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Louise Reichlin & Dancers Take a Bite Out of An Age-Old Tale

by Jessica Abrams
October 18, 2014
Central Library - Mark Taper Auditorium
630 West Fifth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 228-7000
www.lapl.org/branches/central-library
The story of "Little Red Riding Hood" contains almost as many adaptations as the bible. Separate versions of the same story were said to have been told in France, Italy and possibly even the Orient in and around the Tenth Century. Charles Perrault published what is known to be the first printed version in the Seventeenth Century. The Brothers Grimm and (many centuries and technological advances later) ABC took it from there. Then there are the interpretations: Folklorists consider it an allegory about the cycles of nature. Freud called it a tale of rebirth; and Jung went further, dividing the story into three phases of individuation and transcendence, with the wolf as the ever-present "shadow" force, the dark side of human nature that must be faced and, ultimately, channeled in such a way as not to destroy us.

If there is a shadow force in The Better to Bite You With, a dance multimedia piece presented by Louise Reichlin & Dancers/Los Angeles Choreographers & Dancers, it is the threat of poor dental hygiene on an otherwise innocent (yet possibly negligent) child. Sponsored by the Children's Literature Department of the Los Angeles Central Library and performed at the Mark Taper Auditorium within the library, the event featured Reichlin herself as emcee, her troupe of technically solid dancers, and some audience volunteers in the form of children under six to tell the story of one "Little Red" as seen through a vaudevillian dental scope.

Reichlin, a fixture on the Los Angeles dance scene, creates work that is both technically solid and tailored to the venue at hand. As she tells the audience, she was inspired to choreograph a piece about dental hygiene while sitting in the dentist chair, and who better to tailor such a piece to than children?

The show – because it is a show, an extravaganza, even – is driven by Reichlin at the mic, tying the story together for the tykes. Before she can fully set the stage, however, she is immediately interrupted by a woman in a long skirt who transforms into a dancer in a colorful unitard before our eyes. After a beautiful adagio which includes somersaults and cartwheels in addition to développés, she is joined by a bevy of hooded, black-clad dancers sporting outsized mouths and holding toothbrushes the size of baseball bats. The better to bite you with indeed.

The audience, about half of which is children, is rapt as it takes in this story of this worldly-wise native of downtown Los Angeles that is "Little Red". The adults may take note of the female dancers' exquisite lines as they move almost Ailey-esque to Dixieland jazz in one segment. The younger set will appreciate the x-rays of teeth projected onto the back wall and the invitation to dance in the aisles (which some of them do). Both will appreciate the percussive movement of the dancers-as-wood-creatures, clad in multi-colored unitards as they extend limbs skyward before twirling and then plunging to the ground where they somersault and roll; or the wolf-as-grandmother with a walker, performing a corrida with her bathrobe. The humor keeps the young ones on the edge of their seats and helps keep the adults in their seats.

Three entities participated in the show at the Los Angeles Central Library that Saturday afternoon: Louise Reichlin, her dancers and the children in the audience. But then it occurred to me that there was one more: the age-old tale, whose universality allows it to transcend time and space and fit, like a well-made set of dentures, into almost any context.

Photo © & courtesy of Louise Reichlin


Photo © & courtesy of Louise Reichlin

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