Au Collective Glitters in GOLD&SKIN

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The newly minted Au Collective offered premiers created and performed by their eleven members in a showcase entitled GOLD&SKIN at 12th Ave Arts’ Studio Theatre on Friday, September 11. All of the collective’s members studied dance at the University of Washington and their stated mission is to “highlight the creative perspective of […] people of color, queer people, and women.” In choosing Au as their namesake and the theme for this showcase, Au Collective refers to both the chemical symbol for gold and to symbolize celebration, a point they emphasized by urging the audience to participate by cheering, clapping, and snapping during the performance. The new collective succeeded in presenting a series of uplifting, joyous works to a packed and exuberant house in an intimate black box setting.

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Au Collective in Entropy by Cheryl Delostrinos
Photo by Andrew Imanaka

Entropy opened the evening, choreographed by Cheryl Delostrinos in collaboration with the cast. Eight dancers clad in gold-colored masks of different animal faces performed grounded movements with energetic excitement. Although the masks completely covered the dancers’ faces, the performers emoted a bright-eyed keenness through the characterization of each animal. Set to “Skylark Interbang” by Made in Heights, the choreography alternated between precise, unison, hip hop-inspired movement vocabulary and more complex moments of earthy spine ripples, partner interactions, and individual phrases. Soloists passed off a gestural “bunny ears” motif, as the rest of the group ponderously watched its progression through the air with their masked snouts.

Like two children laughing together and high-fiving, dancers Rebecca Smith and Austin Nguyen playfully smiled through LongCat, choreographed by Hallie Scott. Smith and Nguyen’s duet began as two solos and morphed together as the tropical beach soundscape shifted dynamically when a strong beat emerged. The choreography closely followed music by Jack McKool, the movement phrases set exactly to the bars of eight.

two., choreographed and performed by Lorraine Lau and El Nyberg was the most mature work of the evening. Wearing long sky blue tunics and black leggings, both dancers walked together from the downstage left corner, pausing briefly at the height of the diagonal to look at each other with excited, anticipatory expressions. Their duet embodied movement for the sake of movement, an accumulation of accelerating phrases, washing ever closer to their entry-point, where a bright light illuminated the pair along the diagonal. Breathless and at times sexy, the percussive quality of the two women’s inhales, exhales, and footfall patterns created the sound score. The pure structure of cumulative phrases, performed with crystalline technique and a deliberate physicality, lent the work an effective theme and form of content.

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Sundials by Rebecca Smith and Michael O’Neal Jr.
Photo by Andrew Imanaka

Created and danced by Smith and Michael O’Neal Jr., Sundials showcased O’Neal’s unique form of low-flying floorwork. Twisting and hovering horizontally above the stage, O’Neal’s virtuosity overshadowed the work’s message, a suggestion of romantic partnership based on flashes of weight sharing, counterbalancing, and cuddling to close the piece. As with Scott’s LongCat, the structure of the choreography, along with changes in the lighting’s brightness and design, reflected the musical dynamic too closely to suggest more than surface level decision making.

The evening’s only solo work, Randy Ford’s Freedom Is Mine, rounded out the first half of the show. Beginning with earnest lip-syncing to a cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” by Lauryn Hill, Ford showcased his wide range of skills in a breathtaking exposition of heartfelt emotion. From high kicks and tricks straight out of competition jazz, to rib isolations and complicated footwork from West African dance, Ford displayed extreme, Gumby-like flexibility, accurate limb articulations, and impeccable rhythm and timing. The standout moment came near the end of the piece, when Ford whipped his long braids back and forth in a figure-eight pattern so rapidly and extensively that the crowd hooted and screamed their support and admiration.

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Randy Ford in Freedom Is Mine
Photo by Andrew Imanaka

After intermission, a set of three pieces choreographed by Cheryl Delostrinos, in collaboration with Fausto Rivera and the dancers, closed the evening. Although listed in a separate box in the program and performed without pause in between, thematically it was unclear whether these three pieces were distinct works or movements of the same piece. Three dancers performed FLY, wearing black and white costumes, stopping and starting as if thinking of new ideas and abandoning the previous one. Imana Gunawan’s spotless technique and understated performance quality stood out in this trio. Delostrinos and Rivera followed FLY with a duet entitled CLOSER, set to music by J. Cole and an original composition by Kevin Lavitt. Revisiting the gold color motif, the pair wore shiny metallic gold shorts and gold face paint to match. In this thoughtful duet, the two dancers gradually took each other’s weight and kept returning to a motif of hugging the air, as if trying to reach the other person in an embrace and missing, or highlighting the other’s absence by remaining still in this attitude after the other had left. Delostrinos’ choices in hip costuming, electronic sound score, and unaffected performativity suggested that the audience look not to deeper meanings, but rather enjoy the movement as an offering to be taken at face value.

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Au Collective in GOLD&SKIN
Photo by Andrew Imanaka

The closer, GOLD&SKIN, brought ten cast members back onstage for a big finale that harkened back to Delostrinos’ opening work, Entropy, but went farther by taking more risks in structure and form. Their black wardrobes tied together by universal sparkling gold face paint, the ensemble created walking patterns on a grid, group vs. group counterpoints on different levels, and a series of travelling solos that gave each collective member one more chance to show off his or her unique flavor. The piece ended with a giant canon culminating in heroically upthrown arms, which were softly, gently lowered along with the lights. The dancers’ slight smiles indicated a well-earned sense of pride and accomplishment.

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Au Collective member Imana Gunawan in GOLD&SKIN
Photo by Andrew Imanaka

As these recently graduated artists continue to emerge and grow, if this showcase is any indication, so too will their scope and ability to explore ideas to their full fruition in works of longer duration. While at some points the musical choices overpowered the movement and overall choreographic structure, GOLD&SKIN indicated a promise of many fresh, exciting works to come from this rising collective.

For more information on the artists of Au Collective, please visit: HERE