Crossing Cultures: Backstage at Global Motion

There was absolutely no time to talk. Dancers were running in and out of rooms, changing into different outfits constantly, essentially becoming new characters every few minutes. Backstage at Global Motion Dance Company’s “Dance in American Culture” performance, spirits were high and performers were hustling to get ready.

At the Broad Stage on Saturday, Global Motion Dance Company performed yet another spectacular dance show featuring current and former Santa Monica College students.

But Global Motion isn’t just a dance performance. For a lot of people, including dancer Lance Lao, it means so much more than doing pirouettes and turns that you would usually see in modern or contemporary dance.

“Global Motion stands for unity and communication with people,” said Lao. “We combine a lot of different dances, dancers from different cultural backgrounds."

Performing in front of a large audience can be challenging, but sometimes the biggest obstacle can be yourself. This fact is especially true for Topher Smith, whose most difficult hurdle to get over was “getting out of my head and really being in the moment for the dance,” he said.

Once they’re off the stage, though, dancers hurry into to the make-up room where SMC cosmetology students rush to prepare them for their next piece. For dancer Cruz Guzman, the hectic nature of being backstage feels natural. “I love how everything is so fast-paced. I always have to be active; I can’t just be sitting down,” said Guzman.

The dance students weren't the only ones working hard backstage. Jill Asavi, Cosmetology Professor said, "We bring our students to practice and they get their hours. It’s beautiful, they love it, they learn how to work behind the scenes. It’s very challenging." Each dancer required makeup two to three times during the performance, so the hair and makeup team definitely had their work cut out for them.

Transforming into different parts of themselves, dancers incorporated their past into their movements. For dancer Oscar Urquilla, finding a way to infuse his background as a military veteran was vital to learning choreography. Previously deployed to Somalia and Syria, Urquilla taught himself to incorporate strength training into lifting other dancers. “It’s a good thing that I was in the military, they make you do a lot of buddy carries where you have to carry your buddies, which helps with the lifts here,” said Urquilla.

The performance included dances from different cultures, varying from Latin American-influenced salsa dancing, to traditional Korean performances, Taepyeongmu, which is a dance of peace.

This year's theme was “Peace and Security," which was translated through the upbeat portrayal of traditional cultural dances. Urquilla explained that the salsa piece he danced in, for example, “Is all about living the life that you want; a good, happy life," he said. The piece was aptly titled Vivir Mi Vida, or, live your life.

The theme presented itself most clearly in the closing piece entitled "Lamba" about West Africa, choreographed by Angela Jordan. The piece started off with a traditional portrayal of West African dance, until it was interrupted by four soldiers who attacked the women and their newborns. The spirit of peace, played by Maisha Morris, appeared on stage as her dress consumed all of the chaos unfolding around her. She converted the soldiers and turned everything into a sense of community where they all joined in song and dance.

It was hard for dancers to stay in character for this piece, particularly for Andrew Chsi who performed as one of the soldiers. “It’s so hard because we’re so far removed from that. We’re not terrorists kidnapping, murdering, killing,” said Chsi. “They have a completely different life and worldview than we do. We grew up in a safe place, so it’s hard.”

The performances touched various controversial and provocative subjects. For dancer Emmitt Rivers, the West African piece is emotionally draining, as it brings light to what’s happening in Nigeria. “The girls are being taken from their homes, killed, raped, things like that,” said Rivers.

In the end, Global Motion aimed to bring people together through dancing and self expression, both cross culturally and simply within the theater. For dancer Isabella Pruna, this was a moving production. “A lot of the pieces are emotional experiences so you can get lost in the dancing,” she said. “It’s a little escape for us and everyone.”

The show concluded with the cast bowing out to Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk", which audience members dance in the aisles. Those behind the scenes, including choreographers and dance professors, also showed off their moves, dancing to the beat of their own drum. The curtains closed with everyone hand in hand.