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Jessica Abrams
Performance Reviews
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

Studio series at REDCAT provides compelling commentary on contemporary life

by Jessica Abrams
June 1, 2014
(Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater - in the Walt Disney Concert Hall)
631 W. 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
The Studio series at Los Angeles' Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, or REDCAT for short, is an ongoing, interdisciplinary program featuring works-in-progress and new performance pieces by Los Angeles artists. The Studio: Spring 2014 performance that took place Saturday, June 1st featured three dance pieces, all uniquely distinct in style, genre and tone and yet, when viewed together, make for a compelling commentary on the issues facing contemporary life.

Choreographer and dancer Prumsodun Ok mines the tradition of Cambodia's classical Khmer dance to explore and dissect current social issues. An excerpt from his "Beloved" opens with a dancer, Prumsodun Ok himself, on stage. The image is striking, jarring even – a man, naked except for a flesh-colored fig leaf, wearing large hoop earrings and a necklace with his face brightly made up. His body is lithe as he begins to move in the traditional vein of Southeast Asia – hands flattened at right angles to his forearms forming elaborate circles and shapes, back arching suggestively. One searches the mind for how to place such a seemingly iconic image, images seen before performed by women – women in brightly colored costumes. The sounds of water flowing and crickets call forth a feeling of nighttime, of respite. A voice – Prumsodun Ok's recorded voice – describes the ritual meeting with a lover. His ever-present smile suggests compliance, a willingness to give and receive pleasure. Hints of Nijinsky in "Afternoon of A Faun" and Ted Shawn's "Dance of Siva" provide another cultural context for similar imagery; and the more one watches the more one's sense of fixed boundaries falls away and the ritual itself comes forth. As with these other performers who dared to break away from cultural stereotypes, Prumsodun Ok encourages – no, forces – us to look beyond the concept of male and female and find a common element in the human experience that connects us all. His dancing is exquisite, his body a vehicle and vessel for whatever we decide to impose on it. And yet what we impose is the idea of love—a love that transcends race, sex or even the concept of gender itself.

"Crave" by choreographer Rebecca Bruno and visual artist Michelle Lee and inspired by British playwright's Sarah Kane's play of the same name, takes us out of pre-industrialized Cambodia and transports us into routinized, twenty-first century modern life. Bruno, clad in a white, triangular-shaped dress, dances alone on stage; and to a backdrop of ever-changing light tonality, she moves minimally, changing direction periodically and using gesture to create a sense of the soul-crushing routine that the modern world foists upon us. One moment her arms vibrate spastically; the next her head tilts like a Tourrette's tic, soon after her body is flung backwards almost as punishment for trying to break out of the synchronized prison in which it exists. The sheer simplicity of the movement is what creates the dramatic effect, and one finds oneself beginning to predict which movement comes next just as one does when any routine starts to take hold.

Lindsey Lollie's "Interval" continues the commentary on modern life. Lollie, a Los Angeles-based dancer and choreographer, strives to blur the line between dance and pedestrian movement. "Interval" begins with nine dancers moving as one, either in a large cluster huddling together and inching across the stage or forming a human chain and spinning. The "music" they move to is the sound of children counting. Each time a cluster forms, one dancer always gets left behind, then finds his or her way back to the group. At one point one such lone dancers cries out, imploring the others to "do something!" as dissonant electronic music plays.

The third section is a hip-hop-inspired synchronized high-energy dance to pulsating club music. Reminiscent of Bollywood dance or Michael Jackson's "Thriller" but with hints of the apocalypse, the dancers feed off each other's energy and work in unison almost as a message of hope to future generations: work together and you achieve more.

If there is a message in the three dance pieces at REDCAT that night, it would be that our very survival depends on the breaking out of old patterns. Difficult though it may be, coming to terms with a new way of thinking – be it ritual involving gender roles, ritual imposed on everyday life, or the ritual of group interaction, finding a way to question old patterns and welcome new ones will ultimately be our salvation.
Prumsodun Ok in an excerpt from 'Beloved'.

Prumsodun Ok in an excerpt from "Beloved".

Lindsey Lollie's 'Interval'

Lindsey Lollie's "Interval"

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