Next Generation revealed in ‘Choreographers Showcase & Prize’

We don’t need a crystal ball to visualize the next generation of top choreographers, but it helps to have a generous underwriter. Eleven contestants -10 individuals and a duo – have the honor of being selected for the 5th annual San Diego Young Choreographers Showcase & Prize Saturday (Feb. 21). Four of those dance artists have the added validation of winning a total of $5,000 in cash.

Alyssa Junious posses after winning Audience Favorite. Image: George Willis

Alyssa Junious poses after winning “Audience Favorite” as Jean Isaacs looks on. Image: George Willis

Audience Favorite Choreography $1,000: Alyssa Junious

Most Original Choreography $3,000: Ariana Siegel

Best Performance by an Individual Dancer $500: Angel Acuña

Best Ensemble Performance $500: Jaime Nixon.

More than 300 people turned out for the showcase at the Coronado Performing Arts Center, which started late and was interrupted by a fire alarm. But nothing could detract from the exciting, annual event presented by San Diego Dance Theater. An exuberant audience and a panel of judges awarded cash prizes in four categories.

Ariana Seigel poses with a fire alarm, after winning the Grand Prize for most original choreography.  Image:  Kris Eitland

Ariana Siegel laughs at a fire alarm  after winning the Grand Prize, most original choreography, for the duet (B)order.   Image: Kris Eitland

Each audience member had two votes. In her introduction, Jean Isaacs said “vote for your loved one and the one that you think should win.”

A joyful Alyssa Junious won the Audience Favorite prize of $1000 for Aureole 5. She thanked her talented dancers (Korey Van Hoy, Nicki Mendoza, Jennifer Fait Puls, Sheldon Chaney, Shoshana Mozlin) and her mother, Evangeline Junious, for designing the costumes.  The audience was wowed by the string styled costumes and wickedly sharp energy.

The panel of judges chose the final three winners.

Ariana Siegel garnered the grand prize – Most Original Choreography and $3000- for the duet (B)order. Judges were captivated by the instant tension and use of space, as well as chemistry between Siegel and her partner, Angel Acuña, who won $500 for Best Performance by an Individual Dancer. The dance was marked by passionate lifts and urgent gestures, such as Acuña running with one finger up.

Siegel and Acuña changed direction on the diagonal and were gliding toward the audience when their dance was cut short. Blinding lights flashed and an alarm sounded. A few in the crowd thought it might be part of the dance. We all ended up out on the sidewalk. Dancers in sheer costumes jumped to stay warm.

A fire engine arrived in minutes and crews marched into the building. One fireman carried an ax. After much speculation about culprits and possible sabotage, they reported that “aerosols in the men’s dressing room” set off sensitive sensors. A maintenance man confirmed that hairspray was to blame, again, as we filed back in to complete the show.

Angel Acuna won Best Performance by an Individual Dancer, and danced it twice. Image:  George Willis.

Angel Acuna won Best Performance by an Individual Dancer, and danced it twice. Image: George Willis.

Dance #3 started again, and rather than flustered, Siegel and Acuña Siegel were even more confident. It was their night for surprises.

Siegel hadn’t even planned to perform once much less twice. She had to step in because dancer Sulijah Learmont suffered a back injury. (Learmont presented Les Deux, a duet for dancers Angelica Lee Bell and Zaquia Mahler Salinas). Acuña gave credit to Siegel and his training with Kyle and Gina Sorensen. The Sorensen’s spent a year in Israel studying Gaga, a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin of Batsheva Dance Co. The Sorensens were first place winners in 2012.

Jaime Nixon won the Best Ensemble Performance award and $500 for And I fear for the mother in her, a collaboration with his dancers: Angelica Lee Bell, Sarah Clark, Sarah Navarette, Katie Lupke, and Brittany Taylor. Of note, Taylor won Best Performance by an Individual Dancer last year. The women were striking in long sweater dresses in a deep green color. They stretched into solid extensions, and we couldn’t take our eyes of Taylor and her shock of fiery-red hair as she kicked and rolled with remarkable strength and flexibility. Nixon is also a return winner. His dance Hemisphere tied for an award with Zaquia Mahler Salinas in 2013.

Jamie Nixon garnered Best Ensemble Award.Image:  George Willis

Jamie Nixon garnered Best Ensemble Award.Image: George Willis

Along with the top four winners, choreographers included: Julio Cataño-Yee, Ian Isles, Emily Miller, Celeste Lanuza, Paul Anthony Mota, Katharine Vigmostad and Aurora Lagattuta, and Edrian Pangilinan.

Judges for this year’s competition include: Janice Steinberg, San Diego Dance Critic and novelist; Kevin Patterson, Director of San Diego Fringe Festival; Victoria Hamilton, Arts and Community Development, Jacobs Center; and Maria Caligagan, UC San Diego Professor.

The value of the choreographers showcase is far-reaching. Prize money and awards can help with jobs, grants, fellowships, and helps pay for dancers. The event invites dance artists from many genres to work together, and audiences discover new artists and styles.

We can thank many people, but especially Danah Fayman. She’s in her mid-nineties and continues to support the next generation of dance makers by underwriting the showcase and $5000 in prize awards.

A program note reads: A health issue “prevents Danah from being here tonight, but perhaps she’ll feel the collective thoughts of gratitude and admiration from a community which still cares about good dance.”


Sue Brenner captured moments from the tech rehearsal.




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