Lula Washington Dance Theatre Meets Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Lula Washington Dance Theatre Meets Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Natalie Mislang Mann
The Lula Washington Dance Theatre and Complexions Contemporary Ballet performed as part of the inaugural year of the Zev Yaroslovsly Signature Series, a two concert series in which acclaimed Angeleno performers are paired with world-class artists. The Ford Theatre’s natural backdrop encases a unique forum to hold a dance performance on a chilly, Hollywood night. Only suiting that Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s Micah Moch and Khilea Douglass’s performance of “At First Sight” (an excerpt from Love Is…) begins with a composition by the Icelandic group Sigur Rós. Choreographer Christopher Huggins choice to use Sigur Rós’s music provides an expressionist soundscape for the audience to begin thinking about what love is, as well as the distinctive nuances that the word embraces, from the esoterically spiritual to the pulsation that drives humans toward a common good. Perhaps this is why Lula Washington’s dancers performed on the same night with Complexions Contemporary Ballet: Both dance companies create introspective works that embody cultural and emotional transcendence.
Lula Washington’s multifaceted talent as choreographer bounds from joyous to cerebral. Highlighting this spectrum was the premiere of Turn the Page, inspired by Zev Yaroslovsky’s childhood memory as a page turner for a symphony conductor. In the first part of the piece, “Classical”, Washington’s choreography riffs the formulaic ballet love themes of romantic love, as dancers Naila Ansari, Bernard Brown and Jeremiah Tatum lampoon classical dance through over-exaggerated foot and arm movements. The piece emphasized the timelessness of Beethoven, but questions the stagnation of why audiences return to canonical productions like the Nutcracker year after year. The last two sections of the piece, “Innocence” and “Feelings,” are emotionally compelling. In “Innocence,” a young woman, Ra’JahNae Patterson, tries to get the attention of dancer Bernard Brown. Ultimately, she walks off the stage pulling her black hoodie over her in remembrance of Trayvon Martin.
In “We Wore the Mask”, dancer Queala Clancy’s power does justice to Washington’s powerful, poignant piece that surges to the heart of what it means to tear off masks that African Americans use/d to protect the self in the United States. And, in light of the Martin ruling, the power of this performance ignites. Beginning the dance, Clancy sits on a stool facing away from her audience. At times, she holds her arms behind her in bondage. Other times she gets up and mimics moves made famous by minstrels. She turns around wearing a caricatured mask reminiscent of prevalent racist images used to stereotype African Americans. During this part of the performance, most of the audience remained silent. Some of the audience laughed. A few giggled, because they thought it humorous, others out of discomfort. The former guffaws made me wonder why they perceived this stereotypical image as amusing, reinforcing why this piece is more relevant than ever. Clancy’s character struggles to take off a veil. When she finally removes it, the company takes the stage in powerful unity filled with strength, deviating from moves that performers like Al Jolson made famous. Towards the end of the performance, Clancy lifts up both arms open handed and triumphant, as if to say “f-you,” takes her stool and walks off the stage.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s performance ends with an excerpt from Ode to the ‘60s from 2007. The performance begins with “Calling of the people,” which includes excerpts from John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech, followed by a movement performance to Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner. In “Let it Be,” Tamica Washington-Miller, associate director and company dancer, accompanies the dancers as she calls out Cesar Chavez, NAACP, NOW and the assassination dates of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The segment concluded with “Cultural Exchange,” in which the company performed to Super Bad. Lula Washington made a surprise appearance with her college friend, California African American Museum Executive Director and California Arts Council member, Charmaine Jefferson, on stage. The presence of these two women who help shaped, and continue to shape, the Los Angeles cultural scene on stage was evidence that art has the potency to create political change.
After intermission, Complexions Contemporary Ballet performed an excerpt from The Curve under the artistic direction of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Rhoden’s choreography, combined with Kelly Brown’s costume design, and musical composition that included sound sampling, the music of Michael Nyman, Hauschka, Hildur Guonadottir, Emil Dedov and Ryuichi Sakamoto, transformed The Ford Theatre into a grounded, yet surreal, environment. The music ranged from minimalistic to discordant noise, either complementing or opposing the muscular graceful lines of the dancers’ ability to evoke emotion. This piece was successful in altering the audience’s awareness of present physical location, yet it transported consciousness to a hypnotic realm. During Complexion’s duration on stage, I was mesmerized by dancer Terk Water’s ability to embody elegance and masculinity on stage in this piece as well as in “Testament”, performed with Kelly Sneddon to Amazing Grace.
I also appreciated “On Holiday”, a piece about an abusive relationship choreographed to Billy Porter’s rendition of My Man (Mon Homme) and performed by Christina Drooling and Edgar Anido. Without judgment, the piece explores the cycle of tension to honeymoon to calm phase, and gives the viewer the respect to feel his or her own emotions toward the work.
The night ended on an upbeat note when the two companies joined for “I Wonder Why”, followed by “Rise” featuring Complexions dancing to an array of U2 beats. I found this part of the performance entertaining as the dancers mimicked Irish folk dancing paying homage to the band’s roots. Preferring more indie music and never a U2 fan, I was surprised that I left the amphitheater feeling joyous. It says a lot when watching dancers, like Complexions Contemporary Ballet, can influence taste in music.
The curation of pieces could be interpreted as choppy, rather than seamless, since no singular concrete element strung together a coherent sequence. This is the difficulty of having two dance companies with unmistakable identities juxtaposed within limited time to showcase meaningful works from their repertoire. However, pairing divergent artists gives audiences the chance to experience performers they might otherwise overlook and opens up a forum to foster cultural discourse.
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An Evening of Dance – Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Lula Washington Dance Theatre performed on August 10, 2013 at 8 PM
Lula Washington Dance Theatre Performance Schedule
Complexions Contemporary Ballet Performance Schedule