Arts & Life

REFLECT showcase in Long Beach explores time and a need for art

The words “nobody’s listening to me” rang through the speaker as dancer Ajah Muhammad performed, at times shielding her face with her arms as she knelt or jumping into the air.

Ajah Muhammad performs "Lost One," a piece choreographed by James Mahkween about feeling invisible to the world.
Ajah Muhammad performs “Lost One,” a piece choreographed by James Mahkween about feeling invisible to the world. Photo credit: Paris Barraza
Ajah Muhammad, performing at REFLECT showcase on Jan. 16, has worked with James Mahkween previously, including his upcoming dance project "Cat Call."
Ajah Muhammad, performing at REFLECT showcase on Jan. 16, has worked with James Mahkween previously, including his upcoming dance project “Cat Call.” Photo credit: Paris Barraza

The piece, choreographed by Long Beach-based dancer James Mahkween and set to Demi Lovato’s song, “Anyone,” captured the sense of loss of time and opportunity felt by dancers like Muhammad, Mahkween and more at the showcase REFLECT.

REFLECT, created by Mahkween about four years ago, is a showcase that gives choreographers a platform to share their work based upon a chosen theme, including love and gratitude for previous showcases.

Long Beach dancer and choreographer James Mahkween at Rose Park, Long Beach, Jan. 16.
Long Beach dancer and choreographer James Mahkween at Rose Park, Long Beach, Jan. 16. Photo credit: Paris Barraza

“I believe in focusing on topics that matter and need our attention,” Mahkween said. “So I created REFLECT to focus on things to give people an opportunity to get into that discussion, not just for the choreographer, but for the audience too.”

Imani Shabazz said after she finished performing her piece that she, "just wants us all to love each other, in spite of the hatred that surrounds us all the time."
Imani Shabazz said after she finished performing her piece that she, “just wants us all to love each other, in spite of the hatred that surrounds us all the time.” Photo credit: Paris Barraza

Imani Shabazz performs her piece "Moon Stew and Curry Skies" on Jan. 16 at Rose Park, Long Beach.
Imani Shabazz performs her piece “Moon Stew and Curry Skies” on Jan. 16 at Rose Park, Long Beach. Photo credit: Paris Barraza

That opportunity came on Jan. 16 at Rose Park, where an intimate, masked crowd sat on the grass and watched the hourlong performance.

The theme was on time, which Mahkween said he felt there wasn’t enough of.

Muhammad said that the piece she performed was about feeling invisible, and as an artist, she connected to that sentiment even prior to the changes the coronavirus pandemic brought.

Ajah Muhammad said that she connected to the piece she performed at REFLECT, explaining how the coronavirus pandemic has made artists have to fight to be seen and heard.
Ajah Muhammad said that she connected to the piece she performed at REFLECT, explaining how the coronavirus pandemic has made artists have to fight to be seen and heard. Photo credit: Paris Barraza
Ajah Muhammad, dancer at REFLECT showcase, said performing can be a healing process and that it is important to keep working despite the challenges artists face due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ajah Muhammad, dancer at REFLECT showcase, said performing can be a healing process and that it is important to keep working despite the challenges artists face due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo credit: Paris Barraza

“Now that we are in the pandemic, it feels like we are more invisible than usual,” Muhammad said. “And I know this is something that a lot of artists in general can relate to just because now it seems like we have to fight more to be seen, to be heard and to be to be looked at when we’re expressing.”

Annie Lee and Marika Gould perform a piece choreographed by the CalliOpus Contemporary Dance company.
Annie Lee and Marika Gould perform a piece choreographed by the CalliOpus Contemporary Dance company. Photo credit: Paris Barraza
Kristin Brown, company member and rehearsal director at CalliOpus Contemporary Dance performs at REFLECT showcase.
Kristin Brown, company member and rehearsal director at CalliOpus Contemporary Dance performs at REFLECT showcase. Photo credit: Paris Barraza

The cancelation or postponement of opportunities, the closures of performances venues and the loss of having proper spaces to practice in have made it more difficult for dancers like Muhammad.

Other performers included Maili Schlosser and Tanner Miranda-Rumbo, Long Beach State alumni who performed in the showcase to a piece choreographed to a song from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Tanner Miranda-Rumbo and Maili Schlosser perform a piece choreographed to the soundtrack of the 2011 film, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
Tanner Miranda-Rumbo and Maili Schlosser perform a piece choreographed to the soundtrack of the 2011 film, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Photo credit: Paris Barraza
Tanner Miranda-Rumbo and Maili Schlosser are Long Beach State alumni who met James Mahkween, creator of REFLECT, at a previous showcase.
Tanner Miranda-Rumbo and Maili Schlosser are Long Beach State alumni who met James Mahkween, creator of REFLECT, at a previous showcase. Photo credit: Paris Barraza

Schlosser said that she had played around with that soundtrack before this piece, and she and Miranda-Rumbo wanted to use something that had a sound reminiscent of metronome.

The two had performed in Mahkween’s REFLECT showcase last year, and they wanted to continue with it this year, the pair saying that seeing dance live, “felt like home.”

“I feel like making something because it’s been so stagnant with the pandemic and everything,” Schlosser said.

Eliezer Rableo, a ballet teacher and choreographer, performs at REFLECT showcase on Jan. 16.
Eliezer Rableo, a ballet teacher and choreographer, performs at REFLECT showcase on Jan. 16. Photo credit: Paris Barraza
Choreographer Eliezer Rableo is the final performer at James Mahkween&squot;s showcase, REFLECT, who said that the purpose of this piece was to invoke an "introspective feeling."
Choreographer Eliezer Rableo is the final performer at James Mahkween’s showcase, REFLECT, who said that the purpose of this piece was to invoke an “introspective feeling.” Photo credit: Paris Barraza
Eliezer Rableo performs a piece titled "Indulgence Avec Arte" at REFLECT on Jan. 16.
Eliezer Rableo performs a piece titled “Indulgence Avec Arte” at REFLECT on Jan. 16. Photo credit: Paris Barraza

Mahkween said it was important to have community events like REFLECT that can be done safely in open spaces. He said that art connects people, and people are in need of that connection now.

“[Art is] what brought us alive in the first place, right, and we’re not getting to indulge in that right now so we’re also being drained from natural art,” Mahkween said.

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