On November 22, 2020, I attended the virtual debut of Entity Contemporary Dance’s film Transparent/see: A Continued Conversation and it was clear early on that choreographers Marissa Osato and Will Johnston had taken this work’s subject seriously done the necessary research, and worked tirelessly to create a powerful art/activist work.
The company looked strong and extremely well-rehearsed down to the detail of the repetitive gestures of the guest student ensemble from Chapman College. It was also apparent that great care was taken in the videotaping and editing process.
Transparent/see, which premiered at The Montalbán in Hollywood in March 2019, was inspired by “The True Cost” a documentary directed by Andrew Morgan that exposes the human and environmental costs of the global “fast fashion” industry supply chain. Both the film and the dance are about the clothes that we buy and the people who work overseas for less than living wages to make them. It’s about that and the negative affects these industries have on our world. They also expose the role we, the consumers, play in this destruction by our frivolous purchasing tastes and power.
Based in Los Angeles as a company-in-residence at Edge Performing Arts Center since 2016, Entity Contemporary Dance was founded in 2009 by Johnston, Osato and Elm Pizarro with intentions of connecting Southern California’s Contemporary and Hip Hop dance communities. This connection is seen in the choreographers’ movement vocabulary, but it is so artfully infused as to be its own newly formed style. One could also detect remnants of the Release Technique, but again this was woven into the movement as to not appear simply as classroom exercises placed together. Refreshing to see!
As powerful as the company members’ performances were, my eye was constantly drawn to the guest ensemble whose riveted attention was on their duties smoothing or measuring out fabric, cutting it with scissors, and threading needles before sewing. They performed these repetitive movements for almost the entire hour while seated in rows of chairs that lined the sides of the stage and did so with the same precision it took the company to perform their technically challenging roles.
The work opens with a marvelously performed solo by Karen Chuang which seamlessly transitions into an intricate unison phrase; a phrase that introduces the company and quickly draws our attention to the physical demands of the garment workers. A hard-to-please consumer (performed with excellence by Derek Tabada) begins carelessly ripping open plastic bags to rummage through the clothes inside. He clearly has no idea what he is looking for, nor does he care how he mistreats the garments, tossing aside the ones he rejects. He tries on the shirts, sweaters, pants and scarfs; looks at himself in an invisible mirror and is never truly satisfied with anything. He discards these items as wantonly as he rips open the bags. Tabada quickly becomes the character movie goers love to hate….