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NOW Festival: Program 3

by Jessica Abrams
August 18, 2014
REDCAT
(Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater - in the Walt Disney Concert Hall)
631 W. 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213-237-2800
post•mod•ern•ism
noun
a late-20th-century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism that represents a departure from modernism and has at its heart a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies as well as a problematical relationship with any notion of "art."

Post-modernism, and more specifically post-structuralism (of which Roland Barthes, who figures largely here and whom we'll get to later), forges connections with varying disciplines that it references to arrive at a synthetic view of knowledge and its relationship to experience. Within those connections is a self-awareness about the process itself – a sense of being in on the joke, as it were (she said with a pipe lodged in the corner of her mouth).

Program 3 of NOW (New Original Works Festival)at Los Angeles' REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater), featured two pieces completely different in medium, tone, style and every other possible qualifier. "Blacktop Highway", a solo performance featuring the prodigious talents of actor and writer John Fleck, leads the audience into a house of horrors involving a man lost on a dark stretch of highway, an incestuous brother and sister, and a botched abortion; while Ate9 Dance Company's piece "For Now" is a non-linear buffet of movement styles and influences. Yet both draw from a rich legacy within each medium, sometimes self-consciously, sometimes not, with the end result being a completely new and innovative way of connecting us to an experience.

John Fleck, actor, solo performer and video artist, uses every means at his disposal to tell the comedic horror tale of which we are so familiar and yet, in Fleck's telling, becomes something else entirely. "Blacktop Highway" begins with Fleck, in a T-shirt and back workout pants with two white stripes running down the sides, telling the familiar tale of a man whose car breaks down while driving down a lonely stretch of highway. He uses his body to tell the story, in this case a matchbox car moving up the stripes of his pants leg. He sets the stage with the "interior" and "exterior" scene headings used in screenplays, adding sound effects to indicate bats, rubber on road, insects buzzing around the night air. His humor and his ability to be all things at once – narrator, actor, commentator – not to mention his bringing us into the present day with comments like, "I hate you, Verizon" let us know we are embarking on a wild and crazy ride.

And we are. Once our protagonist wanders into the strange house, a house we've seen in a million horror movies and heard about in a million stories, the fun begins. Fleck alternates between playing the protagonist, the deranged she-male who owns the house, her brother and their developmentally disabled child. Video on the two television monitors show Fleck as other characters interacting with the live person in front of us; and video projected onto the back wall provides another familiar trope of a door slamming closed and the sound of footsteps entering the room. The storytelling is interrupted throughout by a video projected onto the back wall of a literary critic – Fleck in a tweed suit and glasses, sitting in front of a wall of books—commenting on the events, quoting Roland Barthes, the famous post-structuralist himself, to add yet another wink-wink-nod-nod to the storytelling. At one point the video input doesn't work and Fleck addresses his director in the sound booth with "What do I do now?" which seems perfectly in keeping with the multiple viewpoints and Fleck's ability to step outside of the piece to comment. In fact, this seems so much a part of Fleck's hilarious storytelling style one wonders if it wasn't staged.

In addition to being the founder and artistic director of Ate9 Dance Company, Danielle Agami teaches a movement technique known as Gaga. Invented by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin whose Batsheva Dance Company Agami danced with for eight years, Gaga strives to push students past movement barriers, urging them to focus on multiple sensations at once. Indeed, in an excerpt of "For Now", multiple movement styles, tones and sensations come together to forge a multi-layered and highly original work by a choreographer on the rise, and deservedly so.

"For Now" begins with a lone female dancer in a flesh-colored leotard and tights performing a series of dynamic movements alone on stage. With arms swinging, stopping at times to present gestures, and legs moving separately, she – and we — become absorbed in this dynamic display of movement set to music by independent electronic music producer and composer Omid Walizadeh. Agami's movement style combines ballet, breakdance, traditional modern in the vein of Ruth St. Denis and a postmodern style that brings to mind choreographers like Donald Byrd. After a few bars, the lights go down and come back up on another dancer moving in much the same way. Eventually all eight dancers emerge in a line on stage, curving around it, with individual dancers breaking off and then getting back in line. Faces are solemn, brows furrowed, shoulders even a little hunched around ears. The two men wear their hair shorn close to the head. One senses the crisis of modern-day life, the routine, the stress and the need to break away from it.

Later, the six female dancers walk on stage, their arms bent at right angles to resemble figures on a Grecian urn. They turn slowly, deliberately, eerily. There is a primal sense here, a connection to another time. What's so brilliant about the choreography is as much how the dancers move as how and when they do not. The music is techno and one would expect frenetic movement to go with it; instead there is a quality of stillness, all the while allowing the dancers to push the boundaries of movement and to create shapes that cut through the air like invisible blades of pure, raw energy.

Like John Fleck, Agami not only has a sense of humor in her work, but she gives the audience credit that it does too. At times, dancers strut across the stage like chickens; other times they resemble frogs. No style or method of allowing the audience into the experience is spared, and the result is a piece that is electric, intelligent and vital.

It is that self-awareness and compilation of well-known tropes that brings to mind the concept of post-modernism, even if both Fleck and Agami would probably take issue with the label. As well they should: they may not be able to ignore the artists and storytellers who came before them, but in spite of that as well as because of it, they have both managed to arrive at something uniquely their own.
Ate9 Dance Company in 'For Now'

Ate9 Dance Company in "For Now"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


Ate9 Dance Company in 'For Now'

Ate9 Dance Company in "For Now"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


Ate9 Dance Company in 'For Now'

Ate9 Dance Company in "For Now"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


Ate9 Dance Company in 'For Now'

Ate9 Dance Company in "For Now"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


Ate9 Dance Company in 'For Now'

Ate9 Dance Company in "For Now"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


Ate9 Dance Company in 'For Now'

Ate9 Dance Company in "For Now"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


John Fleck in 'Blacktop Highway'

John Fleck in "Blacktop Highway"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


John Fleck in 'Blacktop Highway'

John Fleck in "Blacktop Highway"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


John Fleck in 'Blacktop Highway'

John Fleck in "Blacktop Highway"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


John Fleck in 'Blacktop Highway'

John Fleck in "Blacktop Highway"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


John Fleck in 'Blacktop Highway'

John Fleck in "Blacktop Highway"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther


John Fleck in 'Blacktop Highway'

John Fleck in "Blacktop Highway"

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther

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