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Clairobscur's Supremacy Ride Revels in Contrasts

by Jessica Abrams
March 29, 2018
Nate Holden Performing Arts Center
4718 West Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016
323-964-9768
We can hold the current political administration responsible for many by-products: an unearthing of hate, a new-found political awareness, a lack of confidence in our news sources. But our teetering towards tyranny has also served as a lightning rod in the creative realm, causing art – both high and low forms – to foment on a country-wide scale. From television shows attempting to address the cultural divide to paintings to documentary film to music – the country’s artists have taken up arms in the form of a camera or a paintbrush as a way of holding a mirror to this fragmented and confused population.

One such artist who uses bodies and music to illustrate the deep ruts in our society is Laurie Sefton, whose Clairobscur Dance’s “Supremacy Ride” had two world premieres, both of which were keen reflections of the political climate, at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 24th, 2018. “Clairobscur” is the French translation of the word “Chiaroscuro”, used to describe the painterly qualities inherent in, for example, Caravaggio’s work and how shadow is used in relationship to light – its yang to light’s yin; its animus to light’s anima.

This duality was evident in all three pieces Saturday night, particularly the first one, entitled “Supremacy Ride” which provided a stark and, at times, chilling portrait of groupthink or “hive-mind” and the mass hysteria currently in play. The piece opened with a cluster of dancers in extremely well-tailored high-waisted blue pants. One by one, dancers individually stepped under the spotlight, employing gestures that were at once plaintive, comical, individual and repetitive. Sefton’s inspiration, as noted in the program, was the gestures of our current president, and certainly the recurring gesture of elbows bent at forty-five degree angles, bouncing against waist and with index fingers extended, felt like a unique take on a western gunslinger. Sefton managed to blend various schools of movement into a style that was at once idiosyncratic, at once lyrical and balletic. In a pas de deux, Jonathan “JP” Stanley held his hand to his chest with his head turned just so in what seemed like an homage to Nijinsky in “Afternoon of a Faun”. Her exceptionally trained dancers often had their beautiful, clean lines broken with a flex of a wrist or – again – an index finger pointed out in what seemed like a reference to Balanchine. There were hints of Martha Graham technique in some of the contractions, and good old fashioned acrobatics peppered the movement throughout.

Sefton’s skill lay in evoking more than telling. Music by Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki laid in a haunted heaviness that served as the shadow to movement that was, at times, light and even frothy. In the “Triptych: Experience in Defiance”, also a world premiere, the message was more linear. With spoken word artist Jason Chu on stage reciting his work, dancers surrounded him and forged a movement vocabulary to his word-based one. “Do what you do out of freedom”, he beseeched.

“Girl, Get Off”, the third piece of the night, held cultural significance and, to some degree was as politically relevant as its more overtly topical counterparts. The piece opened with a dark stage, with stage lights dropped down to almost feel like cameras. Ellen Asaki, whose acting managed to compete with her technical dance ability, occupied the stage in a black bra and underpants, a woman in a peep-show video or a sex club. Movement was suggestive, snake-like. Other dancers came onstage and cavorted and their movement was intimate, private, despite the implied setting. Gestures referenced breasts an crotch, but movement in the pas de deux, suggested something deeper: a need to connect, a need to love and be loved.

In each piece, the company’s name and mission played out: love with darker forces, distance and closeness, pleasure with pain. In “Girl, Get Off”, the dark stage became at once bathed in light and suddenly these players were themselves laid bare and the real work of intimacy began. The evening was both thought-provoking and visually stunning and proved, like so many works of art popping up lately, that through darkness, beauty and meaning emerge.
'Girl, Get Off' - (L-R) Samantha Blaz, Ellen Akashi, Camila Arana and Jonathan Stanley.

"Girl, Get Off" - (L-R) Samantha Blaz, Ellen Akashi, Camila Arana and Jonathan Stanley.

Photo © & courtesy of Denise Leitner


'Girl, Get Off' - Jonathan Stanley and Ellen Akashi.

"Girl, Get Off" - Jonathan Stanley and Ellen Akashi.

Photo © & courtesy of Denise Leitner


'Supremacy Ride' - Jonathan Stanley.

"Supremacy Ride" - Jonathan Stanley.

Photo © & courtesy of Denise Leitner


“Triptych: Experience in Defiance” - (L-R) Ellen Akashi, spoken word artist Jason Chu and Camila Arana.

“Triptych: Experience in Defiance” - (L-R) Ellen Akashi, spoken word artist Jason Chu and Camila Arana.

Photo © & courtesy of Denise Leitner

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