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CSULB dance tackles racial biases and conquers loss

The last dance concert ends off the semester with themes of inequality, love and the constant battle to survive.

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The soothing sound of violin strings filled the air as stage lights cast shadows of leaping figures to tell stories about loss, the fight for equality and more at the Cal State Long Beach Dance Concert last weekend.

The concert is set for a total of seven performances at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater.

Choreographers and faculty from the dance department put their own spin on the art as they collaborated in creating pieces with dancers and guest artist and choreographer Melecio Estrella.

Sophie Monat, CSULB lecturer and founder of the dance company Monat Dance, used visually stimulating light effects to create an ethereal atmosphere onstage with her piece, “Unexpected Light.”

For me, the piece is about loss, love, and the unexpected moments of light and beauty when confronting mortality,” Monat said.

Monat drew inspiration from taking care of her 91-year-old mother and the “unexpected moments of light and beauty” scattered throughout the rough and challenging times.

Unlike any of the other performances in the concert, Monat’s choreography called for a dance duet because of its intimate style of performance. Both dancers were sensitive to each other’s movements, syncing together in a way that felt private and affectionate. Throughout the dance, the lights shifted, lowering as a star-like glow became the background for the emotional rollercoaster.

Another eye-catching performance, Long Beach dance professor Julio Medina’s “We Out Here,” used hip-hop influences in his choreography to convey the struggle with issues such as the DREAM Act. Dancers wearing Luchador masks, typically worn by Mexican wrestlers, performed upbeat step-dancing movements to pop music that had the crowd tapping their toes in time with the melody.

The piece was part of a larger work that Medina is currently developing called “The Luchador Project.” It was inspired by the demand to fortify the border between Mexico and the U.S.,the recent struggle with the DREAM Act and the threat to cut the program.

“We as a people will continue to be out here luchando (fighting) for a better tomorrow,” the programs stated.

The theme of racial equality was at the forefront in “White Onion,” a piece choreographed by assistant professor, Rebecca Bryant. While working on a personal performance with another professor, Bryant explored and learned more about the privilege she had as a White performer, not only in her life but also onstage.

The performance featured a white dancer moving on stage while the screen behind her lit up with the sentence: “Only a White person could afford to be this unentertaining on stage.”

Through the speakers, voices deconstructed the meaning of the sentence providing a background noise for the dancer in place of music.

After the first performer finished her choreography twice, a Black dancer replaced the previous on stage, dancing the same movements, as the words on the screen slowly disappeared to read only: “a person on stage.” In the end, multiple dancers of different backgrounds joined the two on stage, to prove that performing is not limited by race or ethnicity.

“I’m interested in [people] noticing some of the blatant or unseen racial bias that happens in the high art world,” Bryant said.

The piece was impactful and the use of dramatic visual stimulants kept the audience engaged throughout the performance.

Bryant also worked on another performance in the show, “Make the Hold Happen” with guest artist Melecio Estrella. It was a dramatic dance combining live music, live vocals and even a recording of Bryant recounting a dream of hers.

“[Estrella] wove everything together in this dream-like sequence,” Bryant said. “He worked in a very instinctual way, very organic, growing out of every moment.”

By using multiple mediums to grab the viewer’s attention, the Dance Concert choreographers made the event a unique experience for the audience.

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