Dancer Tawny Chapman of Backhausdance. Photo by Tim Agler Photography.

The minimalist stage with a small square platform waits under the yellow light. The dancers of Backhausdance walk out with an air of maybe a little competition or feeling out the space.

The first dance is titled The Margin (2012). The dancers are David Bagley, Jenn Bassage Bonfil, Tawny Chapman, Kathy Duran, Joshua King and Amanda Kay White. The mood music by Steve Reich remixed by Coldcut and Howie B inspires the athletic choreography.

Immediately, from the way they walk out to the way they carry their body the choreography is modern dance inspired. Leaps, pointed feet, concave and converse torsos, angular arms, touching each other causing a reaction and using all the space and levels are the details of modern dance inspired by Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp. The dancers move around the small platform in unison then breakout into similar moves but in a round, where one starts moving and then the rest follow like dominoes. It’s beautiful like seeing a rose blossom in slow motion. The male dancer leaps over the platform. The discovery of the square encourages all the dancers to play and experiment. Five of the dancers jump off leaving one behind. They lift the platform and turn it with one dancer still standing. They lean the platform with one side touching the floor. Another dancer walks on the platform and wraps her arms around the dancer already on there. They jump off then four of them run and take turns running and jumping off the platform being held by two dancers. Their muscles are long and lean in athletic wear that Jennifer Backhaus designed. Delineated muscles pop through shiny, gray capris leggings with turquoise or hot pink bra tops under loose fitting tanks that expose the long, lean arm muscles. The platform is put back in the center of the stage. Four dancers stand on the prop moving around it only on the edges. They push and pull each other until they are four bodies lying on the small platform. One pushes one off and the next dancer pushes the next dancer until they are all standing. Tawny Chapman eyes the platform as they all walk with lifted chests and arms concave to their sides ready to vie for the square. Chapman runs toward the platform as all others jolt. She wins by standing on the platform with a grin, perhaps, Isadora Duncan inspired. The audience laughs.

A Little Duet(s) (2013) has a completely different feeling yet just as energetic. Costumes by Rhonda Earick will make you feel like you’re in the 1940s and Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland is about to play. Appropriately, folk songs play by Inara George and Van Dyke Parks with a female voice singing about love. Dancers David Bagley, Tawny Chapman, Kathy Duran, Joshua King and Amanda Kay White stand side by side reaching out to each other. One of the men lifts and swings a woman causing her peach, floral dress to fall and reveal the peach petticoat as she points her legs out to his side. Both men David Bagley and Joshua King pair off. Unexpectedly, the shorter man lifts the taller man. In the end, a woman and a man come back together. He takes off his shirt and turns it inside out. She helps him put his shirt back on. They dance then struggle with some slapping. She walks away.

The third dance is Untitled (2014). Jennifer Backhaus explains that we are the first to see this new choreography. Since, naming her dances is difficult she asks the audience to give it a title after seeing it and leave their thoughts on social media. First, the costumes are great again, this time designed by Katie Wilson. Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County offers an outdoor theatre. The breeze blows through the thin flowing, sheath dresses. Dancers: Jenn Bassage Bonfil, Tawny Chapman, Kathy Duran, Kalynn Frome, Kaitlin Regan, Chihiro Sano and Amanda Kay White wear block colors. Some dancers wear magenta, some taupe and some orange, as I recall, inspired by today’s popular colors. (You’ll want to go home and redecorate.) They move as a group then chaos ensues responding to electro-pop composed by Fol Chen. Some hit their bodies in modern dance fashion creating a sound or causing their body to react by sinking. As one dancer breaks away from the group the others try to keep everyone together. The ending is very peaceful and calming. They all lie on the floor spaced a few feet from each other. They roll to their sides and slowly move their legs and arms in the air as if a new born baby. Maybe the title should be Rebirth. Or it could be Shake the Disease because they are almost zombie-like in the beginning then find a new self.

Backhausdance is a contemporary dance company based in Orange County, California. All dances are choreographed by Jennifer Backhaus who is also the artistic director. Backhaus is a dance professor at Chapman University. She founded Backhausdance in 2003, which has performed in many festivals like INBOUND Festival at Joyce SoHo in New York City, Laguna Dance Festival, the Celebrate Dance Festival at the Alex Theatre and venues, such as, Segerstrom Center of the Arts.

The dance company does not have a home. John Walcutt, Producing Artistic Director of Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County, hopes to change that. He already has plans to incorporate Backhausdance into the next season.

It would be so great if Backhausdance made their home at Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County in Garden Grove. It is unusual to be exposed to this kind of contemporary, modern dance. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Backhausdance, September 25-27, 2014 at Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County, 12762 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA 92840. Box Office (714) 590-1575. All seats are $25. If you are at Disneyland and want to do something else nearby this would be the thing to do.

Photo by Tim Agler Photography

Copyright 2014 Melissa Crismon

Midsummer’s Kaleidoscope

Josele de Guzman, Sammy McClymonds Nguyen and John Daskalakis from Hitia O Te Ra Dance Company. Photo by Jordan Kubat.
Josele de Guzman, Sammy McClymonds Nguyen and John Daskalakis from Hitia O Te Ra Dance Company. Photo by Jordan Kubat.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by Shakespeare Orange County, I believe is my fourth time seeing this play. SDSUs mechanicals made me laugh hard, The Old Globe’s Jay Whittaker is always transforming, South Coast Repertory’s set design by Cameron Anderson was amazing, but so over-the-top that an actor tripped on a prop. Shakespeare Orange County will go down as the best interpretation I have seen.

Many people say Midsummer is their favorite Shakespeare play. It’s lovely, but it’s never been mine. I always feel like there is something missing in the story that I am not getting. With all the chaos the story wraps up too easily for me. Then I had an ah-ha moment reading Director Susan Angelo’s notes in the playbill. This is a meeting of two different cultures. Looking back at all the photos of past plays it’s obvious, but somehow all the conflicting relationships and the fairies messing with the humans distracts me from the story. It totally makes sense as Director Angelo’s points out that this was a time when Shakespeare wondered what existed outside of England. And what an imagination he had. Angelo also goes on to explain that “Egeus wants to forsake his culture and assimilate into the Athenian one, which he deems more advanced than his own.” She takes these two cultures and intertwines them into Midsummer by using local Polynesian dancers, which drives the point of cultures colliding then uniting.

The Hitia O Te Ra Dance Company with Music Director Alex Tekurio leading the drummers begin with the Te Ari’I (The Prince) dance. Prince Hauai’i is The Prince of Peace who is born on a peaceful, happy island, but then he grows up and needs to prove his worthiness to live on the island. He is sent away on a canoe to find peace. The Prince dance is the perfect set up for the Changeling Boy played by a young dancer Solomona Tafua.

The thirty-two dancers fill the room with color and energy. The young men and women dance separated. The ladies make this sound of joy at the back of their throat as they move their hips to layers of beats. Their toes and knees are working to bounce their hips. Their curly hair falls all around them to their waist. I’m pretty sure it’s really their hair. It’s possible there are extensions, but being that they are young it could be their hair. They move their hands gracefully telling a story while the boys jump in coordinating regalia. The squatting required has created defined leg muscles in the young men.

Another dance called Pa’o’a is a Tahitian story about finding love. Dancers come out in yellow regalia that symbolizes love and friendship. The teenaged girl and boy dance flirtatiously to attract each other. The girl moves up to the risen stage to turn her back and move her hips. The dance symbolizes the chase between a man and a woman as they find love.

Miguel Perez as Oberon. Photo by Jordan Kubat.
Miguel Perez as Oberon. Photo by Jordan Kubat.

The Athenian officers watch the native dancing that has been magically brought onto the stage by Oberon (Miguel Perez) and Titania (Amanda Zarr). Perez’ Oberon is unreasonable as expected about the Changeling Boy and Zarr’s Titania is beautiful as usual. Zarr is in white flowing material with a golden head-dress and green eye shadow that meets her eyebrows. I know, the eye shadow doesn’t sound beautiful, but it is.

Hippolyta (Kapua Miyahira-Chow) introduces Theseus (Jeremy Schaeg) to her world. The dancers come out again in different elaborate regalia. The Creation dance is about the formations of the island and a man and a woman. The emotions of love and compassion are discovered.

Usually Hippolyta and Theseus feel removed from the play or bookends or Theseus can be played as harsh in the beginning. Miyahira-Chow and Schaeg thread the story together by uniting the cultures. In the end, Schaeg encourages a desperate Egeus (Bryan Taylor) to let his daughter Hermia (Mikki Pagdonsolan) love whom she chooses.

The four lovers Demetrius (Morgan Lauff), Lysander (EJ Arriola), Helena (Patricia Fa’asua) and Hermia (Mikki Pagdonsolan) are fun and entertaining. Fa’asua’s Helena has no shame. It’s always interesting to see where the director or actors take the scene where Helena says she will be Demetrius’ dog. Fa’asua clings to Lauff’s leg and licks his pants.

The mechanicals are funny too as they are part of the entertainment at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Nick Bottom (Thomas Bradac) expresses his concern of scaring the women in the rehearsal scene. As they act the play out Bradac kills himself repeatedly and creatively with poison then a rope then a cut to the throat and finally a knife to his gut. Peter Quince (Nicholas Thurkettle) reads the prologue nervously, finding his voice. Flute (Stephen Novick), Snout (Gene Godwin), Snug (Jesses Pudles) and Starveling (Louis Jack) act out the nonsensical play within a play.

The dancers add to the entertainment at the wedding with the dance, Ua Mamu, which is The Return of the Prince. The dancers are dressed in light grass with seashells on the head-dress. The girl in the photo reminds me of a doll I used to have that I think my grandpa brought back from Hawaii. It was nice to see the real thing.

The audience had a great time too. The Polynesian audience hooted and hollered along with the dancers. People walked out commenting how much they enjoyed SOC’s Midsummer.

You will walk away thinking about the kaleidoscope of colors and cultures.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from June 21 – July 19, 2014.

SOC, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove, CA 92840. Box Office (714) 590-1575.