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Joanne Zimbler
Environment & Ecology
Performance Reviews
El Portal Theatre
Luminario Ballet
United States
Greater Los Angeles
North Hollywood, CA

Luminario's Breathtaking Breathless

by Joanne Zimbler
March 10, 2018
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA

Featured Dance Company:

Luminario Ballet
Luminario Ballet (office)
PO Box 252122
Los Angeles, CA 90025

In such times as these, we need to be conscious of the impact of our actions upon others and the earth, when so much seems to be under threat. But when the problem is too big, the forces threatening us so powerful, denial becomes an attractive option. Whereas in the past, our actions like recycling or buying a hybrid felt like a significant action, now they feel like mere hollow gestures. The problem of climate change can feel too great, so many of us look away.

Art is a powerful tool though. It can inspire, motivate, and even reveal the beauty in the conflict, the hope in the darkness. Luminario Ballet’s dramatic opening piece at their performance of Breathless at El Portal Theater on the weekend of March 9th did just that. “Trails” is director Judith FLEX Helle’s attempt to keep us conversing about this seemingly intractable topic. While dancers moved across the stage, projected onto the screen were images of a scorched, burning, and suffering earth. The juxtaposition of beautiful grand jetes against a backdrop of tragedy was a poignant visual, especially set to the emotionally resonant string and flute piece by Philip Glass. The music’s sonic quavering mirrored the trembling red cloths which the dancers moved with, shaking them like a desperate plea for help. An aerialist above the dancers also moved in what felt like a desperate way, at one point, dangling just above the ground, unmoving, seeming to hang, much like our ecosystem, in the balance.

The incredibly competent ballet dancers turned in strong performances in sets named after some of the issues devastating our planet (“Traffic”, “Flood”) and one just called “Ocean”, a lamentation on what is becoming of it.

“Listen to My Heart”, the much lighter piece we needed after the heartbreaking meditation on the state of the planet, was still no less emotional. Its focus though was on relationships. The gorgeous lines of the dancers both on the ground and on high were striking. An aerial pas de deux accompanied an earth bound one, testified to Helle’s incredible talent at making the best use of aerial and ballet. Its dream-like quality was a function of the the inconceivability of human strength and athleticism coupled with exquisitely gorgeous ballet and quirky costumes and music which infused the piece with a carnivalesque feeling, enhancing the surreality of the performance.

“Witch Piece” began with a monologue in which performer, choreographer, and super aerialist Dreya Weber reclaimed her feminine power by embracing her historical lineage of German witches. As she talked about her mother’s relationship to trees and her discovery of her genealogy, four other dancers moved in response with their own branches. She informed us that there in the “motherland”, 368 women were burned at the stake. And after quoting Cornelius Loos who back then claimed that “the flight of witches is false and imaginary”, Weber rejoined, “he got that one wrong”, launching herself onto the large branch from which she cast her spell onto the audience. Her strong capable body did indeed seem to challenge nature’s laws, and our comprehension, by spinning, twisting, and writhing impossibly beautifully above the earth where she legitimated her supernatural cred. This piece is supposedly a work in progress and it’s exciting to imagine what this might do with more time since five minutes felt like just a bit of a tease, a phrase I’m sure she’d also relish reclaiming.

Jamal Story, our Jesus in “The Last Supper” (see below), created “If the Walls Could Scream” which began as a thrilling romp set to electrifying music from Photek. Six dancers, three “couples” were introduced, all revealing tension with jagged push-pull movements highlighted by the high-strung music. Relationships fraught with tension, jealousy, and angst were all illustrated in this stand out performance. The anxious movement ultimately ceded to solemnity though as the couples’ members sought to understand one another, moving more fluidly, gracefully, graciously even.

By the end, they seemed to rediscover each other, anxiety replaced by flirty, sweet, and playful movements, not without conflict, but the better for the the experience - much as the audience was.

“The Last Supper”, the evening’s final raucous piece left us in quite a different place than where we started. The link to that review from April 2017 can be found here: https://www.exploredance.com/article.htm?id=4664. The big difference in this year’s performance though was that it was performed on stage as opposed to last year’s performance which was proscenium free, on the floor shared with the audience, where we were almost face to face (and sometimes almost foot to face) with the performers, making us feel like the extra 50 or so disciples! Still a transcendent piece, the distance did cause it to lose some of the punch it packed last time, but it still had all of the rousing, rollicking fun.

Quite the buffet, this performance showcased the full spectrum of Luminario’s diversity and ability to attract special guest performers, choreographers, and even vibrant spoken word talent. Breathless was indeed breathtaking, leaving us the audience perhaps almost as breathless as the dancers themselves.
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