It’s a given that Los Angeles, the sprawl-to-the-wall city, has some intriguing locations for site-specific dance, the Getty Center, Union Station and the plaza at the Music Center, to name but a few. With its tall royal palms, May-June jacaranda trees and sleek minimalist architecture, Santa Monica’s Tongva Park, proved a perfect match for the ever-exciting choreographer/dancer Mecca Vazie Andrews and her 11 skilled performers.
As dusk descended on dancers and onlookers, including young children, leashed dogs and passers-by on skateboards, the work felt ritualistic, joyous and, well, necessary. Initially situated on grassy-tiered walkways, eight dancers held one-legged poses and arabesques that had a Busby Berkeley feel, their canonic moves a kinetic tableau.
Tom Peters contributed an original composition, “Celebration,” to a diverse mash-up of, among others, cornet-heavy Miles Davis jazz, Psychedelic Furs, Beach Boys and hurdy gurdy-type marching melodies, all enhancing the beautifully layered work. Tempo changes indicated mood changes, as dancers paired off, one couple assaying a fox trot-cum-tango, others pirouetting.
Various performers held spotlights as they walked, shining colors from pink and blue to interrogation white, with L.A.-born Andrews, a descendant of Trinidadian immigrants from England, ceremoniously walking and speaking into a microphone, reciting her own text smatterings from an iPhone. “The cycle is squared, the circle is a triangle…”
The circle also symbolizes life, with Andrews the de facto ringmistress in the 40-minute work that also featured video projections by—and occasionally featuring—Andrews, who has performed with Lady Gaga, at a slew of museums and is a lyricist/co-vocalist of L.A. punk band Sex Stains. The multi-hyphenate also did the costumes that ranged from street clothes to flowy dresses and leotards, as dancers donned and doffed them at various points during the performance.
This was the “democratization of dance,” as filmmaker/choreographer Sarah Elgart likes to say (her group Sarah Elgart/Arrogant Elbow performed at Tongva in April). Indeed, by dint of putting the genre in a public space, the choreography becomes “democratized.” Yes, this was, at times, free-spirited (hello, Isadora Duncan), generous pedestrian movement—hopping, swimmy arms and determined walking—with the audience also part of the performance, depending on one’s perspective.
When the music morphed into a rave-like track, Christine Tatomer was seen in Wonder Woman-esque garb, albeit with red and black booties, weaving in and out of the grassy area that had been dotted with artificial flowers. As the score continued in random mode, a statuesque Jessica Emmanuel deployed lovely extensions and high kicks, Chae Amando Hill offered rhythmic gyrations and JM Rodriguez darted stealthily amid the crowd. Vanessa Magula also recited text by Andrews, her voice a soothing balm that was punctuated with dancers’ laughter on a coolish SoCal evening.
And then there was Andrews: Executing a fiery, furious and hot-footed solo, with dreads flying, her real-life silhouette—jamming and jumping—was reminiscent of Kara Walker’s sublime cut-outs. This was art in motion, the body as blazing poetry, her outstretched arms a beseeching to the world: Live now. Move now. Feel now.
Andrews’ dance ended as abruptly as it began (boohoo), after which five performers sashayed up a flight of stairs, and dancer Annie Gimas, in an alternative persona, was grooving on electric bass atop the small hill. From this vantage point, one could also see the neon lights of the Santa Monica pier before a singer below intoned the words, “I hate people when they’re not alive,” from the Talking Heads’ half-French, all fabulous, “Psycho Killer.”
Happily, this very much alive coterie of movers continued their revelry—back again on lower ground, after which a duo began raising and lowering a piece of silk fabric, chuppa-like (the canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony). And like the dancing at weddings, the performers, including Ryan Roozie, Ashley Wilkerson, Angel Tyson and Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, sought partners from the audience to waltz, sway and turn. (This reviewer was tapped, and, reluctantly relenting, reporter’s notebook in hand, did manage to succumb to the seductive sounds.)
And thus did the group finale put the exclamation point on the evening, with kudos going to Andrews, who founded the MOVEMENT movement, a performance art theater in 2007, and her charges, for animating the space. In this case, an enchanting park turned an ordinary weeknight into an indelible experience for those lucky enough to be there. Dance may be ephemeral, but memories are eternal. Thank you, dear artists, for your bounteous gifts!