followed spreading like fog between the two opposing groups. Informed by sensation and internal postures more than external flourishing these sirens engulfed the space with their long limbs and darting eyes, confounding the men. Their movements while overtly feminine, yet not distinctly human in origin, were not pretty though not repulsive. This contrasting character within them felt both dangerous and alluring at the same time. At a point of stillness the females moved their heads in subtle nodding that was reciprocated by the men, revealing the powerful persuasion unfolding between them. The score pulsed with the ramping up of tension between the dancers as they performed quick sequential postures together. They transformed from separate entities into one living, breathing whole.


Siren spoke to me the idea of the femme fatale; how the feminine is often compared to danger, seduction and sex. As well as the idea that our selfish wants and desires can be projected externally to persuade and seduce us as if they were standing palpably in front of us. Stoller’s highly technical and physical dancers presented a nuanced view into the other-worldly. During some rare moments, a lull in tension or relationship between the dancers left me unsatisfied. Perhaps a longer connection, or continuation of a particular group dynamic would fill the void of my lost attention. Outside of that, I felt that the narrative nature of the piece left a very solid picture of her characters and intention without overbearing the essential beauty and concept. Stoller cemented her stature as a thoughtful and resourceful dancemaker and storyteller with Siren.

Also presented that evening was Los Angeles based choreographer Bernard Brown (Lula Washington Dance Theater, David Rousseve) presented two works as a part of New Shoes 6. The first, Reveal, is an in-progress solo performed by himself. Brown catapults himself onto stage, his presence was formidable in white tights clutching a suitcase. He shouted text over the silence in a southern accent and revealed a large veil of black tulle. Whether more theater or dance, comical or serious, I could not be sure, but Reveal offered a clear set of imagery from a childhood steeped in curiosity and in faith.

Brown’s second piece Chromosome, contrasted his first with its physicality and dynamics. Though over-enthusiastic at times, the dancers’ movements were captivating, making the space blurred with the expansiveness of them all. A violinist walked casually out onto stage in a pause of movement and confronted Brown himself. The musician raised his bow as Brown raised his arm and the two played together, one with the instrument and the other his body. This moment captured a pure emotional connection between the human body and music, as undeniable and inseparable.

Closing the evening was Darrian O’Reilly’s CreatureTube, a refreshing and comical view into the essence of interplay. This quartet offered a highly stylized view into playful fantasy. Donning pajama pants with cats on them, four women characterized the personalities of felines. Bounding, tumbling and wrestling together they forced the audience’s undivided attention with their rambunctious energy. Vocalizing French phrases together they played and climbed over each other, eager for the spotlight. Punctuated by French style pop music and classical ballet petit allegros, this showcase of both virtuosity and humor had the audience erupting with laughter. While loud and for lack of a better term, ‘in your face’ it was, I didn’t feel that the vocalization and music was random or unneeded, on the contrary it only added to the work’s enchantment. The piece ended of course, as these connections often do, with a dramatic catfight, complete with pulling hair. While obviously characterizing feline nature, I couldn’t help but feel that O’Reilly was giving a wink and a nod toward the social nature of women, our competition, rivalry and outward playfulness. CreatureTube was a truly inspiring reminder that dance can be goofy and silly as well as simultaneously thought-provoking and impactful.

This presentation of diverse physicality and emotional depth truly shows the potential of the many talented and collaborative choreographers living in Los Angeles’ backyard.  Highways’ New Shoes 6 continues to present new ideas and innovative performances in the heart of a deceptively creative city.

All photos courtesy of Sophia Stoller and Aron Altmark

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