Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Play House Lets Dance Loose in Long Beach

Up some gray wooden stairs, across a floor caked in splotchy layers of blue, white and pink paint, and around a crumbling corner in the abandoned Expo Furniture Warehouse in Long Beach Saturday night, I came upon some of the best dance I’ve seen since arriving in L.A. Aptly named Play House, the multimedia performance integrates installations and live music with surprising bits of movement and full dance works in a loosely but cleverly structured evening that encourages each viewer to watch in her own way. Information about the show was not easy to come by (no programs, only names and titles posted on brown paper in a dark corner), but my sleuthing confirms that many of these gifted artists emerged from Cal State Long Beach. Joining forces with independent art makers from around the world, they form Alive Theatre, Invertigo Dance Theatre and Domino Affect Dance Company, producing their own concerts and collaborating on projects like this one. Conceived by Invertigo Dance Theatre member and CSLB dance alum Bahareh Ebrahimzadeh, Play House demonstrates an understanding of audience engagement that gives me renewed hope in a future for dance.

The upstairs gallery opens a little after eight, and some of us serious (read: uptight) dance fans who’d been parked on couches leftover from the building’s warehouse days head right up. More low-key guests continue to arrive, sip red wine and munch on pizza from the bar until deciding to encounter some art, thanks to the show’s soft start time – a brilliant idea in a city where traffic makes an eight o’clock arrival uncertain at best. Upstairs, works that mostly sit still approach themes of home, family, and the everyday: 1940’s-era portraits overlaid with block letters telling the subjects’ stories, a sandbox of red paper poppies bobbing in the breeze from a nearby fan, a family outing restaged with beach chairs and projected photographs. Excited chatter bubbles up from a game of bowling, but curiosity leads me on, and the flow of foot traffic pulls my focus out into the next dimly lit room.

Here, people play house. In the bedroom, Tara McArthur stuffs laundry in drawers, dropping socks and underwear absentmindedly. She tries on a pair of tight jeans, checking herself out in a mirror, and I feel more like a voyeur than a viewer. Peering around walls, furniture, and other audience members, I glimpse a scuffle over a liquor bottle at the dining room table and a woman in a flouncy apron busy at the sink and stove. Andrew Merrell enters the bedroom, and while the couple prepares for bed, self-consciousness prods me to crane, tilt and rise on tiptoe to catch parts of the drinking game turned mad musical chairs in the next room. Urgent and repeated kicking from the bed pulls me back to watch the pair on a sleepwalking stroll, treading lightly over backs, along wall and ceiling. They slump and drag into dreamy, slow motion death scenes – crossing back and forth over the line between hilarious and disturbing – but then a blaring alarm clock sends everyone into a panicked scramble over chairs, under tables, and out of the house. Several of us linger to watch the few remaining homebodies continue, apparently prolonging their performance with our presence.

Downstairs in semi-darkness, we take seats on risers and, based on the brown paper program I found after the show, I think we await the start of Bahareh Ebrahimzadeh’s “The Green Movement.” Ebrahimzadeh’s piece revs to include the most innovative partnering and thrillingly off-balance, risky dancing I’ve seen in a while. A disoriented, ever-falling trio lurches side to side, arches, and turns, cutting horizontally through the space. A man in blue – Sam Propersi? – jabs a knee out toward a distant point, and hips, rib cage, shoulders, head trail along in perfectly passive sequence, unstilted by tension or competing impulse. Erin Butkevitch(?) joins him and they dance a duet full of violence and tenderness; their rolling, shifting, clutching, shoving connection conveys the complexity of human relationships with a veracity rarely achieved in movement.

We aren’t sure if there’ll be more dancing after the applause dies, but the ambiguity gives us permission to get up and return to the bar for more snacks, and many do. Viviana Alcazar’s mellifluous “Unbroken Ties” eventually follows, a gentle duet danced by women with wonderfully unaffected stage presence and beautifully spontaneous smiles when they bound through space together. They establish such a clear and close bond that moments of unison bring delicious satisfaction. A preview of Invertigo Dance Theatre’s November show, Reeling, gets me hooked on their funky, free-spirited style. Goofing off – jerking, tripping, and flopping each other around – to Wanda Jackson’s 1961 rockabilly “Funnel of Love,” they switch from silly to strange in a second, legs contorting around shoulders in backbends and laughs bursting nonsensically from intensely focused looks. Dancers slingshot each other across the stage, run and dive at the audience, but then darkness interrupts . . . until November.

What a fabulous show – over by 9:30, and the cast ready to start it all again at 10:00. Thanks to all for modeling a concert for today’s viewers. This is how we build an audience.


  1. Will you be making it to Invertigo's Reeling this weekend?

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