A dance film in three parts bound / less by MashUp Contemporary Dance celebrates National Women’s Equality Day

2020 very well could be labeled the year of many dance films and 2021 is still reaping the benefits from the COVID isolation time. MashUp Contemporary Dance is a collective of beautiful female dance artists keen on making dance (and in this case dance on film) with a social justice aim. bound / less is a thirty minute film in three discrete parts that speaks to the intersections of female identity and race.  

Three BIPOC dancers on a wooden bridge in Japanese Garden.
Shiori Kamijo, Vicki Roan, and Eugenia Rodriguez in Marissa Osata’s Part I of bound / less

Part I, set in a Japanese Garden, features three BIPOC women (Shiori Kamijo, Vicki Roan, Eugenia Rodriguez) dressed in white. Pulling and pressing at their faces, the dancers contrasted the idyllic scenery with a sense of unease relating to their skin, face, identity. The choice for the dancers to have little or no make up and the purity of the white cotton costumes, posed questions regarding the state of natural, untainted beauty and the soul’s impeccability. The theme of ablution and was further underscored with the dancer interacting with the water feature in the carefully tended garden. Choreographer Marissa Osata utilized the environmental designs to eloquently highlight the grounded and earthy nature of the dancers as well as their unfettered beauty. The movement included a wide variety of gestures, creative changes of support, uses of level, and relationship to the garden location. For instance, the dancers performed on a wooden bridge which framed their bodies into thirds a while giving them a fantastic prop to work with, on, through, and around. This section of the work had the dancers moving in and out of each other’s space, occupying, high, middle, and low levels and reaching, peering, collapsing, and supporting on the wooden structure in innovative ways. This middle section nicely blended the dancer’s technique with the visual imagery, while featuring the dancer’s expressive dynamism, strength, and conviction. Osata’s addition of spoken work in the dancer’s native (or heritage) language and the intense moments of distress for their condition added the elements of reality and immediacy to the circumstances of these women grasping for relief from an internal and perhaps external fight for belonging. 

Two dancers in stain suits and black boots.
Part II of bound / less choreography by Carissa Songhorian

Part II, choreographed by Carissa Songhorian, contrasted the natural outdoors setting of Part I with a white walled studio space filled with a quartet of dancers dressed in satin pants and suit jackets in shimmery pastel colors. From underneath the shiny exterior, popped glimpses of black push up bras and thick-soled black boots to complete the playfully urban look and hint that there was more to these women underneath the pearlescent veneer. Performed by a racially diverse cast reminiscent of the old Colors of Benetton advertisements, the dancers, Hyosun Choi, Cacia Lacount, Nadie Maryam, and Carissa Songhorian, performed together beautifully, interacting with moments of contact, support, nearness and addressing in ways that were sometimes intimate and sometimes provoking. The tone and nature of the relationships were fluid as dancers moved through duets, trios, and solos bringing attention to the similarities and differences between the four distinct bodies. The dancers moved in athletic and bold qualities contrasted by gentle and delicate gestures such as the carefully touching each other’s faces with light fingertips. The framing of the film focused repeatedly on the dancers’ complexion through tactile addressing, questioning the definition of identity as the shades and hues of the dancers’ skin. The textures and shapes of the dancers’ body parts were highlighted with close ups and slow motion. As the women took out their perfectly coiffed hair and unbuttoned their suit jackets, slow motion video captured the moments of mounting distress between the pushing and pulling bodies revealing the conflict between women who are one with each other while simultaneously being at odds with each other. Songhorian’s choreographic style aligns with current trends for LA dance, blending the flash of the industry with contemporary underpinnings and concert sensibilities. 

Part III was another trio, choreographed by Victoria Brown and this time featuring three powerfully sculpted black female bodies in neutral brown sports tops and briefs. Set inside a warehouse with corrugated metal walls and exposed lighting instruments, the rough and linear architectural structures nicely contrasted the warm and muscular bodies of the three dancers.  Strong and aggressive movement featured an intense gaze from the women as well as impressive moments of physical athleticism, stunning line, and technical prowess. The physicality of the dancers, Emily Carr, Mega Prout, and Shelby Davis, against the marley floor in the vacuous industrial space created a stunning visual design highlighted by the warm light that glimmered and reflected off their skin. Brown’s choreographic voice is something that can appeal to anyone who loves to see the human body’s capacity for athletic and emotionally fueled dance in the vein of contemporary dance that blends some of the dance competition circuit “wow”-factor with world relevant issues that allow the dancers to shine in their brilliance and resilience.

Together the three works make a triptych that work well together as a short film navigating the big topics of today’s world. The women in this film were beautiful and diverse in cultural heritage, but what they shared was exquisite technique, physical fitness, and stunning beauty. The choreographers and directors strived to empower these women through pieces that were big, bold, and beautiful. The challenge of filmed performance pieces about this topic is the sneaky ability of film to further objectify women in the process. When working with film there is an inherent aspect of voyeurism in the format. And, at times this film fell into that trap. Each piece featured beautiful women not wanting to be limited by external perceptions; yet, they are in some ways unwittingly objectifying themselves through a gaze that comes from the outside. It is a sticky aspect of film making for artists addressing themes of female beauty and empowerment. 

Three dancers connected and leaning on each other in a warehouse.
Victoria Brown’s choreography from Part III in bound / less.

But, the choreographer’s intentions are clear and the product is highly entertaining, beautifully danced, well-filmed, and edited. The three pieces provide an intense experience from start to finish, perhaps missing opportunities for levity or comic relief to contrast the intensity of the works. Thirty minutes of unrelenting power is a lot to take in all at once. This is not to say the works weren’t varied; each piece had its own flavor of discontent, anger, exasperation, and in turn empowerment. The stunning imagery and excellent dancing propel the film forward nicely. The beauty of the filming and editing by Nathan Kim and Danielle King makes the work easy to enjoy. Music contributions by Sara Sithi-Amnuai, Kathryn Shuman, Drumset Fundamentals, Alyesha Wise, and Andy Stott complete the film and hold the space for the dance to shine. The lack of a digital program or sectional titles made it somewhat challenging to comment clearly on each section of the work and the creative team behind it, but as a whole the work resonated soundly. 

Dance films directed and choreographed by women for women is a genre we can hope to see explode in popularity. Then the field can grapple with the difficult issues of objectifying the female body with the male gaze which can be insidious in film making. MashUp Contemporary Dance has done a great job venturing into this world, and it will be interesting to see how they continue to use film to further their social justice mission. 
The film is still available for purchase to view through the month of December via the company website www.mashupdance.com. It is a great way to support LA dance makers and foster attention to intersectionality in the dance world.

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