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

Zoe|Juniper's BeginAgain Mesmerizes

by Jessica Abrams
March 31, 2015
(Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater - in the Walt Disney Concert Hall)
631 W. 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
In futurity
I prophesy
That the earth from sleep
(Grave the sentence deep)

Shall arise, and seek
For her Maker meek;
And the desert wild
Become a garden mild.

In the southern clime,
Where the summer's prime
Never fades away,
Lovely Lyca lay.

Seven summers old
Lovely Lyca told.
She had wandered long,
Hearing wild birds' song.

'Sweet sleep, come to me,
Underneath this tree;
Do father, mother, weep?
Where can Lyca sleep?

(An excerpt of "The Little Girl Lost" by William Blake)

Watching Zoe|Juniper's new work BeginAgain at the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater (REDCAT), last week was not unlike walking through a poem from the Romantic era in which humans and nature intersect in a clash both internal and external, physical and metaphysical. According to scholar Sir Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied "a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness" and certainly the constant shifting from the rigid balletic rules to wild, twitchy abandon – all in a single measure of music – that defined Zoe|Juniper's movement, not to mention the idyll-like setting of the piece, made the work a modern take on a set of ideals that sprouted forth as a direct reaction to the mechanized world.

Zoe|Juniper, co-founded by Seattle-based dancer and choreographer Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey in 2004 is, according to its website, "driven by the idea of mythologizing the experience of our senses" and BeginAgain stayed true to that mission statement again and again —from the soft sand that covered much of the stage on which the dancers moved, to the sensory-stimulating projections against the wall. Every facet of the work asked us to open our senses just a bit more and allow them to work in concert, the same way Scofield, Shuey and composer Morgan Henderson have done.

The evening-length piece consisted of a half-dozen segments, each involving Scofield, a mesmerizing presence not to mention brilliant technician, and Ariel Freedman, no less a force. They moved together, as when the piece opened and they faced each other in grand pliés, and separately and askance from one another. The movement weaved twitchy contemporary dance into a strong ballet foundation and one thinks of Gaga dance and its limitless movement vocabulary, especially since Freedman previously danced with Batsheva (whose founder, Ohad Naharin, developed the movement style known as Gaga). The two dancers' languorous form and supremely elegant lines worked in slow motion, occasionally interrupted by a more percussive rhythm almost like an interruption of the idyll by the modern world. In fact, the two somehow developed a rhythm all their own, as when each took turns molding the other into shapes. The symbiosis of the two dancers had a sisterly feel and one was reminded of famed sisters in romantic literature, each taking turns protecting the other from the world outside. Meanwhile, another dancer slept on the other side of the stage, which added to the dream-like quality, the sense that the piece is an exploration of the subconscious as much as an exploration of movement.

I won't tell you how the piece ended, but suffice it to say it departed from the complex movement in a surprising twist that left as many questions as answers. And the movement certainly was complex and technically challenging; and yet the freshness of the piece lay not so much in the movement itself – although one could stare at Scofield's and Freedman's lines forever – but in the way it straddled the precipice between control and abandon, dreams and waking, love and alienation. BeginAgain reminded us that deep down we are still children – pushing boundaries and taking risks and yet at the same time asking that someone be there to pull us back when we get too close to the edge.

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Gunther

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