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Rachel Levin
Performance Reviews
The Alex Theatre
Celebrate Dance
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Glendale, CA

Review of Celebrate Dance 2012 - Concert Dance in Bloom

by Rachel Levin
March 3, 2012
The Alex Theatre
216 North Brand Boulevard

Glendale, CA 91203

Featured Dance Company:

Celebrate Dance
Celebrate Dance (office)

Los Angeles, CA

It seems that spring has come early to Los Angeles, and not just in the form of unseasonably warm weather. At Celebrate Dance 2012, presented Saturday for the seventh straight year at The Alex Theater in Glendale, spring came as a blossoming of concert dance. All of the pieces in this year's program, which moved from modern and contemporary to ballet and improvisation, had a fresh, just-picked feel. They either arrived on stage in full flower, as with Monat Dance's delicate ballet "Vista," or unfurled slowly to reveal a surprising and visually stunning bloom, as with RhetOracle Dance Company's edgy fairy tale, "The Dancing Man."

The newest buds on the block were newcomers to Celebrate Dance: soloist Lydia Zimmer and Laura Karlin's Invertigo Dance Theatre. Their entries proved to be among the crowd favorites of the night. Zimmer's "Memoriae," a last-minute addition to the Celebrate Dance program, earned a standing ovation from many. Appearing alone on stage in a nude leotard, she explored the body's connection to memory through a series of structured improvisations set to ambient electronic music. Her incredible movement vocabulary and striking articulation of each joint and muscle were captivating, as was her ability to mine emotion from the stripped-down physical gesture. Shifting from robotic stutters to flowing feline stretches to breakdance-like pop/lock freezes, Zimmer remained vulnerable and raw throughout, evoking pathos in the audience. (Read more about Zimmer's piece here.)

Invertigo's "Give Me Wings," on the other hand, was a humorous romp through uncharted territory: the in-between space of the "wings" of a proscenium stage. It was sheer delight to peek behind the curtain, as it were, and get a theatrical glimpse of the shifts that occur both onstage and off as dancers make their entrances and exits through the wings. The audience erupted in laughter at the antics as dancers "backstage" did everything from fix their costumes (which were fabulously frothy Renaissance-themed dresses for the women and knickers/coats for the men) to sniff their armpits to give the "stage manager" a twirl. But on a more serious note, the piece was also a meta narrative about performance and the pressure to leave any imperfections out of the audience's sight line (when a solo dancer had a "fall" onstage, she was met with chiding by her compatriots behind the curtain). (Read more about Invertigo's piece here.)

As "Give Me Wings" explored the in-between space of the wings, Hysterica Dance Company's "Bouncy," choreographed by Kitty McNamee, explored the liminal space between motion and stillness. Watching the piece was like showing up at an offbeat hipster party where pretty young things clad in cream were dancing and emoting to the latest industrial soundtrack. Wild gyration of the whole group would give way to subtle, nearly still breakaway duets, and then the frenzied tribal bounce would resume once again. In partnered sequences, the men swung the women like pendulums, which was an apt example of motion and stillness intersecting; pendulums appear in constant steady motion, yet there's always an imperceptible instant of stillness as they reach a terminus and change direction. The same could be said of this fierce company, whose penchant for motion made stillness seem anathema.

Another ensemble that explored the line between cultivating and extinguishing movement was Nate Hodge's RhetOracle Dance Company. Their piece "The Dancing Man" was presented in the style of a Grimm fairy tale in which a seductive dancing "Pied Piper" leads the townspeople astray. The smiling group began with a lively folkdance to bagpipe music when the outsider, dressed as an Indian maharaja, arrived. Though at first the group appeared skeptical about his unfamiliar dance moves, soon they were begging him teach his singular steps. Like a snake charmer, the Dancing Man (Jason Gorman) put a spell on them that made them dance in his likeness. This proved to be a particularly gripping sleight of hand, as Gorman was so convincing in his conviction of control that it looked like he did indeed wield power over their dancing bodies. Things turned sinister, however, when he used that power for destructive means. After an incredibly intense solo by Gorman, his Dancing Man achieved mass murder by coaxing his subjects into self-strangling, and then he glided away as confidently as he came.

Also traversing territory from levity to darker themes was the entry by Kate Hutter's L.A. Contemporary Dance Company. "Nana" was based on the life of choreographer Genevieve Carson's 91-year-old Nana. The piece began in the carefree crush of youth. As women in summer frocks and men in khakis and button-downs frolicked, flailed, and tossed playing cards in the air like confetti, they communicated the essence of young life lived without concern for consequences. But soon enough, there was anxiety over cards flung too carelessly and a frantic attempt to pick them up. As the ensemble regrouped around a table for another robust romp, the central character of Nana slowly became weaker until she needed the support of her dance mates to prop her up. Finally, she devolved into dementia as demonstrated by the wild soundtrack and the dancers twitching as if tortured. The ultimate scene in which Nana was seated at a table playing solitaire as confetti fell from the sky was one of melancholy beauty.

Luckily, though, there were some lighter ensemble pieces to brighten the mood. In Regina Klenjoski Dance Company's "One-Two-Many," the mannequin-like movements and runway-model poses of the dancers, along with entertaining voiceover of slogans like "When you've got it, flaunt it" and "Maybe she's born with it," made for a lighthearted critique of consumer culture and the commodification of the body. Monat Dance's "Vista," choreographed by Sophie Monat, was a floaty, straight-ahead ballet number in which the audience could lose itself in the gorgeous technique and pleasing Bach violin concerto. LaDiego Dance Theater's "D-Minor" choreographed by Daniel Marshall, in contrast, was more of an urban ballet; the lighting design by Eileen Cooley was evocative of a street below an elevated train, while the dancers in postmodern black-and-hot-pink tutus used the backdrop of an ebony wall as a kind of barre for their graceful yet edgy gestures.

Malashock Dance contributed two pieces to the evening. The first, "Silver & Gold" choreographed by John Malashock, was a tender and fluid duet exploring relationship themes of jubilation and frustration. The second, "Desperate Love" choreographed by Michael Mizerany and danced by a trio of men, combined a capella slapping and stomping with wild abandon to a trance-like drumbeat.

Whether on the cusp of noise and silence, bliss and irritation, youth and old age, marvel and menace, motion and stillness, or onstage and offstage, every piece in this year's lineup had a place on concert dance's cutting edge. Each entry, even down to the classical ballet, felt crisp and current. Jamie Nichols always scours the LA and national dance scenes for the best of the previous year's bunch to showcase at Celebrate Dance, a method which could result in looking backward instead of forward. But Saturday's show was proof positive that the event has become a forum for not only celebrating concert dance in the region but advancing it as well, which brings us full circle to the idea of dance ushering in spring's arrival… As they say when it's time to change the clocks, "Fall back; spring forward."
'Bouncy', Choreographer and Artistic Director: Kitty McNamee, Hysterica Dance Company

"Bouncy", Choreographer and Artistic Director: Kitty McNamee, Hysterica Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

'Give Me Wings', Choreographer: Laura Karlin (in collaboration with the dancers), Invertigo Dance Theatre

"Give Me Wings", Choreographer: Laura Karlin (in collaboration with the dancers), Invertigo Dance Theatre

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

'Memoriae', Choreographer and dancer: Lydia Zimmer

"Memoriae", Choreographer and dancer: Lydia Zimmer

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

'nana', Choreographer and Artistic Director: Kate Hutter, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company

"nana", Choreographer and Artistic Director: Kate Hutter, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

'One-Two-Many', Choreographer and Artistic Director: Regina Klenjoski, Regina Klenjoski Dance Company

"One-Two-Many", Choreographer and Artistic Director: Regina Klenjoski, Regina Klenjoski Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

'The Dancing Man, a fairy tale', Choreographer and Artistic Director: Nate Hodges, RhetOracle Dance Company

"The Dancing Man, a fairy tale", Choreographer and Artistic Director: Nate Hodges, RhetOracle Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

'Vista', Choreographer and Artistic Director: Sophie Monat, Monat Dance

"Vista", Choreographer and Artistic Director: Sophie Monat, Monat Dance

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

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