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L.A. Dance Festival

by Joanne Zimbler
April 14, 2012
Los Angeles, CA
On April 14 and 15, the LA Dance Festival was held at the Brewery Arts Complex in downtown LA., co-produced by Diavolo Dance Theater and Brockus Project Dance company. The festival, according to Brockus, was created as a place to "nurture the L.A Dance ecosystem, maximizing the opportunity for L.A. Dancers to network, learn, and perform." The festival included master classes as well as a discussion on dance in LA, all intending to unite local dancers and expose young dancers to the city's vibrant dance scene.

Over a dozen local dance companies participated in the festival's Saturday night performance showcase. With an unexpected intensity for a show opener, Method Dance Company startled with "Supercedure," a high-energy dramatic piece bordering on violent. Dancers hurled themselves to the floor to intense dance music, bringing to mind a sort of club scene in which the dancers' high must ultimately yield to a "come down" of sorts. As the fun ended, the mood became one of disunity. Dancers' faces reflected the discord, and in a painful conclusion, one dancer moved separately alone, as if possessed.

Method Dance Company's discomfited tone was re-articulated by Dorn Dance company's excerpt of the longer piece "As We Grow Down." (A review of a previous performance of this piece in its entirety can be found here. In the abridged version, the same theme of distance and inability to form mature human connections was explored by two dancers who alternated between entreating one another for affirmation and rejecting the other's desperate pleas. Dorn's emotional meditation on relationships was highlighted in the several moments of stillness in which a palpable discord grew as the moments lapsed. The two dancers finally found union as one dragged the corpse-like body of the other and in a crescendoing poignancy laid together finally, united only in death.

Bodytraffic restored our hope for human relationships in a performance saturated with emotion and connection. Choreographer Stijin Celis's choreography was redolent of Lar Lubovitch with its ethereal choreography. "Fragile Dwellings" featured two men and two women whose constant flowing gauzy white clad bodies moved indefatigably to haunting medieval-style music. The beauty of the movement and music evoked a visceral reaction as the dancers arched and writhed in beautifully exuberant port de bras and intimate clutching movements.

The ever-dynamic Lula Washington Dance Company was visually stunning in their classic company piece "For Those Who Live and Die for Us," a moving and lively tribute to the American Armed Forces. The stirring piece included many dancers, an "army," who articulated their movements seriously and attacked the steps bravely as a unified entity, responding to the frequent commands shouted by the dancer momentarily in charge. Clean and elegant lyrical movements characterized most of the piece which was also fraught with traumatic moments in the form of frenzied shaking movements. A streamlined unit, the piece favored clear, distinct elemental movements of jazz and ballet. The solidarity amongst the dancers culminated with silence punctuated by the sound of marching feet as one soldier held the flag to a chill-inducing effect.

Regina Klenjoski's entry of the night, "One-Two-Many" was a pure delight that felt like a sugar high, although over-consumption was the topic being critiqued. The piece was performed earlier this year at Celebrate Dance (click here for the full review), and as reviewer Rachel Levin commented, "The mannequin-like movements and runway model poses of the dancers, along with the entertaining voiceover slogans like, 'When you've got it flaunt it' and 'Maybe she's born with it' made for a light-hearted critique of consumer culture and the commodification of the body." The dancers depicted the effects of consumerism not only as mannequins and self-absorbed preening narcissists, but often as victims of consumerism as well, overly bombarded by ubiquitous messages which turned them at times into mechanical automatons.

Vox Dance Theater presented an excerpt of the longer piece "Al Noor," a meditation in minimalism. The dancers moved silently, slowly on stage where only slightly more movement occurred subsequently. The performance was yet another iteration of the earlier theme of disconnectedness, as the dancers moved zombie like, yearningly in unrequited emotional neediness while the cacophonous music reinforced the uncomfortable interactions.

A heartbreaking piece was provided by Lineage Dance Company's "Lost in these Walls," which featured a male and female dancer playfully frolicking and tumbling about in enthusiastic synergy. The carefree lover's revelry, however, soon gave way to withering conflict with frenzied movements and dramatic rolls; the wrenching ending came suddenly as the male dancer, seemingly aware that the lovers could not reconcile, abruptly departed from the stage, leaving an agonized flailing female dancer alone in her misery.

L.A. Contemporary Dance Company cavorted wildly, making much use of space in an exultant and exotic romp to music overlaid with Indian Kathak chants. The dancers exalted in each other's presence, often looking and smiling directly at one another; this, along with the gauzy white flowing skirts and the music, gave the revelry a cult-like feel. The six ecstatic dancers formed circles, held hands, touched and connected finally sitting on the ground together in a sanguine kumbaya-like ending.

Bodytraffick returned to the stage for the final performance in a jazzy retro throwback piece featuring exuberant 1940s and 50s era jazz and rock n' roll. The piece can only be described as a jubilant gambol of adorable moves redolent of Gene Kelly and Elvis Presley. The three dancers took turns capering about in showy "look at me" moves. This piece was pure fun - and a good counterpoint (and ending) to a show heavy on themes of isolation.

The narrative based pieces in the festival were robust reminders of the power of story-telling, perfectly suited for L.A., and reflecting the city's raison d'etre. And in a town known for talent, diversity and craftsmanship, the festival upheld this reputation with strong showings in each - a real L.A. show for a real L.A. crowd.
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