His religious father beat him mercilessly when he was a child and finally shot him to death in 1984. But you didn’t need to know a thing about the soul singer Marvin Gaye to feel the range of emotion in Universal (Marvin’s Remix,) a provocative dance drama choreographed by Lavina Rich.
The piece wasn’t all about Marvin. Rather, it exposed the hypocrisy and seedy side of average people. Rich’s distinct style and superb performances made it the highlight of the Choreographer’s Showcase “Archives” at the 10th Avenue Theater last weekend.
Over the last decade, Rich has studied, performed and presented work at UCSD, festivals, and alongside top choreographers. She garnered critical attention with her interpretation of Twilight of the Golds at Diversionary in January last year. She also holds a history degree and recently earned a master’s degree in forensic science. That background helps explain the depth of her choreography.
Go-go shimmies and hip-hop syncopation tied with smooth turns created engaging floor patterns. Two dancers whirled to the left, as three more peeled off to the right. Dancers moving side-by-side played with contrasting tempos. Most striking were giant leaps backward and a moment when a hand seemed possessed. There was a constant sense of urgency. Stinging imagery contrasted good and evil.
Provocative, darkly humorous, and chilling at the end, the dance included a deluxe cast of five women – Beth Calarco, Amanda Daly, Anne Gehman, Maria Juan, and Minaqua McPherson – and one man, Justin Viernes, the playboy who had to keep up with them all.
Universal (Marvin’s Remix) opened with an irreverent juxtaposition: Gaye’s heavenly voice singing The Lord’s Prayer while dancers seductively twisted in front of what appeared to be a casket. The mood shifted when women flapped giant white wings. The angel wings were molting though, and feathers covered the stage and stuck on their black dresses. Anne Gehman, whose understated comic style mimics Monica Bill Barnes, flapped her wings and sighed with impeccable timing.
That light-hearted section was a setup for darker moments to come. The casket became a sofa for the sleazy man who wanted to watch porn, even as God watched. Giant slides of women in bondage and Christ on the cross flashed upon the wall. Music and film editing by Maria Juan was exceptional.
Also on the program were The Floor is Lava, choreographed by Stephanie Smith, and the dance film Observations, directed and edited by Zaquia Mahler Salinas.
Lava was well-produced dance/theater designed for a young crowd. The juvenile themes that included cleaning up and that Barney melody (gulp) were cute and would appeal to little girls who love pink and pigtails, games and sleep overs – and their bratty brothers who love to make them scream.
In the film Observations, attractive dancers messed around at recognizable places: Balboa Park, Belmont Park, various beaches, and Dance Place. Still, the film was overly long. The jerky editing style was hard on the eyes. In its current state, it would have served well as a conversation piece, on the wall in the lobby or on the roof for the after party. Instead, it became annoying. The showcase had two 10-minute intermissions that should have been brief pauses. The film sandwiched in the middle just made it even longer.