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Celebrate Dance 2008 – Pushing the Limits of the Body

by Rachel Levin
March 15, 2008
The Alex Theatre
216 North Brand Boulevard

Glendale, CA 91203
818-243-7700

Featured Dance Company:

Celebrate Dance
Celebrate Dance (office)

Los Angeles, CA
www.celebratedance.org

Now in its third year, the Celebrate Dance 2008 festival Saturday delivered on its precedent of bringing together a family-friendly smorgasbord of dance styles from innovative companies. But now that producer Jamie Nichols has found her footing with the event—it played to a sold out theatre, a true feat at the Alex—she seems to be taking more chances. The unofficial theme for the night was a focus on physicality (as opposed to musicality or cultural context) and pushing the limits of the body.

Three pieces were especially transcendent in their expression of this theme: Lux Aeterna's "Metanoia," Marie de la Palme's "Le Coeur Illuminé," and Backhausdance's "Arrive." Lux Aeterna had breakdance legend Jacob "Kujo" Lyons and dancers performing breathtaking partner stunts to Arvo Part's "Credo." (See Rachel Levin's interview with Jacob "Kujo" Lyons.) The narrative thread of transformation in the piece was particularly poignant in Kujo's duet with Sarah Moser. The group's unique blend of breakdance, ballet, and modern technique conveyed a palpable yearning for the sublime. In the stunning "Le Coeur Illuminé," soloist Melissa Sandvig danced a duet with two crimson drapes of fabric suspended from the ceiling. Her aerial stunts were as surprising as they were gorgeous. Watching Jennifer Backhaus' "Arrive" felt like opening a music box and finding a company of dancers inside. Dressed in plain maroon or navy leotards, the dancers executed dynamic movement patterns with such precision that they could have been mechanized. That's not to say anything about the piece felt mechanical; on the contrary, it was fluid, a veritable symphony of movement on the cusp of modern and ballet.

Nichols also invited a couple of slightly edgier contemporary companies that, were they on their own bill, might not be as accessible to a broad public audience, including the brand new BodyTraffic and Bradley Michaud's Method Contemporary Dance. The quartet of BodyTraffic dancers began their piece with abstract ticking and convulsing, which ultimately gave way to a more lyrical duet between a solitary dancer and a live cellist. Similarly, Method Dance's piece was split into two movements. In the first, the trio of dancers seemed to wrestle with getting their own bodies to move in the ways they desired; in the second part, the music cut out, and the audience could hear the sounds of the dancers' breathing and skin slapping skin as the dancers interacted in a sort of tug of war.

The entry by Viktor Kabaniaev and Dancers, appearing in Celebrate Dance for the third straight year, also veered toward the abstract and proved highly physical. His piece featured Irene Liu, who danced a wrenching solo to a soundscape seemingly inspired by the chaos of our modern day political realities.

Both Contra-Tiempo's salsa piece "Mundo Plastico" and Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project's West African "Dar Es Salaam" were more culturally grounded, but they still exhibited an experimental spirit that deconstructed the physicality of their respective heritage dances. Contra-Tiempo played with all of the possible elements of salsa: time (demonstrating salsa in slow motion), contact (one couple danced as mirror image partners without ever touching), and gender (men danced with men). Toward the end of the piece, this fascinating deconstruction gave way to a festive though less interesting circle of swirling couples who made a kaleidoscope with their bodies. Baker & Tarpaga's all-male dancers exhibited a kind of hyperphysicality in warlike moves set to live drumming and the global hip hop of MIA.

Collectively, the pieces left the crowd in awe of the potential of the human body to transcend the limitations of gravity and flexibility and of the choreographers' ability to transcend genre. If Celebrate Dance can continue to draw such robust crowds, in future years it will introduce a growing public of dance fans to vocabularies of movement they might not otherwise seek.

All photos © Tim Agler 2008 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
tagler.smugmug.com
Lux Aeterna performs Metanoia

Lux Aeterna performs Metanoia

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


Melissa Sandvig performs Le Coeur Illumine

Melissa Sandvig performs Le Coeur Illumine

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


Method Contemporary Dance performs Claudia

Method Contemporary Dance performs Claudia

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


Irene Liu performs Episodes Of...

Irene Liu performs Episodes Of...

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


Contra-Tiempo performs Mundo Plastico

Contra-Tiempo performs Mundo Plastico

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

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