BWW Review: THE COLOR IZ Presented a Multifaceted Array of Dance and Disco at The Stonewall Inn
As one ascended the staircase at the iconic Stonewall, a place that will be forever remembered as a landmark turning point in LGBT history from the riots that took place 50 years ago, they were greeted by two Adonis sculpted like Greek gods shimmering with gold glitter. The alluring attendants acted as guides for an evening of immersive dance that felt like a throwback to the glory days of New York nightclubs, where disco and dances like the Hustle were born.
The atmosphere was utterly intoxicating -- perhaps partially due to the quickdraw bartenders always eager to provide more liberating libations and the mini champagne bottles of True Colours Cava that were doled out to the VIPs who were identified by a spiked plastic bracelet that flickered like a strobe light. Jamal Rigault, the DJ and Musical Director, ensured the revelers were warming up the dance floor with some groovy tunes before the big show. The mood created was sensual, bold, outrageous and joyous -- then the fabulous performers certainly put the dance in decadence!
The Color Iz was part dance showcase, part musical theatre and part gender-bending Drag show with a heavy, heady dose of disco, glam and glitter and a focus on celebrating all shades of expression in dance and identity. It was conceived and created by award-winning professional dancers Kristine Bendul and Abdiel Jacobsen (2019 Disco America Champions) with producer Brian Rubiano, all co-founders of Trān-sēnd'Daens, a new multimedia production and talent management group whose motto is "Follow, Lead, Love" and who strive to create platforms for unconventional, non-traditional ideas and artists to thrive.
Once the energy in the room had reached a fever pitch, the performance began. Host Jaime Cepero acted as the Emcee. Regal and resplendent in bold jewel tones and platform shoes, Cepero strutted and pranced like a peacock -- with plumes adorning his iridescent ensemble -- and commanded the space as a kind of Oz who was, quite literally, in front of the curtain. The theme continued as the funky, soulful and disco-laden "Emerald City Sequence" from the soundtrack to The Wiz set the scene for the battles of competitive dance, categorized by colors -- green, red and gold -- and also served as a social commentary on ever-fickle, always morphing and changing trends and identities.
Portuguese artist Joana Matos represented the emerald hue and set the tone with dynamic voguing, which has gone from an underground activity to mainstream interest thanks to shows like POSE on FX. Veteran dancers Elizabeth Darchi and Smitty Smith ignited the dance floor with Ballroom and Hustle partnering decked out in crimson, and the trio of glistening greeters Tomas Matos, Celeste Lanuza and Waldemar Q. Villanueva brought the yellow brick house down in glorious gold. They were followed by Greg Osei -- the embodiment an Egyptian pharaoh enshrined in gilded splendor -- who sang the iconic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The reflective beauty of his voice and words seemed to pause the competition and unite the disparate colors and styles of dance into one emotionally stirring expression of the many facets that make up the human spirit.
Like the signature rainbow flag of pride in queer culture, the full spectrum was on display and celebrated unabashedly, to the point where rules and restrictions of confinement's such as gender roles and traditional assumptions melted away and blended into something fluid and free. Men donned heels and were led by their female partners nearly half their size. Then, they would switch back and toss them into the air. Women performed moves made famous by male voguing pioneers such as Willi Ninja and offset their femininity with a bald head and boyish charm. Partners swung and flung each other so furiously that they could hardly be captured on camera as more than an ephemeral, ghostly blur of brilliant color.
But the most sparkling and brilliantly shining stars of an evening that showcased heavenly dance and a vast array of celestial bodies in motion, were the creators and conceivers, Abdiel Jacobsen and Kristine Bendul. Initially cloaked in black, they stripped down -- as if shedding their skins and inhibitions -- to reveal brightened hues and sleek garments that clung to their flawless forms when they performed to an original song by Bendul and Cepero "Open Up Your Colors." Both donning high heels, their white-hot physicality and chemistry could have set off the fire alarm!
I was fortunate to interview them both and gain further insight into their serendipitous connection and story of coming together to create The Color Iz, Trān-sēnd Dæns, and their bigger-picture mission vision for blurring the lines of race, gender, age and traditional roles and identities in the world of dance, particularly the staunchness or Ballroom and partnering dancers. (Note: slightly edited for content and clarity).
Kristine Bendul: Abdiel and I knew our meeting and new partnership was something truly special and unique from our very first performance opportunity in Toronto last October. We suddenly found ourselves on our global mission of inclusivity and we ended up co-founding Trān-sēnd Dæns with Brian Rubiano. The Color Iz is the first production ever by our new company Trān-sēnd Dæns.
We were basically given the task of creating a show at the historic Stonewall Inn knowing it was the 50 year anniversary of the police riots and the birth of the gay pride movement. We were also told to take into consideration one of the evenings' sponsors True Colours Cava that was making it's US launch.
True Colours was created by a European company called Altia Sweden and for every bottle sold, they donate five Swedish kronor to the LBGT community out there. Finally, and most importantly, we were told the show would be about us and somehow lead into the sneak peak of our sizzle reel for the documentary we are in the process of making happen. We thought, "Wow! What a task?!"
On the Fourth of July, Abdiel and I sat poolside at my brother Scott's in Northvale, NJ for a good seven hours to come up with a concept for a show. What we realized was that Hustle dance enabled us to both express our "true colors" and the research I did about True Colours and their mission helped us to form this surreal mystical social dance club where anything could happen and that's how "Altia" was created. We wanted to honor the company and their slogan "Life is sparkling and social!"
With our minds put together and with the purpose and intention of acceptance and inclusivity, Abdiel and I were able to feed off each other and write the show that became The Color Iz.
Abdiel Jacobsen: To expand further and continue where Kristine left off, once we came up with the fictional setting of the performance space, "Altia", we knew we would have to come up with a way to parallel it with the actual modern day Hustle dance club experience of which this idea was formed and how we met in the first place in real life. The Hustle partner dance social environment we both first encountered was full of life and celebration, very diverse racially and ethnically and people of all ages young and old dancing and interacting with each other, completely fluid in respect to relationships of gender and sexuality. Men leading men, women leading women, men leading women and women leading men, hetero men partnering with gay men and hetero women partnering lesbians, gay partnering lesbians...I mean literally any combination you could think of was represented and demonstrated. On top of that, unique and distinct personalities filled the Ballroom; it was like watching characters in a show! People were just being themselves free to be boisterous and loud and they were open and welcoming to all those that entered who wanted to join in. In fact, half of the members of the cast - Joana (green color), Smitty and Beth (red couple), Jamal (DJ) Mihoko and Sal (Hustle dance extras) - are all current active and well respected members of the Hustle dance community. We intentionally chose them as they would give the authentic representation of the scene we portrayed. This was the vibe we recreated that set the tone for Altia and for the audience to experience as they entered just as we had in our own lives: the surreal, magical Hustle dance club where anything is possible.
Furthermore, when we both discovered Hustle for the first time we had both been very focused on our dance/performance/musical theatrical careers. I know for me personally, at the time before discovering hustle, I had just become a Principal Dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and had a lot of pressure from both the outside world and from within my own self to be a representative of an major organization in a certain way that wasn't authentic to who I was fully. Certain parts of me I had to diminish and cover and was not able to express fully. This developed an insecurity within my own self identity and a disconnect from my work. Walking into Altia for the first time not knowing what to expect, my character enters with that same insecurity and reservation, attracted and enthralled by the freedom and exuberance of the dance social yet shy, not sure how to join in and whether he will be accepted. Soon he and his partner (Kristine) finds out that they are completely welcomed and accepted here and encouraged to fully express themselves.
With each interaction of each color (green, red and gold) a new aspect of their personalities is unlocked. In the end, each new discovery allows them to become transformed into their greatest selves complete with all the ingredients to fully express their partnership.
Hustle is a dance genre birthed in the 70's in the boroughs of NYC and that culture of fluidity, diversity, freedom and celebration still exist today. We want to tell this story to bring awareness and preservation to this American cultural heritage of Disco music and Hustle partner dance honoring its roots and traditions while creatively expanding its expression to continue its relevance to our present time. This story and demonstration of diversity and inclusivity is central to our mission as we want to create more spaces and work in spirit and celebration of the Hustle community and continue supporting and preserving communities like this already existing.
Kristine Bendul: We also wanted to add that the immersive show is an incubator for what our company is ultimately envisioning on a much grander scale. We put emphasis on the documentary being that Follow Lead Love is our immediate next venture we are trying to garner support for. Blessed to have Emmy award nominee Brian Thomas at the helm, it will continue to push the vision of Trān-sēnd Dæns of which you are already aware of.
For more information on The Color Iz and Trān-sēnd Dæns, please visit: www.transenddaens.com