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L.A. Dance Showcase Sees The City's Dance Through A Wide Angle Lens

by Jessica Abrams
August 27, 2013
Santa Monica, CA
To live in Los Angeles is to exist in a vast patchwork of cultures. Unlike the melting pot of New York with its sense of vertical integration, the horizontal spread of the City of Angels makes for a hand-made and, in places, unevenly stitched quilt, with a staggering variety of cultures living side-by-side, all against the backdrop of entertainment and storytelling. It would follow, then, that the L.A. Dance Showcase, which took place Tuesday, August 27 at the Moss Theater at New Roads School in Santa Monica and showcased some of the best of Los Angeles dance, was a unique hodgepodge of movement philosophies, cultural influences, and nods to the industry that unites them all.

The program opened with Viver Brasil, a company of musicians, singers and dancers celebrating the culture of Salvator, Bahia, Brazil. In an excerpt from "Mothers and Sons", the dancers enacted the myth of Nana, goddess of the marshes, who gives birth to two sons late in life, one of which is the God of transformation who ultimately flees his mother to become the connection between the earthly realm and the celestial world. In bright orange dresses, the three female dancers portray anguish and exaltation, alternately arching upward and contracting inward. All three dancers so effectively represented the solidity and, at the same time, fluidity of the feminine with their voluptuousness and easy languor of both spirit and movement. In the second piece, an excerpt from "Para Xaxa", they stayed firmly planted on the earthly plain: with bright hoop skirts and big smiles, the same archetypal dancers became young maidens out on the town, flirting with the audience in a coming-of-age ritual that could only be described as a South American sock hop.

Before the audience could recover from the program's opening sensory blast, Lux Aeterna Dance Company's Jacob "Kujo" Lyons and Teresa "Toogie" Barcelo emerged and began their own mating ritual. Wearing high-top sneakers and skinny jeans, they hurled themselves at one another, then retreated self-consciously. Lyons and Barcelo took turns clinging, hugging, fighting and above all, stumbling as they grappled with the complexity and co-dependence of a twenty-first century love affair. Their movement style appeared culled from a multitude of sources: break dance, Capoeira and Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics. Yann Tierson's modern-day Baroque music for the work further underscored the whimsy and humor of the dynamic duo's whose technical skill and sense of comedic timing were dazzling.

Louise Reichlin/L.A. Choreographers and Dancers's multimedia work the "Tap Dance Widows Club" told the story, in both video and movement, of the love of three performers for their late husbands and the bond it created between them. The piece opened with a video of Louise Reichlin (widow of John Alfred Desio), Loretta Zerby (widow of Jon Zerby) and Katherine Hopkins-Nicholas (widow of Fayard Nicholas)catching up in a living room setting, laughing and chatting about their late husbands who were all renowned tap dancers. Video clips such as one of Desio rigging a machine designed to electrify tap dance sounds and of the brilliant Fayard Nicholas in a virtuosic performance with his brother Harold are interwoven with the company's dancers interpreting the three departed tapper's work. A piece featuring three dancers tap-dancing to Black Violin brought the work of all three tap legends into a contemporary focus, particularly since the dancers were wearing sneakers and the tapping was part of the audio. An ensemble piece paid homage to the top-hat-and-tails showmanship of the Nicholas Brothers, once again in a Twenty-First Century context. The interweaving of past and present, of distinctly different worlds through both video and dance, made this piece not only unique, but deeply touching.

Invertigo Dance Theatre's tale of the aftermath of a natural disaster followed. It also used dance as a conduit to tell stories. In fact, Laura Karlin, the company's artistic director, pinpoints storytelling as her company's mission; and Invertigo's "After It Happened" followed that mission with a clear beginning, middle and end. Through dance and dialogue it brought us into a world of desperation, isolation and, ultimately, human connection while never once sacrificing the quality of its dancing. Karlin's choreography was bold and her dancers strong. When they came together in dazzling ensemble moments, their legs fanning out Rockette-style before they plunged to the floor, it was a vision to behold. Moments of humor provided comic relief to a subject matter every Angeleno has either experienced or lies awake worrying about. Some of those moments included an obnoxious news reporter being told off in Japanese by a Japanese woman; her husband then intervening. Others like the discovery of how plastic bags could be re-used, added whimsical flavor to this dramatic sensory meal.

A survey of Los Angeles dance would not be complete without a contribution from Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Moving into its thirty-fourth year, this self-described contemporary modern dance company that creates works to reflect African-American history and culture, has moved way beyond being a local company (with a mission and history of community outreach that is awe-inspiring) and into a world-class realm.

The company's first offering, Christopher Huggins' "Love Is", was a deeply moving and sensual dialogue between two stellar dancers. The smallest of gestures connected us to the emotional ebbs and flows of the dancers' relationship. In Lula Washington's "Random Thoughts", set to music by Terence Blanchard a video projection of the ocean made for a laconic mood as three dancers – two men and one woman in white - a goddess among men – weaved in and out of shapes and embraces, at times looking like a sea anemone, its tentacles clasping, grasping and clutching. The clean lines and technical prowess of these dancers was only matched by their emotional commitment and sheer performance ability.

Another element any L.A. dance showcase would be remiss in not including is street dancing. Antics, led by Amy "Catfox" Campion, filled that bill featuring a dazzlingly diverse and impressive ensemble which took street dance to another level. In excerpts from "Illuminated Manuscript", the dancers performed an archetypal dance of death, with dazzling skill and artistry.

In the end, the L.A. Dance Showcase brought together contrasting cultures, philosophies and even time periods to celebrate dance and herald its power to unite us all.
Invertigo Dance Theatre in 'After It Happened'.

Invertigo Dance Theatre in "After It Happened".

Photo © & courtesy of Joe Lambie

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