Celebrating the Strong Women of LA Dance: Women Rising

by Debra Levine

A peevish story in The New York Times started the ball rolling for Los Angeles dance producer Deborah Brockus. When Brockus read a lengthy #metoo article decrying the dearth of female choreographers, she felt fired up. But not in the expected way. She instead had an epiphany. As she remembers, “I said … wait, LA dance is mostly run by women. This complaint does not apply to us.”

Brockus’ feminism finds firm footing at the Ford Theatres on Friday, August 16, when she’ll present Women Rising: Choreography from the Female Perspective. An experienced impresario (she produces the Los Angeles Dance Festival), Brockus promises nothing less than “a celebration of female creativity in Los Angeles.”


Chatting by Skype from Korea, where her company participated in the Seoul International Dance Festival, Brockus clarifies: “Most of our teachers, choreographers, presenters and critics are women. Most college dance programs are run by women. In LA, dance is a female-centric industry.”

Our town’s tolerant creative climate, untethered to old-world notions of high art, gave wide berth to women—who just ran with it. When men started taking the power reins of the New York dance world in the 1980s, women on the West Coast did not receive the memo. That reality, combined with a celebratory nod to the impending centenary of the 19th Amendment, gives Women Rising its context.

Choreographer Achinta S. McDaniel, whose Blue13 Dance Company has trod the Ford floorboards many times before, says, “I am excited to see diversity and inclusion within this community of women.” McDaniel’s solo for dancer Adrianna Vieux deals with “isolation, shame and obedience.” As a first-generation South-Asian American, she sees the timeliness in Women Rising: “We share a collective rage about what is going on in the world. My parents were immigrants to this country. With Trump, and the way he is treating women, it is so important that we stand in the spotlight without fear of denigration.”

Blue13 Dance Company

Multimedia dance artist Roseanna Gamson, a respected assistant dean of dance at CalArts and veteran of stages in Mexico City, Toronto and Poland will make her Ford debut with a new work set to French composer Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” (1941). Says Gamson, “The last movement is a little schmaltzy but it’s also famous and very spiritual music. Messiaen wrote and premiered it while in a concentration camp.”

Several Women Rising choreographers are linking their works to female artists of the past. The program opens with a series of short vignettes in what Brockus calls a “flash tribute” honoring iconic dance artists from Loie Fuller to Doris Humphrey to Martha Graham; from Agnes de Mille to Bronislava Nijinska to Lewitzky, and more. Fashioning this programmatic-preamble is Joanne DiVito, a well-known contributor to the dance community for her years overseeing Career Transitions for Dancers.

Choreographer Pat Taylor’s smooth-and-swank configurations for JazzAntiqua Dance and Music Ensemble resonate with the music of Nina Simone. In “Suite Nina,” Taylor exhibits compassion for Simone’s sorrowful decline into mental illness. “She is an artist people need to connect with,” says Taylor. “We are always looking for a hero to stand in for us. I often think of the artist just doing what they do, until they find themselves elevated or pushed forward. Nina wished she had remained a classical pianist. The mantle we place on others is something they have to shoulder.”

Also paying tribute to a fellow female artist is Judith FLEX Helle. Her program offering is Luminario Ballet’s recent reconstruction of Bella Lewitzky’s powerful Turf (1992), a testosterone-charged territory-tangle for four male dancers.

Commercial choreographer Kitty McNamee‘s Farewell, a love duet set to Debussy for dancers Raymond Ejiofor and Jessica Gadzinsky, carries fragments of Agnes de Mille. Creating on a commission from the Abbott Awards in New York, McNamee was tasked with conjuring what De Mille would have done for a 1963 Broadway show that never came to pass. Farewell also has a political underpinning. “The '60s were a very intense time, racially,” says McNamee. “The subversive nature of this interracial love duet is still relevant to today.”

An intriguing choreographer of Turkish extraction, Seda Abay has been getting a lot of attention lately, with performances of her Kybele Dance Theater at the Broad Stage and a residency at the USC Kaufman School of Dance. Abay, whose eclectic style has been described as organic and other-worldly, will premiere a new group work.

LA Contemporary Dance Company’s Genevieve Carson and directors Victoria Brown and Sarah Rodenhouse of MashUP Contemporary Dance Company, along with site-specific dances by BrockusRED on the Ford’s ambling entryway and Sarah Elgart/Arrogant Elbow’s Detained, performed during intermission, round out the choir of vibrant female dance-voices poised to “echo in the canyon.”

Los Angeles dance critic Debra Levine is editor/publisher of arts•meme, the fine-arts blog she founded in 2008.