LACDC’s “huge experiment”, Choreography Lab, is a huge success

LACDC Choreography Lab

In the competitive world of dance, it can be hard for new voices to find spaces to experiment and foster their work. LACDC’s Choreography Lab is creating that space.

On July 11th, 2019, LA Contemporary Dance Company’s (LACDC) inaugural Choreography Lab at Renaissance Arts Academy welcomed onlookers and community members alike for an all-around nurturing experience. It was an informal event which aligned with LACDC Artistic Director Genevieve Carson’s expressed intent for the lab of being a low-pressure, low-stakes environment for the choreographers to workshop and explore new ideas with professional dancers and mentorship. In addition to attending the event, I also had the privilege of interviewing Carson about Choreography Lab (interview answers contain slight edits for clarity).

“I realized there was a serious absence of training opportunities for young choreographers in the dance world. I wanted to create an opportunity for early-career choreographers to create with professional dancers in a low-stakes environment.” – Genevieve Carson

In what can be a cut-throat industry like dance, an event like this is refreshing and heart-warming. Carson and Rebecca Lemme, co-director of the Choreography Lab, introduced the lab as a “huge experiment” for choreographers to play with new works still in incubation.

LACDC Choreography Lab
Choreography Lab Co-Directors Genvieve Carson and Rebecca Lemme

This attitude toward the lab and showcase not only took pressure off the choreographers, but also the audience. As audience members, we were encouraged to revel in the choreographers’ freedom to explore and be curious voyeurs rather than critical analysts of the works we witnessed. Something the dance world could use a lot more of.

“It was extremely important to myself and Rebecca that we set up an organic environment that allowed space for trust, experimentation, and creativity. We continuously emphasized to the choreographers that the point of the lab was process and exploring possibility, not product.” “By the end of the lab, the group had grown very close because there was an immense trust and support system established throughout the process.” – Genevieve Carson

The lab consisted of daily studio time and meetings with the co-directors to talk about the goals and process methodology of the work. The choreographers then got three days of rehearsal with the dancers before the showcase, Carson and Lemme explained. All of the choreographers involved were clearly passionate, driven artists looking to explore concepts and emotions near and dear to them.

Felicia St. Cyr – @stcyr_cocaptain

Felicia St Cyr LACDC Choreography Lab

Cyr’s work-in-progress (WIP), Amethyst Records: Side B is a solo featuring dancer Cody Brunelle-Porter about the “spaces in between” the phases of grief, inspired by the loss of her father. The piece begins in silence as Brunelle-Porter grabs at nothing, flails and falls, then breaks the silence with what starts as an occasional, contemplative phrase that gets more frantic as his movements express increasing anger, comfort, frustration, joy…

He enjoys a moment of silence laying flat on his stomach and declares “This space is safe.” Then, clamors to his feet to enact various memories of dad, such as playing baseball, as snippets of 70s rock songs serpentine in-and-out of consciousness. The WIP is as impactful as it is authentic and suggests the finished piece will bring emotional catharsis to this tragic, personal life event for the choreographer and audience alike.

Gianna Burright – @giannaburright

Gianna Burright LACDC Choreography Lab

Burright announced her WIP, BaggAGE, as an exploration of the concept of motherhood – women’s relationships to the concept, men’s relationships to the concept, the societal pressure to become a mother, and how our relationships to the concept of motherhood evolve throughout life. BaggAGE is a duet and features dancers Jan-Matthew Sevilla and Carissa Songhorian filling the empty spaces between them, pulling apart, rushing back together, seeing past each other, through each other and around each other until finally fully seeing one another.

Later in the piece, the dancers break the fourth wall and look to the audience, inviting us to ponder our own connection to our mothers and our relationship to motherhood as voice over of the choreographer and dancers sharing their own thoughts on the subject fill the room. It’s a beautiful, moving WIP; the concepts were well-fleshed out despite their broad coverage.

LACDC Choreography Lab
Cody Brunelle-Porter in Felicia St. Cyr’s piece “Amethyst Records: Side B”

“A number of [the choreographers] have told me that they felt challenged, supported, and inspired… The biggest questions that are coming up, now that they are out of the lab, are about next steps. What is the next step towards developing the work? Who should they reach out to, to get presented? How do you market your work? These are all things that take time and focus, and I want to make sure they know that we are still available to them as resources.” – Genevieve Carson

Brian Golden – @briangolden13

Brian Golden LACDC Choreography Lab

Golden’s WIP duet entitled Crowded Isolation features dancers Hyosun Choi and Caitlin Lovette crowding each other’s space and implanting thoughts into each other’s heads. Golden shared his challenges to discern his own thoughts among a crowded living space with multiple roommates and indicated that Crowded Isolation explores this struggle.

The dancers writhe together, mutter to each other and indulge in gooey movements just to panic and frantically seek each other’s comfort again. Even if you don’t have roommates, in this age of social media everyone can relate to constant connections clouding our own internal spaces. The concept and motivation of the piece has a lot of potential to widely resonate with audiences.

Riley Higgins – @rileyhiggins29

Riley Higgins LACDC Choreography Lab

Episodes of Love is Riley Higgins’ WIP made for film but stood well on its own in a theatrical setting. Higgins showcased two sections of choreography, the first a trio with dancers Darby Epperson, Nicole Flores and Nicole Hagen and the second a solo performed by Nicole Hagen. The first section overflows with entertainment value showcasing cheeky, sultry choreography and a strong connection to the music. It’s playful, sweet, sexy and enables the performers’ individual personalities to shine.

Higgins said the full piece is meant to explore “love as a behavior” and personify multiple facets and kinds of love. I perceive this section to be the stages of an initial crush or infatuation – the fun part of the relationship before reality sets in and flaws and incompatibilities become apparent. The solo is more serious in tone and spastic in movement quality. It’s also more internal in nature.

“The dancers were a huge part of the lab and helped establish the tone for the environment. Every single artist involved in the lab was open, authentic, kind, and trusting. It truly was a unique ecosystem that was established, and everyone felt it.” – Genevieve Carson

Rigoberto Saura – @rigosaura

Rigoberto Saura

Saura didn’t have much to say about his piece except that it was about water, distance and survival. Raft, Saura’s WIP, features dancers JM Rodriguez and Angel Tyson violently tearing apart from one another then scrambling back toward each other in desperation. The piece features simple movement and chaotic partnering as the dancers share weight, search together, hold each other back and push each other forward. After reading Saura’s bio I imagine this piece is about alienation from family overseas. The title also conjures themes of the intimate, personal stories of refugees around the world, traveling from war-torn and impoverished countries to their new home countries on a challenging journey full of unknowns.

Lenin Fernandez – @_lenin

Lenin Fernandez LACDC Choreography Lab

The final WIP in the showcase was Color the Space, a duet performed by Malachi Middleton and Megan Seagren. Fernandez said that the piece was about vibrations and their effect on us whether through light, sound or relationships. This piece has a slew of emotional affects. The dancers explore space and each other as if aliens who had developed in isolation.

They shake hands, watch each other, objectify each other, explore the limitations of their own bodies, and express a vast vocabulary of melodramatic emotions. The audience was clearly impacted by the dancers’ play as they laughed, gawked, awed and were sucked into the world of this WIP. This piece has great potential for an evening-length work as it explores so many emotions and situations in both a relatable and alien way.

Fernandez will be showing an iteration of his WIP at Highways Performance Space on August 9th and 10th (2019) and will include the dancers from the Lab!

LACDC Choreography Lab
Malachi Middleton and Megan Seagren in Lenin Fernandez’ piece “Color the Space”

“I feel very strongly that we are on to something and I look forward to growing the program and offering more opportunities to early career dance makers.” – Genevieve Carson

More Choreography Lab Please!

All in all, LACDC’s choreography lab was, from where I sat, a huge success. Each choreographer had unique, new ideas. They entertained and invited us to introspect on some of the concepts, relationships and emotions that make us most human. I hope to see more choreography labs in the future from LACDC and hope that this “huge experiment” inspires other companies and organizations to do their part in fostering the next generation of artists, giving artists and audiences alike the opportunity to see new works in this sort of fun, low-pressure, creative environment.

Best of luck to all the choreographers who were a part of this program! Please follow them all at their Instagram handles above and don’t miss LACDC at the Ford Amphitheater as part of Women Rising on August 16th. LACDC has a lot of upcoming milestones you can celebrate with them! They’ll be celebrating their 15th anniversary as an organization and moving to a new home at Stomping Ground LA. Don’t miss a beat by visiting their website and following them on Instagram @lacontemporarydance.

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