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Dance review: MalayaWorks Dance Theater 'Spoken Movement'

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Annielille Gavino-Kollman debuted her project-based dance company Malaya Works (Filipino for emancipated, liberated) just last year, but already the company has shown tremendous artistic growth.

“Spoken Movement,” a collaborative production, tackles such weighty topics as immigration, gentrification, race and transgender issues.

What makes this a successful collaboration is the almost seamless transition from Gavino-Kollman’s choreography to the works of Johnnie Cruise Mercer (who recently debuted his own RED Project in this same space), Kevin LaMarr Jones of Claves Unidos and Fatima Logan, whose VashtiDance Theater is based in New York, to Torian Ugworji’s arresting dance on film.

The dancing was sometimes uneven in quality, but that did not detract from the overall impact and power of the evening. Gavino-Kollman opened the program with “Moontide,” a sweet but elusive improvisation with her young daughter, Malaya Cassandra Kollman. This was followed by an excerpt from Mercer’s “act 1 – black (adj.),” which beautifully displayed the young choreographer’s intriguing vocabulary of gestural movement juxtaposed against aggressive full-body movements and powerfully high jumps that sprung out of nowhere.

A recurring thumbs-up represented many things to Mercer from checking in to conveying the idea of survival in the face of tragedy.

Melvin Sanchez performed Jones’ “Yalifu (the pelican).” Described as an intersection of personal heritage with tradition, “Yalifu” reminded me of the animal dances of earlier decades, such as “Awassa Astrige/the Ostrich.” (Created by Asadata Dafora in 1932 and performed by Charles Moore in the 1970s and '80s, the work remains in the repertoire of the Alvin Ailey company.)

The distinctive rhythm of Honduran musician Aurelio Martinez supported Sanchez as he rippled through Jones’ intriguing blend of undulations and gymnastics.

Logan presented an angular work set in an environment of piercing slivers of light. “Shallow Space Between” morphed from a breathtaking glimpse into a world of light and dark to an explosion of tribal rhythms. Gavino-Kollman addressed power, class and gender with “Greyscale,” a somewhat disturbing work for three women and a man with a briefcase who seemed intent on disdainfully tempting the women with flurries of green leaves.

Kinetic imaging artist Ugworji offered a hauntingly beautiful dance on film, “Aches,” inspired by the recent suicide of Leelah (nee Joshua Ryan) Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio. In what first appeared to be a love story, Gavino-Kollman and dancer Nikolai McKenzie exchanged clothes, her red dress for his plaid shirt and jeans. He then recreated her earlier dance scene, before they both ran breathlessly through snow-covered streets. The film’s angles and the music by collaborating band My Darling Fury were dramatically beautiful.

Saving the best for last, Kollman closed the program with “La Migra, Let’s Run.” From her wide-eyed mime of an immigrant knocking at an unyielding door to the baseball metaphor to the Statue of Liberty sweeping the floor to the closing strands of “Sweet Dreams (are made of this),” Gavino-Kollman held our attention; she made us laugh, she brought us to the point of tears, she enraged us, and she made us think.

What a whirlwind of emotion, history, humor and tragedy, all wrapped into one. I’m only sad that small companies like this have such short runs, because this is one company definitely worth watching.

Julinda Lewis is a dancer, teacher and writer living in eastern Henrico County. She can be contacted at


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