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Jessica Abrams
Music and Dance Reviews
Performance Reviews
Diavolo Performance Space
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

BARE Dance Company's VENOMOUS A Wild Ride

by Jessica Abrams
March 15, 2015
Diavolo Performance Space
Downtown Brewery Arts Complex
616 Moulton St.
Los Angeles, CA 90031
Once modern dance met Merce Cunningham in the middle of the last century and went contemporary, seasoned audiences stopped looking for narrative or even meaning in their dance performances. The movement and all its infinite possibilities took center stage. And with the emergence of choreographers like Twyla Tharp and Bella Lewitzky – not to mention countless others who managed to bring together various movement vernaculars, the movement was – is – thrillingly complex enough to stand on its own. But, as happens with almost all art forms, the new millennium has brought storytelling back into dance, or dance back into storytelling, or simply a more fluid melding of mediums in a breaking down of barriers defining what both storytelling and dance are in the first place.

And then sometimes a dance piece goes beyond even that: it is so wildly captivating, its dancers so committed to a world or an essence all its own, that the audience feels free to impose its own story and meaning on it. It is then that dance lifts us out of the linear realm and into a deep emotional and sensory experience that is both personal and communal at the same time.

Such was the case last Sunday with BARE Dance Company's evening-length performance of VENOMOUS at Diavolo Performance Space in the Brewery Arts Complex east of downtown Los Angeles. Between the music (composed by the company's artistic director and choreographer, Mike Esperanza), the movement, the brilliant acting not to mention technical ability of the dancers, the piece took us on a wild ride that began the moment we sat down.

Founded in Los Angeles in 2005 by the multi-talented Esperanza (in addition to writing music and making dance, he is also a graphic designer), BARE now makes its home in New York City, where it has been the recipient of various grants and prizes. With its bold, athletic movement and theatricality – the latter clearly the coming together of Esperanza's many talents – the company epitomizes the dance of the new millennium: shape-shifting, vernacular-blending with a prescient focus on the brave new world in which we live.

The piece began before the dancing began with the dancers, all in distinctly different black garb, their faces white, looking almost goth-like with their lips painted black moving to pulsating music in front of a large mirror on one side of the stage. Slowly they gyrated with each other, with their images in the mirror and, in a way, with the audience. The audience, seated on the three remaining sides of the room, were level with the dancers making us feel a part of the spectacle. At the same time, dancer Katrina Muffley led people to their seats with quiet authority. She is petite with gentle sloping shoulders, but her commanding presence lured our eyes away from the dancers and readied us for the show in store.

When the full ensemble broke out in a movement style that combined a Lubovitch/Lewitzky soaring coupled with floor work with an urban street dance vibe, the results were a dynamic display of technical virtuosity and power. Muffley and another dancer, Paul Vickers then began a duet which involved Vickers in a chair center stage with a leash-like rope around his neck, that Muffley held as she danced. His movement – his entire being – resonated with an anguish and frustration made all the more cruel by Muffley's cool and detached demeanor. As he started to crawl away, five female dancers came onstage, their movement strong and filled with gestures that were, well, womanly: connecting, nurturing, healing. That feeling soon turned to a more watchful, distrusting feel as the dancers formed a circle around Vickers, their pelvises jutting forward in a world-weary stance andpointing their fingers.

The piece invites the audience to impose its own meaning on the goings-on on stage. Is it an apocalyptic call for human connectedness? A male/female power struggle? Esperanza described VENOMOUS in post-show conversation, as a story of how a person finds his or her way in the world, shedding habits to acquire new ones and ultimately relying on himself – via others – to hold himself up.

Several of the work's pas de deux involving a male and a female dancer spoke to a certain war between the sexes: some felt like dynamic fight scenes, with legs kicking and heads ducking. When the dancers later moved about the stage, taking spots at the feet of various audience members, the sense of connection with each other and us was made real. Time and again, we were invited into the process; time and again we are asked to be present and to feel, to be made BARE. Whatever the inspiration for the piece, the result was raw, powerful and dramatic. It was Esperanza's "voice", and it was also ours, as we see ourselves in it and find release alongside this band of technically brilliant dancers.

Photo © & courtesy of Mike Esperanza

Photo © & courtesy of Mike Esperanza

Photo © & courtesy of Mike Esperanza

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