MashUp hosts a festival weekend in celebration of International Women’s Day

Choreographers take a bow at MashUp Contemporary Dance Company’s festival Break the Bias Showcase.

Hosting four days of dance classes, workshops, performances, discussions and screenings, MashUp Contemporary Dance Company went big for their 6th annual festival to celebrate female identifying choreographers. Saturday March 5th featured a Break the Bias showcase of female choreographed works performed at the LA Dance Project space. I was able to attend the evening performance which was well attended and beautifully performed. The following are just some of the highlights of the evening.

Choreographed and performed by Gianna Burright, soLOW was a clever title for a piece that inhabited a world of lingering loneliness, quietude, tenderness, and self-reflection. The solo felt more like a duet between Burright and a leather cushioned chair which Burright skillfully manipulated through movement-play and exploration. The work offered a glimpse into a personal world that was beautiful and subtle.

DINNER by Anna Bauer opened with an ingenious dinner tableau in which two dancers laid on the ground as the table, while the others conversed above them, gesturing wildly in the space while relating over the terrain of bodies. The quirkiness of this opening tableau was provocative and compelling. The development into a quartet was less clear, leaving the conversation feeling open-ended and uncertain.

LIMBO by Haley Kostas was a riveting trio driven by a long wooden pole with and on which the dancers lunged, leaned, balanced, swooped, and climbed. Performed by Kostas with two other female bodied dancers, the movement vocabulary emphasized strong force with grounded, flexed bodies. The movement innovation with the pole and the intense physicality demanded of the dancers due to the pole made this piece a standout of the evening.

Another unexpected work was Getting There, performed and danced by Leah Hartley who not only created and performed the dance, but also accompanied the work on her cello through looping software. The accomplished dancer-musician combo was so amazing that it was unforgettable. While the compositional structure and movement generation lacked development, the sheer talent and skill required of one individual to make the whole of the performance single-handedly was a treat to witness.

Won’t Take Shape by Taylor Unwin was another strong aesthetic outlier of the evening with its patient compositional structure, subdued dynamic palette, unique body-half connectivity patterning and deliberate movement vocabulary. The tall, long-limbed performers differed in their willingness to slow down and allow space for movement choices that were not driven by high-affect juxtaposition as seen in many of the other works.

Azuki Umeda and Amy Magsam co-choreographed Beep, a hot, jazz-funk number utilizing unabashed female sex appeal that was aggressive and unrelentingly fierce. With a dance crew vibe rooted in rhythmic precision and strongly accented actions, the piece used the mature female cast to make a dance that was grounded and convincing.

As a whole, the evening was characterized by high octane performances dealing with themes of tragedy or discontent. Only a few of the pieces had lightness or joy embedded in them and as such stood out from the rest. A sweet and sensitive duet entitled Tenderly by Hannah Huang honored the space for something more private and intimate, with a not-quite-audible conversation occurring between the dancers who circled dreamily side by side, shoulder to shoulder. The most joy-filled moment of the evening came in a powerfully performed trio by Eli Dewitz entitled Testimony which blossomed from emotional yearning to wonderment. The dancers performed with brilliant contemporary technique emerging to find grace, joy and connection that was honest and pure.

EMBODY | in•body by Stephanie Hecker closed the show. A large ensemble piece which featured many of the choreographers featured on the program, this work seemed to arrive at the root aesthetic of MashUp Contemporary Dance Company as a whole. The cast of mature female performers were beautifully trained, well-rehearsed, passionate, athletic, and expressive. Predatory direct gaze and highly tensile bodies contrasted calmer moments of simple contact partnering and subtle sensing.

In all, the program featured 16 short pieces, many of which fell under the “contemporary” umbrella with strong aesthetic commonalities to Hecker’s closing number. Overall the dancers were universally well-trained in contemporary forms with strong technical foundations and passionate performances. Fluid spines, monumental strength, grounded lunges, supple floorwork, and sequential flow through the body as a whole were characteristics shared amongst the majority of the works. This particular blend of expressive, story-driven movement represents an important contingent of the contemporary LA dance scene that emerges from extensive studio training, convention circuits, and commercially aimed values which are direct descendants of the contemporary style first made popular through the early SYTYCD years with Mia Michaels, Sonya Teyah, and Travis Wall. This showcase similarly included beautifully danced and highly emotive performances including Are we there yet? by Taryn Vander Hoop, Busy and Important by Ashley Tomaszewski, Naeem by Mackenzie Martin, JET FUEL by Chloe Erlandson, Ferrets Around a Rabbit Burrow by Stephanie Mizrahi, 1 ,968.4 Miles of Vulnerability by Haley Andrews, and Luminescent by Nicole Hagen. These works were all exquisitely performed by predominantly female dancers who work well in the LA-style contemporary dance due to their physical precision and dynamic prowess. Each piece had its own brilliance and intensity making the evening as a whole thoroughly entertaining.  

If any criticism were to be made of the event, it would be of the general lack of representation in genre diversity or cultural origins in the program, which the organizers may or may not have had much control over (It was unclear whether it was non-juried or curated). On a related note, while I always appreciate a digital program, I was disappointed that the program didn’t provide bios of the female choreographers or offer credit to any of the composers of the musical selections or other artists (costumers, spoken word artists, lighting designers, dramaturgs, etc.) who may have contributed to the works. The benefit of a digital program is that it costs nothing to print, so it could be as long as needed and still be cost effective. So, while event images and materials were beautifully designed and skillfully presented with QR codes, the showcase missed opportunities for honoring the female artists with program basics like bios or other background information.

Overall, MashUp is a company that is highly entertaining, creating wonderful opportunities for women dance artists. Audience members who love clean technique balanced with emotive storytelling will love MashUp events. And, for the hundred and thousands of female dancers who wonder what lies ahead of them when they age out of studios or are no longer on dance teams, this group is an inspiration. They have found a way to come together and support each other for continued personal growth and artistic integrity for dance as a way of life.

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Categories: Festivals

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