This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Small Steps Giant Leaps

Los Angeles, a town that loves the business of movies, television, pop music—and now art, with high-end galleries and museums flourishing—has a reputation for being notoriously inhospitable to homegrown concert dance. Presenters and venues are sorely lacking, and, indeed, the paper of record, the Los Angeles Times, rarely covers the local dance scene anymore.

Performance

“Laurel Jenkins: Two Dance Theater Works”

Place

Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica, California, January 30-31, 2015

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Laurel Jenkins' “IMAGE ACTION TEXT.” Photograph by Taso Papadakis

subscribe to the latest in dance


“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

  • Weekly articles from the world of dance
  • Wide diversity of reviews, interviews, articles & more
  • Support for quality art journalism

Already a paid subscriber? Login

That, however, hasn’t stopped talented terpsichoreans from trying their hands—and feet—in this town, with Laurel Jenkins a welcome addition to the fold, having moved here three years ago. Jenkins, who currently teaches at UCLA, was a member of the Trisha Brown Dance Company from 2007-2012. An exquisite mover who also danced with Vicky Shick, Sara Rudner and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, she’s no stranger to the international stage, having been presented, as well, in cities that include Prague and Berlin.

In her short, albeit mesmerizing new solo, “Wind Hill,” which the press release describes as capturing, ‘archetypal imagery from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey,’ Jenkins, accompanied by composer/percussionist Miguel Frasconi, made use of a rubber-tipped pole as partner.

Still from Laurel Jenkins' “Wind Hill.”

No Fred and Ginger, dancer and pole nevertheless created a unique tableau: Conjuring images that ranged from Huck Finn on a raft to Bunraku puppetry (the latter not surprising as Jenkins also worked with New York City’s Puppet Lab), the performer was a study in grace, articulation and power.

There was also a sense of ritual in the work, as Jenkins, clad in red windbreaker and cuffed grey pants, whether executing an arabesque, back bend or sky-high leg extension, brought an austere quality that meshed perfectly with Frasconi’s live playing of glass objects. One moment Jenkins was nestling the pole against her check, the next she might situate it under an arm, leaning on it, effortlessly, but with a kind of militaristic dignity, her cocked head revealing a swan neck.

A magician with an enormous wand, the pole at times either burden or friend, Jenkins also manipulated it through her legs. Skipping, gliding and turning with the piece of wood, a circle-of-life quality emanating from this minimal dance of enchantment, Jenkins finally dropped the pole, arms open, with Carol McDowell’s lighting design casting an amber hue before fading to black.

In last year’s “IMAGE ACTION TEXT,” Jenkins, who has called her dances ‘energetic drawings on which costumes, objects and puppets ride,’ maneuvered handily between narration and abstraction in a work that also asked the question, ‘Can a dancer morph from a human to a sculpture?’

For this viewer, the answer was, ‘Not exactly.’

Still, that notion occasionally surfaced in the work for Jenkins and five others, with scenes fueled by the handiwork of costume designer Mónica García. Created from Tyveck, a brand of difficult-to-tear, high-density polyethylene fibers, several of the outfits were reminiscent of Rei Kawakubo’s pricey oddball designs, notably those featuring Surrealistic lumps and distortions as seen in Merce Cunningham’s 1997 work, “Scenario.”

With fashion (?) as deployable art, the piece began with Barry Brannum, himself clad in layers of Tyveck, including steroidal headgear that could rival any bonnet at a gospel church or Easter parade, moving in slow, Butoh-esque style. Text, drawn from Edith Hamilton’s 1942 Mythology, was intermittently projected on the rear wall, containing phrases such as, ‘In his chariot driven by coal-black steeds he rose up through a chasm in the earth.’

Whether Brannum was steed or driver mattered not, as he was soon joined by Samantha Mohr (with whom he would later do a compelling, push/pull duet), Madison Page, Alexx Shilling and Devika Wickremesinghe, most sporting Garcia’s rag-tag apparel, some of which created soundscapes of their own.

Again accompanied by Frasconi, whose ‘instrumentarium,’ in addition to glassware, featured electronics and a laptop, from which an array of exotic and pulsating sounds emerged, including gong and DJ-type scratching that periodically had a pulverizing effect, the dancers reveled in a rudimentary groove: From yogic poses and arched backs to Tai Chi gambits, the vocabulary often seemed as hodge-podgey as the performers’ apparel.

Then there was Jenkins: Wearing red sneakers, black leotard, tights and a headdress that would have fit in with Katy Perry’s Super Bowl half-time spectacle, her regal bearing somehow defied the weirdness, compelling, instead, the viewer to ogle. And not just at the dancers, but also at the curious shadows they created, particularly those accented by Asian-inspired hand and finger movements.

Yes, here was Jenkins as master puppeteer, where unison trios wiggled hula hips as if from a luau—in outer space. Ah, the alien conga line, replete with quasi-Tiki torches, Schilling in a silver helmet and another dancer balancing what looked like a Calder mobile on her head, the effect evoking shades of Paul Taylor’s quivery insect dance, “Gossamer Gallants.”

With Frasconi’s music veering from ethereal to raucous, and Hamilton’s random phrases—“Suddenly above him in the air a radiant form appeared—manifestly a goddess”—popping up throughout the piece (overly long at about 40 minutes), the opus could qualify as a poster child for strangeness.

An offbeat blend of Plan 9 From Outer Space, postmodern pedestrian moves nodding to the Far East, and any Star Trek episode, this is a dance theater head-scratcher, but one that begs the phrase, “Beam me up, Jenkins!”

Victoria Looseleaf


Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.

comments

Featured

REVIEWS | Rachel Howard

Level Up

Sacramento Ballet executive and artistic director Anthony Krutzkamp dresses sharp and gives a memorable pre-curtain speech. The way he tells it, the Central California company was in rehearsals for “Swan Lake” last year when he realized he faced an enviable problem: the dancers were too good for the ballets he’d programmed under a five-year plan. 

Continue Reading
They Were There
BOOKSHELF | Candice Thompson

They Were There

In her new  biography, The Swans of Harlem, journalist Karen Valby is witness to the testimony of five pioneering Black ballerinas intimate with the founding history of Dance Theatre of Harlem. 

Continue Reading
The Joy of Dance
INTERVIEWS | Victoria Looseleaf

The Joy of Dance

If one wants a glimpse of Joy Womack’s rock-star like schedule, take a look at her Instagram account. One day she might be dancing in Paris—her current home base—another day it’s Florence, then it’s Lagos, Guayaquil, and Melbourne.

Continue Reading
Sundays on Broadway
FEATURES | Cecilia Whalen

Sundays on Broadway

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Cathy Weis' “Sundays on Broadway,” a performance series that welcomes experimentation from a curated group of seasoned and emerging artists hosted intimately in Weis’ SoHo loft. 

FREE ARTICLE
Good Subscription Agency