LA Dance Festival ends opening weekend celebrating female-driven contemporary dance

LA Dance Festival, Day 3: Saturday, March 3rd

Featuring: szalt (dance co.), Sarah Elgart/Arrogant Elbow, BrockusRED, and Kybele Dance Theater

Throughout March, LA Dance Festival (LADF) is presenting work by female professional and student choreographers, fringe performances, and master classes. Now in its 6th year, LADF kicked off its special ‘Rise of the Female’ program at the Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz from March 1st – 3rd. (For a review of the second night, click here)


szalt (dance co.) in new (excerpt from moon) Photo by Paul Antico

A stoic group of women opened the third and final evening of LADF’s opening weekend, with a fittingly feminine exploration of the lunar cycle in szalt (dance co.)’s new (excerpt from moon&). Clad in white under moody, dark lighting (Evan Nie) that matched the gloominess of the weather outside, an opening soloist convulsed with quick jerking motions as if experiencing release. The other five dancers joined the stage and began moving in a slow-paced unison, through technically proficient ballet-like choreography with a twist – bourreés facing away from the audience, sustained promenades that were then collapsed out of. The repetitive use of spiral movements gave me a sense of rebirth or new beginnings, which I found more obvious as dancers divulged from the group with distinctive solos, often more erratic than the rest of the piece. At moments I found myself unsure about how the dancers related to each other and to the new moon phase they were embodying, but it was a promising excerpt for choreographer Stephanie Zaletel to expand on.


Sarah Elgart/Arrogant Elbow in Shape of Memory: Sam, Photo by Paul Antico

Sarah Elgart/Arrogant Elbow’s Shape of Memory: Sam opened with a short duet between the company’s Sam McReynolds and Danielle King. The partners had strong, rhythmic timing and equal energies that kept them perfectly in-sync, whether connecting in a lift or disconnected in harmonized, undulating movements. The impressive duet was unfortunately fleeting, much like a memory, as McReynolds was left on stage alone and a work lamp floated in from overhead. Thus began an emotive solo I had first seen performed at the Electric Lodge earlier this year, Elgart’s choreography and McReynolds’s engrossing presence – not at all reduced by the larger theater space – thoroughly engaging us on his journey through the piece. I enjoyed it just as much this second time if not more, especially the brief moments near the end where McReynolds finally seems to ‘break through’ after struggling against an unknown force, his focused expression breaking out into a smile as his movement suddenly becomes more free, joyful, and even feminine. After the enjoyable solo I wanted to see his story find a longer conclusion, yearning for King to come back for some sort of finale to the opening pas de deux.


BrockusRED in Iunae Lumen (moon dances), Photo by Paul Antico

BrockusRED skillfully adapted their outdoor performance of Iunae Lumen (moon dances) for the stage due to the wet weather, beginning onstage as the audience walked in after intermission. A taut white sheet silhouetted a graceful, slithering dancer to start, a creative choice that set up a slightly ominous atmosphere. More dancers in draping red fabric flowed through sensual contemporary jazz choreography in dramatic fashion. I was confused by the classical music accompanying most of the work, feeling the cinematic storyline called more for the pulsing, tribal beat that took over towards the ending. A very different interpretation of the lunar theme than Stephanie Zaletel’s piece from earlier, the two works demonstrated just how diverse the feminine experience and expression of that experience can be.


Kybele Dance Theater in Masal, Photo by Paul Antico

Kybele Dance Theater began Masal with a striking image of six dancers in torn white costumes (Amabel Aguiluz) clawing up the back curtain, before transitioning into a richly performed solo from choreographer Seda Aybay. Flowing undulations and contractions initiated by audible breaths from the dancers gave the sense that each individual was turning inward in conversation with themselves. Not every dancer connected with each other, but a lovely trio between Aybay and two male dancers especially stood out as she was smoothly supported back and forth between the two men, never losing her powerful movement quality. The entire company was technically stunning and impassioned in their performance, with strong energy throughout the somewhat long work. Aybay offered a more existential female perspective to the evening as she explored our obsession with finding the meaning to our lives.

The opening weekend of LADF was a celebration of the contributions women have made to LA’s contemporary dance scene in the past, are continuing to make now, and the exciting elements they are bringing to the city next. In the years to come, I hope to see the festival’s production value grow – a larger, central venue to accommodate more audience members, along with a robust branding, marketing, and PR effort would help LADF rise to the level of the exceptional talent it presents. The month-long festival has successfully brought the local contemporary dance community together, and I hope it deservingly ‘rises’ into the spotlight of the greater LA arts community next year.

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