Three Artists Share New Work at Leah Stein Dance’s Fall 2021 StudioWorks

On October 25th, Leah Stein Dance hosted the Fall 2021 iteration of their StudioWorks series. Featuring the work of three movement artists, Amalia Gabriel Colon-Nava, Tyler Rivera, and Micah Lat, StudioWorks aims to bridge art forms and connect the greater Philadelphia dance community by providing a platform for sharing new or in-progress works.

First to share was Amalia Gabriel Colon-Nava with an untitled dance film. The opening shot is framed so as to guide our eyes to an empty lot right across a wire fence overwhelmed with untamed greenery. It is as if we are leaning very far out of a window, perhaps one on the second or third floor, gazing at the lot framed by the walls of our building and the one right next to us. Before long, a figure appears, animating the once-empty lot with their repetition of a gestural phrase. The body in motion leaves a ghostly afterimage, like a duet between the dancer and themselves.

Colon-Nava’s film continues on, jumping to a more quotidian scene of an individual receiving a haircut in the driveway or front porch of someone’s house. Another cut brings us to a classroom, placing us in the audience of what feels like another low-key performance. Following a percussive movement phrase (is it the same one we just saw performed in the empty lot) repeated to a point where it could be an endurance practice, we learn that this dancer is actually our substitute teacher. Who knew we were in class! And we’re learning about corn! The lesson concluded with the parting gift of corn (grown from our teacher’s very own garden), and I’m left thinking about Process — processed foods, organic foods, the process of dance making, of generating original and organic movement. Exiting out of full-screen mode and re-entering the Zoom conversation, Colon-Nava offers up that the material in this film is an iteration of what this work could be, that the content in it is something she has been “mulling over” for some time.

The next artist on the slate was Tyler Rivera presenting (WASTE)deep. The film is striking, eerie, yet dead on in its commentary. Tethered to and weighed down by elaborate netting crafted of plastic bags and bottles, the dancers of (WASTE)deep are limited in their movements. Rather than focus on the choreography, I am entranced by the projections of dirt, organic matter, waves, and obscure shapes onto their bodies. In a sense, they are faceless, their individual selves unimportant, instead reflecting back at us the plight of our global climate situation. The theme of layering follows into (WASTE)deep’s soundscore, as we are treated to a soundtrack of manufactured muzak (think music created by a computer, synth, or other machine) playing over the sounds of waves crashing onto the shore. Is it audio actually taken from a beach? Or is it more computer generated noise?

The details in Rivera’s film are a testament to the amount of thought, care, and attention put into the project. The music, the movement, and the set pieces worn by the performers all come together to create the dystopian, alarming, and timely world of (WASTE)deep.

Rounding out the evening was a duet by Micah Lat and his partner, Joshua Ortiz. The duo performed live at Fidget Space, calling into the Zoom meeting so that virtual program attendees could also view their work. At one point, the couple stand at a makeshift basin, washing their faces, tending to themselves.

Face to face, it’s hard to tell if they are representing a reflection in the mirror, or just going about this routine together – and it feels like that’s the point. With assorted lamps decorating the performance space, the audience is given the privilege of witnessing the couple’s love. We watch them at the basin, we watch them move through the space, we watch them sing along to Different Drum by Stoney Poneys.

To watch Micah and Joshua perform is to watch the feeling of being held unfold right in front of you. I am compelled by their performance as a performance of the everyday wonders of queer love. Warmth emanates from the two of them and the lines blur between performance and their normal selves. At the end, Micah and Joshua have to tell the audiences “That’s it! The performance is over.” It is a special moment to see artists be so authentically themselves in the work that they present.

Following all three works, we as audiences are prompted to provide three words to summarize our experience that evening. Words began pouring into the chat: blessed edgy politica intimate resonant abundance supported resourceful inquiry  suffocating finding  warmth, all capturing the essence and magic of the night.

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