A well-rounded perspective of dance

Fans of dance will be able to see it from several different perspectives in a show coming to the Laguna Art Museum next week.

The show, choreographed by three UC Irvine graduate students, includes three dance pieces that will provide as a preview for the Laguna Dance Festival, which is from Sept. 7 to 9.

Jennifer Lott, Jessie Ryan and Saleemah E. Knight will showcase their works in a different setting than normal dance performances. All three choreographers are students of Jodie Gates, the founder of the Laguna Dance Festival.

Instead of a traditional stage and audience setup, the art museum's space will allow viewers to get a chance to see the pieces from different viewpoints, standing either in front, to the side or behind the dancers.

"It's performance in the round," Knight said. "It's a three-dimensional art presentation."

Lott's "From Personal Mythology: An American Odyssey" was originally choreographed for a stage in an opera house in Traverse City, Mich., but it was modified to work with the Laguna Art Museum's space.

The dance, cut from 21 minutes to five minutes, is accompanied by the poem "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley.

"My mother has four sisters, and I grew up watching them perform this poem at our family gatherings," Lott said. "It was so funny. One of them would wear a big robe or coat and hold her arms behind her back, and another would hide underneath the coat and pretend to be the hands. The kids in my family loved it. My family loves poetry, music, dancing and singing together, and this piece is a sort of nod to them."

Ryan's rendition of Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" combines humor, theatrics and dance.

"The piece sort of started as a discussion of high art versus low art, depicting what the public values as high art," Ryan said, citing classical music and ballet as being typically thought of as "high art."

Ryan combined the dance with pop culture references, particularly those in the song.

"I wanted to take notice of the fact that there were lyrics in the song and do a play on words," she said. "I took the emotion of the song literally."

Experimentation plays a heavy role in Knight's "Above and Below," which is set to Brandenburg's "Black Violin."

Knight said she worked with an idea of taking up the negative space around someone by placing others on all sides of, above and below that person.

The piece also combines modern techniques with classic methods by infusing a funk feel into ballet movement.

Knight said she has choreographed jazz, jazz funk, modern and contemporary, so she wanted to combine the different genres.

"It should be interesting to see how the audience receives it," she said. "It's nice to do a show where I can tie all those things together. To use another element of my creativity is really exciting."

The three pieces will be performed at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6 as part of Laguna's First Thursdays Art Walk at the Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive.

The performances will preview the Laguna Dance Festival, which aims to foster dance education and creation. The festival will take place from Sept. 7 to 9 at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

For more information on the other performances, visit LagunaDanceFestival.org.


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