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Choreographers? Cowabunga! - The 7th Annual Los Angeles Dance Invitational

by Rachel Levin
June 3, 2006
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA
The poster for Saturday's Los Angeles Dance Invitational (LADi) featured a ballerina perched atop a surfboard, catching a wave gracefully. In keeping with this image, the event delivered on its promise to "hang ten," or, rather, "hang thirteen": thirteen unique choreographers and dance companies kicked out the jams at this eclectic showcase. While there were a few wipeouts, the majority of performances were, well, totally tubular.

Produced by Howard Ibach and co-produced by Stanley Holden and Jamie Nichols, LADi was initially founded to raise money for gay and lesbian youth, though this year it was presented as a showcase in its own right rather than as a charity event. Nonetheless, two of the pieces explored the terrain of same-sex love and marriage. Sarah Swenson's "Fimmine" featured six women dressed in bridal gowns and incorporated movement from the traditional marriage ceremony: the step-together-step of waltzing down the aisle, the holding of the train, and gathering of the petticoats. The piece ended with the sextet clasping hands with their backs to the audience, as if standing before a priest. By exploring the very feminine focus of weddings, where all eyes are on the bride, the dance hinted at how natural a marriage between two women could be. In "The Morning After," choreographer Ashley Browne demonstrated that the struggles of building emotional intimacy in the aftermath of physical intimacy transcend the bounds of heterosexuality. In this piece, three couples - one gay, one lesbian, and one straight - enacted synchronous movement to forward that theme. Appropriately, the dance was set to John Legend's richly melodic "Ordinary People."

Another noticeable theme was open and closed doors, evidenced in Marie de la Palme and Mike Wittmers' show-stopping tap piece "The Door" and Viktor Kabaniaev's "Sound of the Closing Door." In the first, tap dancer Wittmers faced down an incessant knock at a lone red door placed on stage. It began mildly, as if a tenant from below was knocking to ask if he could keep all the noise down. Lost in his taps, Wittmers mimicked the rhythm of each knock with his lightening-fast feet. When he finally tried to answer it, the door wouldn't budge, and a tap battle with the door ensued as he beat angrily against it and hung helplessly from it. Of course, once he stopped trying and gave up, the door mysteriously opened on its own, while Russian Orthodox chants from a Bulgarian choir boomed in the background. In Kabaniaev's piece, a shaft of light and creaking sound indicated that a door had swung open, and a lone female dancer occupied the stage to sounds of an industrial warehouse. Her masculine, angular movements and lunges highlighted the geometry of the body.

The show's most riveting number was "The Cage," also choreographed by Marie de la Palme. A female dancer was trapped in a moveable cage, while her male companion and suitor frolicked outside it, poking hands and head inside to explore the body of the cage's inhabitant. The dancers enacted the range of emotions present when loving across barriers: teasing, recoiling, trusting, feeling abandoned, worrying, and wanting. They kept the tension of their struggle alive until the very last second of the piece.

Two costumed numbers were exuberantly entertaining: Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company's "Arriba Jalisco: A Gritos y A Sombreros," a thundering swirl of ladies in colorful, ruffled dresses and men in Mexican blanket capes, and Robin E. Johnson's "Mozart 250," a ballet ball with dancers in period dress set to Amadeus' own "Flute Concerto in D Major." An appearance by a dancer dressed as Amadeus himself suggested that perhaps the great composer wrote with choreography in mind.

Deftly performed but not as engaging were "A Wink and a Nod," by Nancy Evens Doede, a flirty ballet number set to three Gershwin preludes; "Urban Sprawl," by Kacico Kansas City Contemporary Dance, with dancers clad in red shag unitards pieced together with electrical tape; "Sibling Love," by Stephanie Zhao, an exploration of her Chinese heritage; and "Night Sky," by Kathleen Davidon, in which a swath of champagne fabric served as a partner for a pair of dancers. As far as wipeouts, "RAFT" by Amy Ernst was scrapped due to a health emergency.

Ballet dynamo Margaret Graham Hills received the Stanley Holden Award for Distinguished Teaching, and Laurence Blake choreographed a pas de deux dedicated to her. In Hill's sweet, appreciative acceptance speech, she commented, "I love to dance, you love to dance, so let's see some more!" Dance lovers who want more will have to wait until 2007 to catch the next LADi wave.

Photo © & courtesy of Los Angeles Dance International

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