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BODYTRAFFIC's 10th Anniversary Program an Exceptional Evening of Dance

by Jessica Abrams
June 3, 2018
Wallis Annenberg Center
9390 N Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 246-3800
Despite the plethora of dance in Los Angeles, it is always rare to witness a performance of contemporary dance that encompasses whimsy, pathos, social commentary, stellar technique and movement that pushes boundaries and is visually thrilling; but such was the case last Thursday night at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts when BODYTRAFFIC celebrated its tenth anniversary with one world premiere and one company premiere.

Founded – yes – ten years ago by Lillian Rose Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, the company has managed to stay at the forefront of dance in a city whose contemporary dance companies are cropping up at what seems like breakneck speed. And, like the city itself, often mistaken for being light, fluffy and lacking a certain gravitas associated with colder, more history-conscious cities, BODYTRAFFIC trades on a bait-and-switch of sorts, entertaining audiences while subtly sneaking deeper meanings into its dances.

That was certainly the case Thursday, May 31 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Opening with “Beyond the Edge of the Frame”, choreographed by renowned choreographer Sidra Bell, the piece set the tone for the evening both in terms of artistic daring and movement itself. With the dancers clad in club wear with glitter on faces and affecting a steam punk vibe, the dance combined hardcore ballet moves with twitchy upper-body motion. Legs would ronde de jambe from seemingly out of nowhere, yielding sky-high extensions from both men and women alike that, again, contrasted with a looser upper body in a delicious movement stew.

“Fragile Dwellings”, choreographed by the Dutch Stijn Celis and dedicated to the homeless of Los Angeles, had a spiritual feel, perhaps due to the white flowing costumes and the strings of lights suspended onto the stage. Like the piece before it, Celis worked around certain signature moves that, coincidentally or not, seemed to pepper all the dances throughout the evening. In this case, deep lunges seemed to pull the dancers down – an apt metaphor for homelessness, certainly – while two duets with four dancers was light, frothy, almost conversational.

Both the world premiere, “A Million Voices”, choreographed by Matthew Neenan, and “O2Joy”, choreographed by Richard Siegal, moved off from more outwardly serious topics and into lighter topics hiding their depth underneath. Playing on American vernacular – the former set to music by Peggy Lee and the latter to various jazz standards – and the carefree nature of times gone by while exploring various relationships and nuances within the pieces. In “A Million Voices” the deep lunges that appeared earlier in the program made another appearance as did flicks of the legs in sort of an homage to Fosse and showbiz dances alike. Both dances were so elegant; so expertly choreographed and danced, playing to the music while never overshadowing it; in fact, almost being one with the music they worked up to a wonderful crescendo just as the music itself did.

A word about the dancers: each dancer brought something so unique and different into the mix: Natalie Leibert, with her swooping legs and balletic lyricism; Jamal White, with his elegant and stately demeanor; Jessica Liu, whose puckish dynamism always pulled focus; and Tina Finkelman Berkett’s grounded yet emotive style, to name a few. Technically, the dancers were unmatched, and a joy to watch.

With such an exceptional evening of dance it was easy to see how BODYTRAFFIC has led the way for contemporary dance in Los Angeles and continues to lead it. Like the city itself, which brings to mind words from Walt Whitman “I am large; I contain multitudes”, the dancers and choreographers brought together various backgrounds and training to create something thrilling – and profoundly so.
BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Beyond the Edge of the Frame. Choreography: Sidra Bell. (l-r) Guzmán Rosado, Joseph Davis, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Natalie Leibert, Haley Heckethorn, Jamal White.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Beyond the Edge of the Frame. Choreography: Sidra Bell. (l-r) Guzmán Rosado, Joseph Davis, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Natalie Leibert, Haley Heckethorn, Jamal White.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Beyond the Edge of the Frame. Choreography: Sidra Bell. (l-r) Jamal White, Joseph Davis, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Guzmán Rosado, Natalie Leibert, Haley Heckethorn.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Beyond the Edge of the Frame. Choreography: Sidra Bell. (l-r) Jamal White, Joseph Davis, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Guzmán Rosado, Natalie Leibert, Haley Heckethorn.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Fragile Dwellings. Choreography: Stijn Celis. (l-r) Jamal White, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, Joseph Davis.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Fragile Dwellings. Choreography: Stijn Celis. (l-r) Jamal White, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, Joseph Davis.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Fragile Dwellings. Choreography: Stijn Celis. Natalie Leibert.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Fragile Dwellings. Choreography: Stijn Celis. Natalie Leibert.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Fragile Dwellings. Choreography: Stijn Celis.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. Fragile Dwellings. Choreography: Stijn Celis.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. A Million Voices (World Premiere). Choreography: Matthew Neenan. (l-r) Haley Heckethorn, Natalie Leibert, Guzmán Rosado, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Jessica Liu, Joseph Davis, Lorrin Brubaker, Jamal White.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. A Million Voices (World Premiere). Choreography: Matthew Neenan. (l-r) Haley Heckethorn, Natalie Leibert, Guzmán Rosado, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Jessica Liu, Joseph Davis, Lorrin Brubaker, Jamal White.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. A Million Voices (World Premiere). Choreography: Matthew Neenan. (l-r) Haley Heckethorn, Guzmán Rosado.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. A Million Voices (World Premiere). Choreography: Matthew Neenan. (l-r) Haley Heckethorn, Guzmán Rosado.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. George & Zalman (Company Premiere). Choreography: Ohad Naharin. Tina Finkelman Berkett.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. George & Zalman (Company Premiere). Choreography: Ohad Naharin. Tina Finkelman Berkett.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour


BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. o2Joy. Choreography: Richard Siegal. Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Tina Finkelman Berkett.

BODYTRAFFIC performing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts May 31, 2018. o2Joy. Choreography: Richard Siegal. Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Tina Finkelman Berkett.

Photo © & courtesy of Rob Latour

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