Dancing in Los Angeles

Victoria Kabwe in POH #4 aka Fly
I sat with my laptop in the backstage hallway of Glendale Community College's theater - trying not to freeze to death, wearing floral tights and a thin rain coat that's too small for my limbs. Dancers ran past me in their costumes assuming their places before they were called to onstage. I was recovering from a tap dance choreographed by Richard Kuller and looked through my emails for any discouraging news: bombs, wars, rich men taking from the poor, neglected communities, etc. I don't know why. It was a nice evening, but this has become some type of balance for me. A good performance night matched with news in the world. It strikes a balance in my brain. Or maybe it's the hyper active sensation of being an artist in Los Angeles. There's so much happening in this town, my hometown...and I feel like I am just getting to know her again through different eyes. Eyes of someone who has experience Bay Area Dance community now trying to understand the complexity of Los Angeles Dance community.

I wonder if all different types of artists feel thrown about this way. A good performance night, with a side dish of reality in the world and everything we are trying to move against through unity, connection, growth and basic human understanding. The arts his fantastic this way. We embrace the dark and cold corners of our mind, and (if we are in touch with hope) we show the contrast glimmer of survival and authenticity in our small universes. We own space in time to declare something. I find that extremely beautiful.

In order to touch base with the dance community, I began my journey this fall at Pasadena City College, my alma mater. I took three dance classes, and met new folks and reunited with old friends who have remained powerful in the dance community through the school. In Performance Class, we circled up and introduced ourselves. People with various training and backgrounds smiled and shared their passion for choreography and dance. I talked about storytelling with the body because that's what draws me to dance - the journey of the story.

Earlier this year, as some of you know, I had been traveling and dealing with the loss of Luisa Moreno Soto, my grandmother. This is why I chose to return to Pieces of Her, and began working on  Pieces of Her: Installation #4 AKA Fly.

Aaron Wilson, Victoria Kabwe, Rosa Navarrete,
Alicia Moseley, and Jonathan Hernandez in POH #4 aka Fly
All dancers in POH #4 aka Fly
Aaron Wilson and Jonathan Hernandez in POH #4 aka Fly
Aaron Wilson, Rosa Navarrete & Victoria Kabwe in POH #4 aka Fly
All dancers mopping.
My dancers were Victoria Kabwe, Aaron Wilson, Alicia Moseley, and Jonathan Hernandez. They are a mix of newbies and veteranos. They were each very different, and I did my best to highlight their talents throughout the dance. I challenged a couple of them, giving them words to speak and proclaim at the beginning of the dance. They brought written work to share, thus the title Fly came about - from Victoria Kabwe's favorite Beatles phrase: "Take these broken wings and learn to fly." These words opened the dance.

Pieces of Her evolved from a trio in 2013 via The Defiance Project's dance concert where three women discussed their past via a grandmother's life. Then it became a duet at a small theater spot called The Garage in San Francisco, where I explored the relationship of memories through two alien bodies in space. In November 2014 I brought Pieces of Her to La Peña Cultural Center through a performance workshop lead by Diana Cervera and Ramona Rodriguez Brooks. That performance was a solo with dance and poem. This iteration involved the poetry of a writer I had the pleasure of meeting at Casa 0101 Theater, her name is Lindsey Haley. Lindsey and I then invited Tanya Lauren to join the piece as the live reader who would lead us in the dance.

Tanya Lauren amongst our bodies at the end of POH #4 aka Fly.
And so the journey began at Pasadena City College, and I started POH #4 aka FLY. I was given six dancers. Two dropped, and I ended up having to fill in the empty bodies with my own. Something I didn't plan on at all. Professor Cheryl Banks-Smith insisted, as the movement quality belonged to my body, she said. I gave in. We went on - coming up with movement based on conversations and personal statements about ourselves. I also brought back movement from the first three iterations of the dance. FLY starts with the movers first claiming a truth about themselves and then dives into Luisa's story told through someone else's words - Lindsey Haley's poem. Her poem was read by Tanya Lauren on stage and we danced to it and when she finished reading the poem, we danced to Nina Simone's  I want a little sugar in my bowl.

During the process of performing - something unbuckled in my soul and released itself out of me through that dance. I had forgotten how much it meant to perform my grandmother's story. Her failings and triumphs also part of my body expressed themselves with love and care. I let go of possessing it, and she became Lindsey's story, Victoria's story, Jonathan's story, Alicia's story, Aaron's story, and the audience's story. Everyone who was ready to receive the message was dancing with us on stage. It was amazing how we could feel some of them. I hope the dance healed people, who may have experienced or witnessed any type of abuse in their life.

Performing means being fully present. So present that you are just existing in space with other people and expressing something that lives in you. Saturday matinee of our performance was the day we all felt connected in that level - with each other and people watching. The dance brought me to a place that goes beyond joy. A place that doesn't belong to me, but belonged to whoever wanted to accept the work whether or not they were performing it or witnessing it.

I don't believe I have processed the departure of my grandmother fully. However, I have accepted her departure, and hope to continue working on Pieces of Her. Because her story was not just about surviving abuse. Her story was so much more than that. It was also giving strength to her daughters and granddaughters, so they would not follow in the same cycle that she did. Her story has comedy, and love letters, and sister rivalries, and sarcasm, and cancer...near the end. Her story is rich and full and vibrant.

Sometimes people come up to me and say, "I'm sorry about your grandmother, I know she meant a lot to you." It touches me because I forget to acknowledge that sometimes. Both my grandmothers were strong mujeres, who loved at all odds.

After "SEARCHLIGHT" at PCC - Richard Kuller invited his tap dancers to perform again at Glendale Community College (GCC). That was this past weekend.

Keeping busy with dance work, dance performance, writing, acting, and currently writing for a performance has been a blessing these past few weeks. It's been go go go, and I feel my ancestors kicking my butt and telling me to keep at it. No time for sleep.

Rehearsing with Richard Kuller in the background and Pla!

PCC Salsa Fundraiser for the holidays w/ Jonathan Hernandez
& Bernadette Raisa Sebastian

In make up for Richard Kuller's tap piece with
dancers in background.
Thanks for the push ancestors, but my body also needs to feel loved and get some recuperation in there. I hope you don't mind that I stuff my face during the holidays. I'll get back on track soon. I promise.

I look forward to pushing my body to the limit again, and finding new ways to discover movement with this dance community I am building. I hope the movement never stops. Never. 

For now, ice is my friend.

PCC Production images provided by Pasadena City College Flickr account.