Rhythm of the night: hanging out with the talent of Synapse

An hour before showtime and the backstage area of The Broad was a scene of controlled chaos as dancers, instructors and stage hands swarmed to prepare for Saturday night's performance. On nearby stairs a dancer stepped on broken glass and pressed a band aid against her slashed toe, determined to not miss the show.

It was the return of Synapse, the annual dance spectacle that combines a diverse set of genres, rhythms and ideas to create a vast palette of emotions through movement. This semester's performance was a collection of everything from hip hop to opera to the minimalist strings of composer Max Richter.

In a dressing room aglow with mirror bulbs, Malia Gardener, an SMC dance student, stretched and flexed as everyone else fixed their hair, applied makeup and selected costumes. "Everyone feels connected," she said. "You have to make sure you have any easy flow while getting ready."

"Dancing makes you confident in yourself. It's a mixture between being creative and controlled," she added.

Kardale Holland devoured a burrito while preparing to be called on stage for "Sonsuz," the evening's first number, a contemplative piece set to the strings of Richter.

"Each piece challenged me to see how far I can go with my character, it's really good for acting too," said Holland. "The feeling onstage is an unspeakable pleasure. You want to share what you have to the world through art."

While dancing Holland makes an effort to look at the audience and see their expressions. "That is the main goal actually. Sometimes they have curious looks."

While some of the pieces in a Synapse show are choreographed by SMC instructors, the program also allows talented students to design and choreograph pieces as well. One such student choreographer was Tamer Abdo. His piece for the evening was entitled "Another Day In Paradise," a narrative about life's hurtles, violence and addictions.

"My piece is mostly about abuse. Relationship abuse, substance abuse, a little bit of trafficking. It was inspired about events that occurred or that I have heard about in my life," said Abdo. "It's about how to make something real onstage. You can make something beautiful or something very ugly. A movement can be sharp or it can be soft."

In the abysmal darkness behind the stage curtains sat, slightly illuminated, SMC instructor and master choreographer Angela Jordan waiting for the performance to begin. Jordan's pieces tend to be some of the most spectacular at Synapse. In the past she has produced imaginative spectacles to Lady Gaga and African tribal music. Tonight her piece is "Rhythm Is The Essence," a Jazz Funk fusion of pure, percussive power. "You have to see my piece," said Jordan in greeting this reporter as I dashed by.

Waiting in the lobby was SMC student and professional dancer Nathalie Fust, an emigrant from Sweden who decided to pursue better opportunities in Los Angeles. "It's been hard sometimes but I enjoy the work. The culture is different," said Fust. According to her, in Sweden dancing instruction is a more rigid, strict affair. "As a dancer you have to be more quiet and don't say a lot. Here in America it's more allowed to interact with your choreographer. Here I'm like, wow, everyone is talking."

For Fust the American style of dance instruction, at least at SMC, feels more open and interactive. "I was one of the most hired dancers in Sweden but I decided to come here because in Sweden we only have one dance company."

It was time for the show to begin and after welcoming the audience and making a short introduction, SMC dance instructor and artistic director Mark Tomasic, who co-directed with fellow SMC instructor Jae Lee, sat down to discuss the show. "We usually have 10 new voices every semester [as choreographers] and every piece is different," explained Tomasic. "There are some pieces that are very internal, we're listening to Max Richter play, and then there are some pieces that are very much looking outward."

With student choreographers it is almost inevitable that they will incorporate themes reminiscent of the youth experience. The piece "The Sacred Space," choreographed by Meri Bender, was literally about taking class. "When you're dealing with choreographers who are around the age of 20, you're dealing with variables that are common among many 18-20 year olds. It's a huge time of transition in their lives and reaching out for new things. Sometimes you don't know what those things are but you know what you want to achieve," said Tomasic. "You see pieces from this age group that are about yearning and trying to get somewhere."

Tomasic has noticed that today's dancers are more sophisticated at a younger age. "I think that's a sign of the development of our world, as everything is going faster now," he observed. Tomasic's own choreographed piece reached out into the past. It was an interpretation of Henry Purcell's opera of the myth of Dido and Aeneas.

And as the sounds of Max Richter's "Infra 1" filled the air, Synapse once more danced the night away with a depth and precision that continues to make it an SMC arts stand out, and a statement through movement of who this generation is today.