Monday, May 24, 2010

Dance Camera West's Film Festival

This preview was first published at Culture Spot LA on May 24, 2010.

A couple in urgent physical conversation traces and re-traces a horizontal path through an industrial environment of hard surfaces and harsh light. The camera cuts in close so that heads dive and bare limbs slice through our field of vision. Then, when they quiet, we rest intimately in the tangle of her hair and against the contour of his cheek.

A peek at the trailer for the Dance Camera West Festival, which begins June 4, and you’ll quickly understand why Los Angeles has been clamoring for more since Lynette Kessler brought two evenings of dance films to the Getty in 2002. A dancer, choreographer and filmmaker herself, Kessler showed 14 works by various artists in that first Dance Camera West Festival. Audience members at the two sold-out screenings were incensed, Kessler recalls. “People said, ‘Why haven’t I seen this before? Where can I see more?’”

“Beguine,” one of the films appearing at the festival’s June 4 opening at REDCAT, feels like the raucous end of a wedding reception, when people can get ugly, and things can get strange. Through a fog, we see men in untucked shirts and women in rumpled dresses swing and jump and shake in slow motion, while the wooden floor creaks and rocks beneath us like a wave-tossed ship. A tilt finally tips one unsteady reveler out of the wedding party, and suddenly we’re tumbling, sliding, careening with him, triple-speed, down a rocky slope.

This is dance that speaks the language of today’s audiences, especially for residents of a city so steeped in film culture. Like Kessler says, “Everybody’s a film critic. Everybody’s been watching film their whole life, and they’re very invested in it, and they have something to say about it … so it’s engaging.”

Throughout the month of June, the ninth annual Dance Camera West Festival brings short films, documentaries, panel discussions and dance media installations from across the globe to REDCAT, the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk, UCLA’s Hammer Museum, the Screen Actors Guild, Cheviot Hills Rec Center, Timothy Yarger Fine Art of Beverly Hills, and the Grand Performances series at California Plaza. Kessler explains that festival events are “spread all over town” in order to build audience. DCW ticket prices don’t hurt either; admission for opening weekend screenings at REDCAT is only $10 to $15, and all other festival events are free.

“It really is fun to turn people on to it.” Kessler’s voice rises with excitement as she describes viewer responses to dance films she’s shown. “They come in and they’re just gasping and clapping and laughing and being involved in the kinesthetic experience. … With film you’re right there with [the dancers], sweating with them.”

As the festival has extended its reach to new populations and parts of the city over the past decade, the geographical scope of work presented has also exploded. “Burkina Faso, Iran, Estonia, Uruguay, Cuba …” Kessler rattles off a list of countries represented by recent DCW submissions. Advances in filmmaking technology – like the relatively affordable one-chip video camera – allow artists around the world to produce work in increasing numbers. But if it weren’t for Dance Camera West, Kessler shakes her head emphatically, “you would not see these films in Southern California.”

This year’s festival brings significant new works by established international choreographers, and introduces the most talented emerging artists and the latest dance film experiments to Los Angeles audiences. At the Hammer Museum’s Pina Bausch Symposium, two documentaries by celebrated German director Anne Linsel will have their West Coast premieres. The outdoor Local Makers screening at Cheviot Hills features films by 25 local artists, as well as works by budding filmmakers from LAUSD middle and high schools. And for Kessler, the experimental dance shorts included in the SurREEL Moves screening at the Hammer represent a particularly exciting “push forward into a new territory of work.”

Although it’s been a whirlwind nine years, Kessler insists, “I always get refreshed from looking at the work.” Come and be refreshed by Dance Camera West’s offerings this summer.

June 2010 Dance Camera West Festival Schedule

For complete information, please visit the festival website.

Dance Media Screen Innovations*

Three different programs of experimental dance media

Friday, June 4, at 8 p.m. ($15) and Saturday, June 5, at 6 and 8 p.m. ($10), REDCAT

Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk

Dance Media Installations

Thursday, June 10, 6-9 p.m.

A Weekend at the Hammer Museum

Pina Bausch Symposium

Saturday, June 12, 4:30 and 7 p.m.

SurREEL Moves: Weird & Wonderful Experimental Dance Shorts*

Sunday, June 13, 7 p.m.

Choreography in Media: A Panel Discussion

Wednesday, June 16, 7-9 p.m. at the Screen Actors Guild

Local Makers – LA Choreographers and Directors

Saturday, June 19, 8-10 p.m. at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (behind the building)

Media and Choreography Installations

Saturday, June 26, 6 and 7:30 p.m. at Timothy Yarger Fine Art of Beverly Hills

Reservations required for this event. RSVP to (310) 278-4400 or

Dzi Croquettes*

Brazilian documentary of all-male cabaret group

Sunday, June 27, 8 p.m. at California Plaza

*contains nudity or adult content

Photo courtesy of Dance Camera West/Pina Bausch/Anne Linsel.

Lionel Popkin's 'Elephant' at REDCAT

This review was first published at Culture Spot LA on May 22, 2010.

When Lionel Popkin’s There Is an Elephant in This Dance begins, an elephant suit lies scattered across the stage space, and the headpiece sits in an upstage corner, trunk askew, looking at us askance from under drooping lids. Popkin, son of a Jewish father and South Asian mother, grew up surrounded by images of Ganesh – the Hindu god revered as Remover of Obstacles and depicted with an elephant’s head – and in this work Popkin invokes the elephant and its attendant meanings to explore cultural identity. With appearances of the fuzzy gray suit in part or in whole, on performers and on screen, the choreographer builds unexpected physical relationships between and within bodies to raise questions about where our identities come from and where they reside. Popkin’s work gets its LA premiere at REDCAT May 20-23.

All members of the ensemble – a trio of musicians led by composer Robert Een and a quartet of movers – are deeply embedded in the work, but together the seven craft and unpack the portrait of only a single person. Popkin’s dancing collaborators intrigue but do not invite us to know them, and their wanderings into and out of the stage space and Popkin’s solos suggest that they’re here to reveal something about him.

Almost always at least part-pachyderm, Peggy Piacenza shuffles in the shadows behind Popkin, echoes his movements, and drifts offstage again – a specter of Valecia Philips’ surging, fading, otherworldly vocals within Een’s gorgeous score. She’s a comforting childhood memory with a plush elephant’s round tummy and saggy bum. With circling wrists and serpentine arms that sometimes look like Bharatanatyam, she dances calmly for us, occasionally stilling her inappropriately swinging trunk with one soft elephant foot.

We see Ishmael Houston-Jones in off-balanced struggle and earnest effort, but exaggerated facial expression and stiff formality keep him at a distance. With sudden, jerky shifts to maintain weight over his left foot, he circles and waves his right limbs in a strangely one-sided dance, juggling these competing physical identities until the right-sided undulations knock him into a high-stepping stumble to the left. But later on, a small triumph. His stomping and beckoning seems a weak approximation of an Indian classical dance until speed and intensity build to a focused frenzy, and his commitment makes us believe this dance – whatever it might be – is his.

Unlike his mysterious companions, Popkin meets us face-to-face in a downstage pool of light, and we get to know him as he breathes. First he blows gently, playfully, at us. Then internal gusts of air sweep him into deep backbends, and swirling currents course wildly through his body, forcing him to gulp and rebound, or choke and sputter. Sometimes his torso works like a bellows directing the flow, and sometimes he is a vessel filled and carried by this inner stream. And somewhere in the midst of the turmoil, I realize that his physical situation suggests tension and blurred boundaries between individual choice and environmental determination.

Moments of clarity like this one reveal the choreographer’s ability to speak powerfully through the body’s physical language. In Popkin’s duets with the long-limbed Carolyn Hall, his identity merges with and disappears into hers when he allows Hall to place one finger inside his mouth and direct their united action. Individual freedom is the obstacle to harmony here, and we feel his loss just as we enjoy the strange beauty of their single diving, falling, four-armed form – one that recalls images of Ganesh with so many arms.

In duets between Popkin and the on-screen elephant, the animal gains dignity with the mediated distance, and in its cheerful dances and thoughtful stillnesses, seems to watch over and encourage his partner. Facing away from the screen, Popkin sometimes joins his guardian in a simple sway, or swings a leg loosely like a trunk, and we feel the unconscious connection between them. And when Popkin, stripped to briefs so we can appreciate his very human legs, puts the headpiece on backwards, his strange form seems to hold the full possibilities of two identities simultaneously.

Lionel Popkin’s There Is an Elephant in This Dance continues at REDCAT at 8:30 p.m. on May 22 and at 3 p.m. on May 23. Tickets are $20 ($16 for students with current I.D.) and are available at or by calling (213) 237-2800.

Photo: Lionel Popkin; photo by Steven Gunther

Lester Horton Awards Celebrate LA's Dance Community

This article was first published at Culture Spot LA on May 17, 2010.

On May 16, LA’s usually far-flung dance community gathered together at the hip RecCen Studio in Echo Park for the 19th Annual Lester Horton Awards – this year subtitled “A Celebration of Community.” Hosted by the Dance Resource Center, an organization that has served and promoted dance in the Greater Los Angeles area for more than 20 years, the Lester Horton Awards honor the legacy of Southern California’s great modern dance pioneer. While Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey developed movement systems based on contraction and release and fall and recovery with their students in New York, Lester Horton drew from the movement traditions of various cultures to craft a training system that would foster fluidity and versatility in his Los Angeles dancers. Among Horton’s young pupils were dance legends Bella Lewitzky and Alvin Ailey.

As a former dancer with Ailey’s American Dance Theater, Ron Brown descends directly from this lineage and has developed his own fusion style over decades of teaching abroad and throughout LA, so it seems especially fitting that he should receive this year’s Horton Award for Excellence in Teaching. Special awards also went to Carol Zee – artistic director of the remarkable everybody dance! program – for service to the dance community, and to Jamie Nichols, producer of the tremendously successful Celebrate Dance festival, for furthering the visibility of dance. Founded in 2000, Carol Zee’s everybody dance! provides exceptional dance education – now more than 150 weekly classes – at little or no cost, for more than 1,300 ethnically diverse, economically disadvantaged young people in LA. And the impact of Jamie Nichols’ annual invitational evening of dance at Glendale’s Alex Theatre was evident last night as awardees thanked her for the opportunity to show their work. Since Nichols started the festival in 2006, numerous artists and companies have received Horton Awards based on their participation in Celebrate Dance.

Keith Johnson/Dancers was one such company, recognized for their small ensemble performance of The Presence of Absence in Celebrate Dance 2009. Viver Brasil, the 13-year-old company locally and nationally acclaimed for excellence in putting the Afro-Brazilian experience on stage, received the achievement in world dance award for Feet on the Ground/Aiye, an evening of performance presented at the Ford Amphitheatre in July of 2009. And David Roussève – choreographer, writer, director, performer and Professor in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures – received top honors of the evening. The award for outstanding achievement in long form choreography (longer than 15 minutes) went to Roussève for his dance theater work Saudade, described as a “fierce, poetic journey” by The Washington Post, while David Roussève/REALITY – the choreographer’s multidisciplinary, multicultural ensemble – was recognized for outstanding performance of this same work.

See below for the full list of very deserving honorees, and please take note: These are artists to watch.

2009 Lester Horton Awards

Outstanding Achievement in Performance – Company

David Roussève/REALITY, Saudade

Outstanding Achievement in Choreography – Long Form

David Roussève, Saudade, David Roussève/REALITY

Outstanding Achievement in Performance – Small Ensemble

Bahareh Ebrahimzadeh, Rogelio Lopez Garcia, Andrew Merrell and Jennifer Parra, The Presence of Absence, Keith Johnson/Dancers

Outstanding Achievement in Choreography – Short Form (shorter than 15 minutes)

Bradley Michaud, volenti non fit injuria, Method Contemporary Dance Company

Outstanding Achievement in World Dance

Viver Brasil, Feet on the Ground/Aiye, Linda Yudin and Luiz Badaró

Outstanding Achievement in Performance – Female

Marissa LaBog, Really All About Eve, Collage Dance Theater

Outstanding Achievement in Performance – Male

Kevin Williamson, Fruit, KDUB Dance

Outstanding Production of a Festival or Series

50th Annual LA County Holiday Celebration produced by Los Angeles County Arts Commission

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design

Eileen Cooley, The Crossings, Regina Klenjoski Dance Company

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design

Matt Scarpino, Silk or Cotton, Bare Dance Company

Outstanding Achievement in Music for Dance

Alexander Marchand, Say the Body Is Like This Lamp, Alyson Boell

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design

Ryan Heffington, Really All About Eve, Collage Dance Theater

Special Honorees

Furthering the Visibility of Dance

Jamie Nichols

Excellence in Teaching

Ron Brown

Service to Our Dance Community

Carol Zee

Photo: Breakers Lauren LiBrandi and Josh Diorio entertain guests at last night's Lester Horton Awards. Photo by Chiabella James.

Cedar Lake at UCLA Live

This review was first published at Culture Spot LA on May 9, 2010.

UCLA Live introduced New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet to Los Angeles Friday night in Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Orbo Novo (New World), and Saturday the company returned to Royce Hall in its final performance (for now) with works by Canadian Crystal Pite, Norway-based Jo Strømgren, and Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman. I caught Friday night’s show. Founded only seven years ago and directed for the past five by the French-born former Ailey dancer, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, Cedar Lake has quickly made a name for itself by building an impressive repertoire of works by renowned international choreographers and dancing them brilliantly. Thanks to UCLA Live, the company will return to LA for biannual performances and ongoing residency activities beginning in 2011.

“When you look at the brain, it’s obvious that the two hemispheres are separate.” Sitting side-by-side at the edge of the stage, two dancers explain left and right brain function with carefully measured words and calmly flowing gestures, all in perfect unison. Establishing a context for Orbo Novo, their words come from the book My Stroke of Insight, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s account of the left brain stroke that altered her neurological functions for eight years. As the performers’ voices gradually pull apart, others join them on stage to relate Taylor’s experience of losing the sense of self, separateness from the world, and running inner monologue normally produced by the left brain. “And all that brain chatter went silent.”

In this silence a woman floats outside of time, following rolling impulses through belly, ribs, chest, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and long fingers that trail behind and seem to describe this New World in continuous, curving strokes. Voices interrupt the eloquent image with more of Taylor’s words: “The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right brain hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world…. Which will you choose?” Here the text begins to feel redundant and overbearing, but then Cherkaoui catches us up in a swirling orchestra of falling, rising, reaching limbs propelled by Szymon Brzoska’s rushing arpeggios, and I think we glimpse Taylor’s self-described “nirvana” in a language-less, self-less, sensory-rich world.

We catch echoes of Taylor’s story – a paralyzed arm that juts out awkwardly from Jason Kittelberger’s tumbles, tremors that wrack Golan Yosef’s body, euphoric energy that swells through the group – and we recognize in the isolation, limitation, joy, and striving, elements of our own experience. Alexander Dodge’s towering wall of red gridwork – shifting, porous, but ever-present – becomes the boundary that defines left and right, inside and outside, captivity and freedom, past and future. Still, the people here seem to exist in past and future, wearing high-necked blouses, ruffled dresses, sleek bodysuits, plaid vests, and long, shiny coats. And their superhuman maneuvers on, up and through Dodge’s divider make us question its power to divide and the categories it creates. But when a duet emerges far upstage, behind the grid, my limited, fragmented visual access makes the dancing feel like a memory I can’t quite recall, and I’m frustrated by the separation. And when the wall morphs into twin cages that threaten and then swallow Ebony Williams’ flinging, thrashing form, we see the futility and danger of resisting the binaries.

Despite the darkness, determinedly physical, courageously vulnerable dancing carries a strain of hope through the evening. Solos of miraculously continuous rolling – where legs fly over heads and shoulders and torsos defy gravity to snake and peel up off the floor without support – surface again and again, suggesting the power of disorientation to engender possibilities. The elements of Cherkaoui’s Orbo Novo combine and recombine to weave a dense web of associations, one that captivates and entangles his viewers, compelling us to make sense of Taylor’s experience and to question assumptions about our own.

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

'Rendez-vous' with La Danserie

This review was first published at Culture Spot LA on April 27, 2010.

LA-based choreographic collective, La Danserie, gathered talented artists – emerging, established, aspiring and professional – for Rendez-vous, an inspiring afternoon of dance at Cal State Northridge’s Plaza del Sol Performance Hall on April 25. The program reflected La Danserie’s 13-year mission to create new contemporary ballet for a broad audience and celebrated the creative community and web of influence that have grown from the company’s inception. La Danserie founder, Patrick R. Frantz, created “Decisive Movements” for young dance students from LA’s celebrated Colburn School; longtime La Danserie performer, Nicole Mathis, choreographed one of the afternoon’s highlights for fellow company members; Kathryn McCormick of So You Think You Can Dance fame performed with local Lester Horton Award winner Rei Aoo; and Ellen Rosa, Chair of Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Dance Department, shared both her gifted students and her own gifts as a performer.

Circling together with lilting skips or stepping, heel-toe, with contained style, Nicole Mathis’ three women – Ruth Fentroy, Meagen Mendoza and Ellen Rosa – suggest solemn community as “Sunken Ladder” begins. Their easy musicality shifts from grounded to ethereal as Gorecki’s driving beat gives way to Saint-Saens’ trilling runs, and dark hair and dresses swoop through space. Although breaks between pieces in the sound score are sometimes choppy, Mathis crafts a compelling journey from the earthly to the celestial through evocative musical choices and interactions between the dark ladies and their spirits – nymphs in white smocks who emerge and echo and leave the mournful three alone in darkness.

An excerpt from José Limón’s modern dance classic, A Choreographic Offering, performed by high school students from Southern California’s Idyllwild Arts Academy, testifies to the school’s excellence and closes the first act with an exhilarating rush of warm color, clear shape, and swirling energy. First presented by Limón in 1964 as a tribute to his mentor, Doris Humphrey, Offering references 14 of her works and is an invaluable window into the modern dance lineage that silently influences so much contemporary work. Always a joy to experience, here the masterpiece shines with the fresh spirit of youth.

Judy Pisarro-Grant, veteran resident choreographer with La Danserie, presents the curious “things fall apart” after intermission. The six dancers’ voluminous purple and orange tutus lead me to look for humor that does not surface, and the title prepares me for a striking shift or break-down that I don’t detect in the flow of contained, ordered movements. But unfulfilled expectations aside, Pisarro-Grant’s solos for Meagen Mendoza reveal the dancer at her best, folding her torso into dramatic bends and extending limbs with a control that suggests she moves the music at will. And the choreographer colors the work’s final section with a gentleness that intrigues as it slips between and seeps through the dancers’ movements. Hands brush together as dancers pass, and arms flick lightly with subtle musical accents. All six women bend at the waist, rock back on their heels, and lift their toes to sweep fingertips tenderly along balls of feet.

In her premiere, “The Sunset,” Rei Aoo is a lonely, aging clown slumped on a park bench instead of a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, but as the Australian popular anthem plays, its plea to “come a-Waltzing Matilda” sounds like the cry of her heart. Our clown makes unsuccessful (and apparently painful) attempts to dance, until Kathryn McCormick – in yellow dress and delightfully bright, folksy steps à la Oklahoma – appears and invites Aoo to join her joyful waltz. America didn’t vote McCormick into last season’s So You Think You Can Dance finals for nothing. She’s altogether captivating, and we share in Aoo’s sense of loss when she flits away as suddenly as she arrived.

Photo: Candice Sanchez, Ellen Rosa, Mary Wilson, and Tamara McCarty in Tatiana A’Viromond’s "Momentos" / photo by Eric Pisarro-Grant

John Jasperse Company at REDCAT

This review was first published at Culture Spot LA on April 16, 2010.

Based on John Jasperse’s track record of innovation and influence in contemporary dance, and based on the title of his latest work, Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat-out Lies, I expected great things of the West Coast premiere at REDCAT on April 14. Truth purports to address the processes and results of belief by examining performance conventions that seek to create illusion or reveal reality – the kind of ambitious, relevant, and admirable undertaking one hopes for from such an artist. While its collaged scenes are generally clever, often laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes compelling, however, the show doesn’t quite add up to a satisfyingly meaty or messy investigation of this pressing, complex question. But, then, dissatisfaction may be an intended response. Truth is elusive, after all.

Act I plays mostly with the light, sexy, cool, and absurd, dipping into various performance traditions (vaudeville, porn, ballet, music videos) to present ever-shifting personas for Jasperse’s four performers. Erin Cornell and Eleanor Hullihan – vampy divas in charcoal sequins, red lipstick and bobbed hair – exude cool power as they twist and unfurl, calmly circling and slicing white legs through black space. In shiny, see-through tanks, the guys (Neal Beasley and Kayvon Pourazar) seem intentionally overshadowed by the femmes fatales, and their separate and secondary position through much of Truth recalls a problematic historical perspective and its result: discomfort with men in dance and their quite literal supporting role in classical ballet. When the women take center stage, Beasley and Pourazar crawl into their negative space, bizarrely nuzzling and supporting the starlets’ hands and behinds as they dance.

Jasperse inserts himself into the action now and then – first as a hopelessly uptight student of the pirouette whose frustration and microanalysis inevitably topple his wobbly turns. When a voice from the audience layers criticism over Jasperse’s own, I consider which perspective I tend to trust. Later on, I suspect that the creepy black figure lying against the back curtain might be the choreographer again, and when he springs to his feet and removes his dark mask with triumphant flourish, or performs pathetic vanishing acts with a persistently visible ball, we adore his efforts to dazzle us and his unwavering belief in his own success. His characters’ earnest energy and sincere emotion provide a much-needed element of humanity, as the other dancers reveal to us no consistent, knowable selves. Switching between drastically different performance states with detachment, they indulge in trance-like, modern dance noodling to pings and bings in Hahn Rowe’s score one minute, and offer their mostly naked bodies for sexual consumption with Ginuwine’s invitation to “ride it, my pony” the next.

At the close of Act I, I’m ready to see the aloof dabbles in all kinds of artifice intensify or expand to a vigorous, personal, urgent probing of the issues at hand. But it’s not my piece, and Act II definitely doesn’t deliver urgency, although it does offer live musical performance by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble. The second half strips away most of the theatricality, color, antics, humor, and action to reveal …very little. The bareness, whiteness, stillness, emptiness is just a new kind of mask, and truth seems no more in reach. Or maybe this is the sadly depleted, withered, sterile sort of understanding we’re left with if we work reductively toward truth. Or maybe I’m trying harder to make sense of the stillness and silence and strangeness and endless noodling than I ought. Maybe the work just doesn’t reach the depths I’d hoped it would.

Performances by the John Jasperse Company continue at REDCAT Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20-$25 general admission, with discounts for students and those associated with CalArts. They may be purchased online, or by calling the REDCAT box office at (213) 237-2800.

Photo: John Jasperse Company dancers Erin Cornell and Kayvon Pourazar / photo by Steven Gunther

Hubbard Street at the Music Center

This review was first published at Culture Spot LA on April 10, 2010.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago delighted audience members last night (April 9) at the Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre, and based on recent statements by the company’s new artistic director, Glenn Edgerton, this three-day run may be a sign of good things to come for LA dance fans. Before accepting his current position in Chicago, Edgerton directed the Colburn Dance Institute at LA’s Colburn School of Performing Arts, and it sounds like his SoCal ties could develop into a continued local presence for the 33-year-old, internationally renowned, repertory-based Hubbard Street company. This weekend’s program also reflects HSDC’s new direction, offering works by three artists Edgerton often presented during his decade-long leadership of Nederlands Dans Theater: Ohad Naharin, Jirí Kylián and Johan Inger. I can only imagine the opportunity to see works by these acclaimed choreographers in a single concert, danced with nuanced power by the versatile Hubbard Street dancers, will whet LA’s dance appetite and ensure that our arts organizations keep this company in town as much as possible.

The show opens with a beautiful trauma. In Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), searing strings by Arvo Pärt send victims reeling into relentless waves of reckless, tumbling dives. Here we see the tearing loss, and then we see the aftershock. First they fling limbs and fall into each other with desperate abandon, and then they rock gently, stunned – an ever-growing procession of mourners. Created before Naharin joined Israel’s celebrated Batsheva Dance Company as director and began development of “gaga” – a technique that allows movement impulses to originate from palms and balls of feet and other unexpected places and to flow uninterrupted through the body – Tabula Rasa reveals the roots of his recent work in Naharin’s remarkable gift for fluid, free-flowing movement. When they perform this piece, the Hubbard Street dancers share his gift.

Often hailed as one of the most influential choreographers of recent years, and described – like William Forsythe – as a deconstructivist of the classical ballet vocabulary, the Czech-born Jirí Kylián renders time and space unstable in 27’52” (2002). Named for the time it takes to dance, this pas de six heightens our attention to the passing of each moment as words and ticking gestures slip by, repeat, and play in reverse. One dancer arrests his partner’s flight in a series of in-between places. When he catches her in a horizontal hover, waist-high, instead of helping her launch into space, we get to grasp an exquisite moment of transition for several impossible seconds. But then others slide the sheets of marley flooring out from under them, and the duo has to scoot and chug just to stay on their feet. Last night marked the work’s West Coast premiere with Hubbard Street, and aside from a few spots where dramatic charge falls flat with flopping flooring, 27’52” distills our ever-off-balance existence to a richly insightful and potent physicality.

Walking Mad (2001), by Swedish choreographer Johan Inger, closes the evening with a crashing, hip-thrusting, heart-pounding, high-speed chase. A flock of grown men in party hats pursues women with adolescent energy; couples race toward and away from connection with insistent, heated grabs; and like Ravel’s “Boléro” that plays off and on throughout, the antics dance brilliantly around that illusive line between the slapstick and the serious. Inger’s work sings and bites with humor that darkens over time, and Hubbard Street is at its best.

Performances by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago continue tonight (April 10) at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow (April 11) at 2 p.m. at the Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster Phone Charge at (800) 982-2787, at all Ticketmaster Outlets, online at, and at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Box Office. For groups of 15 or more, call CTG Group Sales at (213) 972-7231.

Celebrate Dance at the Alex Theatre

This preview was first published at Culture Spot LA on March 9, 2010.

Celebrate Dance
returns to the Alex Theatre in Glendale for its fifth-anniversary show this Saturday, March 13, at 8 p.m. The festival celebrates the vibrance and diversity of our local dance community by showcasing nine Southland companies in a single evening of performance that received the Lester Horton Award for Outstanding Achievement for a Festival in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and has sold out for the past two years.

Curious about the show’s tremendous success and unique scope, I recently spoke with executive producer, curator, arts advocate, and LA dance guru Jamie Nichols. Former director of the Pasadena-based dance company Fast Feet for 23 years, Nichols knows the LA dance community from the inside and celebrates its tenacity and resourcefulness in making excellent work with scarce funding and creating venues out of restaurants and warehouses when theater space is in short supply or beyond financial reach. Understanding these challenges firsthand, Nichols has, for each of the past five years, put up personal funds and sought out private donors in order to offer the area’s finest companies the opportunity to perform in a fully produced, beautifully lit, well-publicized concert at Glendale’s 1,400-seat Alex Theatre. And she even manages to pay everyone.

Nichols believes “a spirit of graciousness,” or support for one another’s work, can help the LA dance community thrive. And she sets a remarkable example by going to see performances by anyone who invites her. It’s this spirit that has led her to discover such remarkable artists as Esther Baker-Tarpaga and Olivier Tarpaga, the duo that thrilled audience members at Celebrate Dance 2008, and to offer the visibility that has helped propel their international career.

This year’s eclectic lineup features returning companies as well as new faces; premieres and award-winning, re-staged works; contemporary ballets, aerial dance, jazz, acrobatic encounters with moving sets, and moving explorations of relationship. Look for new additions including Catch Me Bird and Body Current Dance, directed by Lorin Johnson, former American Ballet Theatre dancer. Also, past Celebrate Dance favorites JazzAntiqua Dance and Music Ensemble and RhetOracle Dance Company will present new jazz works that promise to captivate.

If the last two years are any indication, you’d better get your tickets now. Visit Celebrate Dance on the Alex Theatre’s website for more information and a video sneak preview. Tickets range from $17 to $35, and discounts for seniors, students, Glendale residents and Dance Resource Center members are available with presentation of ID at the Alex Theatre box office. Discounted tickets for groups of 15 or more are available by calling the box office at (818) 243-2539.

Photo: RhetOracle Dance Company / photo copyright Tim Agler / Celebrate Dance 2009