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San Pedro TriArt Festival Serves up Surf and Turf

by Jessica Abrams
September 22, 2013
Special Events Dance Stage - Ports O' Call Village
1199 Nagoya Way
San Pedro, CA 90731
To many Angelenos, San Pedro is a city-state lumped into that vague category of places often too difficult to get to given the usual traffic patterns and thus rendered geographically obsolete. But after making the trek to attend the San Pedro TriArt Festival on Sunday, September 22, I realized that this notion may also work in its favor, turning it into a viable, self-sustaining community – as opposed to a freeway exit – not to mention one with a rich artistic heritage.

The San Pedro TriArt Festival is the brainchild of the late Joe Caccavalla, a businessman and San Pedro native who had a vision for this community that added dance, music and visual arts to its already diverse and eclectic port origins (San Pedro is part of the Port of Los Angeles).

Now making its home harborside at an outdoor stage at Ports O' Call Village, the festival showcases the arts against a nautical backdrop, with dance front and center.

As the wind blew and a distant halyard clanged against a mast, three pre-professional dance companies, Degas Dance Studio, The San Pedro Ballet and Post Pros, opened the program, their bright costumes beckoned many a wandering sightseer. By the time ModArts Dance Collective took the stage, the assembled crowd had grown substantially.

Founded by Leah Tubbs, ModArts combines ballet and modern with afro-centric undertones to create a powerful, unique movement style. Set to music by various R&B heavyweights, its work "Sweet Seventies' Suite" explored the different notions of romantic love in a series of duets. The languor and separateness of two dancers moving to Stevie Wonder's "For All We Know", contrasted powerfully with the whimsy and flirtatiousness of the duet set to Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's "Where Is The Love?". In the latter, dancers Leah Tubbs and Rachel Kuczynski actively engaged both each other and the audience, their brightly-colored dresses fluttering in the wind, their smiles possibly reaching a wayfaring seaman across the channel. The yearning for connection, for acceptance, for – yes – love served as the connective tissue of these pieces, connecting the dancers to each other and to the audience.

Antics followed, no pun intended, underscoring the diversity of the program. A hip-hop dance company led by Amy "Catfox" Campion, Antics mirrored the urban experience through movement. In an excerpt from "Illuminated Manuscript", a street dance saga inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh, the diverse group of dancers re-enacted one of the earliest dramas of good and evil in high tops and low-slung jeans. With shoulders hunched and movement as jerky as ModArts' was languorous, the dancers scanned and postured, moving as a unit, yes; but also as individuals caught in a kill-or-be-killed plight. As edgy as it was, when viewed for extended periods of time the movement flowed with balletic grace, like an old-fashioned cartoon book whose pages are being flipped.

Next, Maura Townsend's Project21Dance combined the technique of Lester Horton with ballet, jazz and urban dance styles to create an urban fusion that transcended pure technique. In their "Serenity", set to music with an essence of the Middle East, a shaman-like figure in a turtleneck caught a female dancer as she leapt into the air, anchoring her back into the earthly realm in this spiritual work.

Louise Reichlin and Dancers/LA Choreographers and Dancers then followed. Reichlin, the festival's producer and dance director, served up a variety of pieces reflecting her eclectic style and ability to capture a crowd. In "Remembrance", a dancer wrapped in tulle made to look like a burka moved around the stage, two male dancers in fatigues lying inert at her feet. The Arabic music, the wind blowing the tulle gracefully – all gave the piece, dedicated to the memory of those who died in battle, a haunting, elegiac quality.

In "The Shampoo", a volunteer from the audience agreed to have her hair shampooed on stage. As her hair was being tended to, four dancers in colorful smocks encircled her, celebrating her baptism. They cartwheeled and twirled, at times even forming a human braid, other times shaking their arms to rid themselves of any unwanted residue. In "Wedding" that followed, dancers alternated partners in an homage to the traditional wedding ceremony, with the various wedding tropes – the drunk aunt, dressed in red, for example – invited.

As the music soared and the dancers metamorphosed into extras in a Busby Berkeley movie, a small boat floated by in the channel. And there, on deck, a man was dancing wildly to the music. It made perfect sense that the San Pedro TriArt Festival would extend past its natural borders to reach those floating at sea.
Louise Reichlin and Dancers/LA Choreographers and Dancers

Louise Reichlin and Dancers/LA Choreographers and Dancers

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Antico

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