Lara J. Altunian

Lara J. Altunian

Lara is an LA-based dance writer and arts journalist. She is a master’s graduate from the University of Southern California who is interested in visual and interactive storytelling, and also loves reading, writing and crafting. Follow her on Twitter @larajian90.

A Call to Action: Three Dance Companies Explore Revolution, Empathy and Healing

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[dropcap]Dance[/dropcap] Resource Center’s HOME GROWN @ Bootleg is a biannual production dedicated to encouraging the expanding Los Angeles dance scene by showcasing work by local choreographers. Now in its second year, the latest installment of this series will be taking place May 4-6 and will feature Rappaport Dance, B. Dunn Movement/Dance & Theatre Company and Critical Mass Dance Company in its three-day run. Each piece that will be presented is a call to action against the negative effects of today’s political climate through revolution, empathy, and healing.

Rappaport Dance’s artistic director, Zoe Rappaport, explores the circular nature of time in You Cannot Stay On The Summit Forever. Her piece spotlights contemporary grassroots social justice action as it mirrors the 1960s civil rights movement in a series of ten vignettes. Many sections focus on Rappaport’s relationship with her late father, civil rights activist Neil Friedman. A defender of Martin Luther King’s ideologies 50 years ago, Friedman once introduced the reverend at a speech in Memphis. Despite Friedman’s passing in 2008, Rappaport feels that with changing immigration laws and continued mistreatment of minorities, now is the right time to honor his memory and advocate for change alongside her fellow performers in their company’s debut dance.

“This piece wouldn’t be the same at any other point in time,” she says. “There is a sense of urgency. It’s about riding the personal political line. Figure out what your action is, what power you have and what you can do with that. Doing this work is my action right now.”

Rappaport intermittently mixes ’60s and ’70s music with some of today’s soul songs — like Common and John Legend’s “Glory” — to juxtapose the two time periods, harmoniously bridged by the group’s live drummer, Allison “Hi-Hat” Smith.

One section — named after Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 hit “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — starts off with 1960s-inspired pedestrian movements consisting of crouching and turning. The choreography then evolves to include modern, spastic hand jerks and sudden angular lurches. More bodies fill the space and increase speed to a repetitive chorus of “…will not be televised,” swerving faster and faster until finally shooting their arms into the air and looking up, embracing the line’s conclusion: “The revolution will be live!”

In contrast, B. Dunn Movement’s Distorted Realities shifts thematically to despair and insecurity. Director Brigette Dunn-Korpela’s troupe consists of six dancers, five of whom form a dissolving family dynamic. They each flash a fake smile before their movements devolve into desperate flailing, and the cheerful underscore of a 1950s sitcom intro morphs into a soundscape of sharp taps and nervous pants.

The performers bunch together in unsteady, rotating flocks that alter between moving as a united blob and breaking down into smaller bunches. Their characters then begin unclasping each other’s hands. They grow visibly upset and sink into the ground when initially separating from the group as projections behind them grow dark and violent. Images of blood pouring out of rose blossoms give way to hanged black-and-white stick figures.

Rappaport Dance. Photo by Maureen Ferry.

“I’m always thinking about social issues,” says Dunn-Korpela. That’s just who I am. I feel like I’m watching the news and watching social media and it’s a bombardment. This is how I express myself with a collective of artists.”

Spoken word descriptions of three real-life murders of African American men magnify the choreography’s power, tackling the overpowering feeling that little progress has been made. Three empty chairs placed around the stage symbolically allow these victims to bear witness. Meanwhile, the group’s sixth member, Kestrel Leah, purposely ignores the chaos behind her, preferring to wrap herself in a protective plastic dress and fulfill her desire to live an unaltered life of routine as she bakes cherry pie.

Dunn-Korpela has addressed similar topics in the past, however, some aspects of this multi-disciplinary work — including the more theatrical elements — are newer territory for many members of her company. “I wanted to be uncomfortable with this piece,” she explains, “and I didn’t want to do what I normally do.”

Sophia Kozak of Critical Mass Dance Company (CMDC)’s artistic reaction to the current social climate is to center her art on spiritual healing. In 2010, she co-founded the company to focus on both the social justice issues she worked on with other women and their shared view of dance as medicine for the soul.

Routines for CMDC’s shows often begin developing in Kozak’s class “Dance from the Heart,” where women are encouraged to focus on self-care and inner rhythm. Moon Rise, which will be presented alongside Rappaport and Dunn-Korpela’s pieces, is an amalgamation of two previous performances, which come together to create a new story based on forming connections with female immigrant ancestors and their histories. An altar full of portraits of the dancers’ grandmothers and spoken word dialogues directed towards generations past help invoke their presence.

“I thought it was really important to have conversations about what it means to be a woman, and one way we’ve approached it is by connecting to other women in our family and how [that connection] informs our lives,” says Kozak. “Though our stories are different and our paths coming here are different, they all overlap.”

Monarch butterfly wings, long flowing skirts, and skeleton costumes are some components that help enhance the Czech-inspired blacklight dance theater production — chosen by Kozak for their mesmerizing qualities that simultaneously open and relax the mind. Vivid fabric glows in waves as four performers twist through their hips in rolling motions — resembling moves from old world routines — and swing their arms up, behind, and in front of them as if preparing for flight. They clasp one another in tight circles around the low, photo-covered platform and, when standing side-by-side for support, extend their arms like a single blossoming flower, open and ready to receive.

Despite coming from different disciplines, it’s a sharp reflection on the past and an inclusive, diverse perspective that link Rappaport Dance, B. Dunn Movement, and CMDC’s work together.

“Time is not linear,” says Rappaport. “Things come back around, and what we’re dealing with right now, it’s new and it’s not new. We’ve been here before, and we can’t keep doing this.”