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Louise Reichlin & Dancers' Program Volleys Between Past and Present

by Jessica Abrams
April 18, 2015
Bootleg Theater
2220 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 389-3856
An adage among some tennis players is the idea that, as happens in tennis, so happens in life. The need to react quickly and calmly to a mid-court lob; the importance of keeping one eye, but preferably two, on the ball; the absolute value in having on hand at least one unsullied white item of clothing. Louise Reichlin drew the parallel between life and tennis time and again in her signature piece, "The Tennis Dances" which, along with "Tap Dance Widows Club" was performed by her company at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles last Saturday night.

Reichlin, a fixture on the Los Angeles dance scene, created "The Tennis Dances" in 1979 out of necessity, according to her program notes. Her company would be performing in a space with a splintery wood floor, so she felt the need to choreograph a piece in which her dancers could wear shoes. Add the inspiration of tennis stars and media darlings of the time, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors, and "The Tennis Dances" was born. It premiered that year at Bovard Auditorium on the campus of the University of Southern California and has gone on to perform in countless festivals as well as elementary and high schools around the country.

Reichlin began her career on Broadway, and she brings a showmanship to her work that links her old life to the visually dazzling world of her new one: Los Angeles and Hollywood specifically. Waving and dipping their racquets in unison, the piece recalled a Busby Berkeley musical, all clean lines and synchronicity. Reichlin's strength lays in how she composes her pieces. In addition to being visually exciting - with a changing of levels that kept the eye sated - she also picks exceptional dancers; a diverse mix of body types and styles, from the voluptuous Tonya Vivian to the gamine Elizabeth Ann Poinsette. Racquets were more than just props. One minute they were used as instruments in a social mating dance and the next as axes or anvils, wielded as instruments of destruction.

Fortunately the dance was strong enough so as not to be upstaged by the costumes, which spanned various time periods and styles from floppy hats and calf-length dresses from the early part of the last century, to tight bell-bottoms and tank tops taking us back to the seventies. One section had the dancers in harem pants with Middle Eastern music. All were pristinely white, further enhancing the visual cleanliness of the piece.

In "Tap Dance Widows Club" Reichlin also connects to her adopted city. A multi-media piece centering around a video featuring Reichlin herself chatting in a living room with two other widows of famous tap dancers (Reichlin was married to experimental tap dancer Alfred Desio; Loretta Zerby to John Zerby and Katherine Hopkins-Nicholas to Fayard Nicholas of the famed Nicholas Brothers), the piece wove video of the deceased husbands with live-action dance pieces in various styles. It began with all three women easily chatting about their late husbands, unanimously agreeing that they still felt their presence. Indeed, as they interacted in the living room, the mood was easy, casual, happy even. Memories were recalled as excerpts from pieces woven in, including the staircase dance for which the Nicholas Brothers are famous. Then the company performed their own version of old-school tapping, and what a refreshingly new take it was. Clad in white, with a tapping style more full-body than below-the-belt, they added a completely new element into the mix that proved that tap – and these three tap legends – are alive and well indeed.

A stand-out dance piece from the movie "All That Jazz" is a small moment when Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Foldi dance in a New York apartment to "Everything Old is New Again". Wearing top hats and using canes, they bring together two worlds and remind us that, as many strides as we may make – in technology, art and thought – we will always use the past as both a memory and a springboard. This is what Louise Reichlin and her dancers did last Saturday night. With a strong sense of history – in both tennis and tap – they connected us to many different eras while still, often from one minute to the next, adding a thoroughly modern element. And there we found ourselves, caught between nostalgia and surprise, with little time to think before we had to make the shift. Much like the game of tennis itself.
Lennon Hobson in Louise Reichlin's 'The Tennis Dances.'

Lennon Hobson in Louise Reichlin's "The Tennis Dances."

Photo © & courtesy of Mike Napoli


Louise Reichlin & Dancers in Louise Reichlin's 'The Tennis Dances.'

Louise Reichlin & Dancers in Louise Reichlin's "The Tennis Dances."

Photo © & courtesy of Mike Napoli


Louise Reichlin & Dancers in Louise Reichlin's 'The Tennis Dances.'

Louise Reichlin & Dancers in Louise Reichlin's "The Tennis Dances."

Photo © & courtesy of Mike Napoli


From 'Tap Dance Widows Club,' live dancers from Brandenburg on left and John Zerby and Inga on right.

From "Tap Dance Widows Club," live dancers from Brandenburg on left and John Zerby and Inga on right.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Antico


Louise Reichlin & Dancers in Louise Reichlin's 'The Tennis Dances.'

Louise Reichlin & Dancers in Louise Reichlin's "The Tennis Dances."

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Antico

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