It was full speed ahead when L.A.’s very own repertory dance troupe, BodyTraffic took to the stage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend to begin its 2019-2020 residency at the Beverly Hills venue. Co-founded by Lilian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett in 2007, the eight-member company has carved out a name for itself on both national and international stages while also helping to elevate the contemporary dance scene in its home town.
The indefatigable dancers were showcased in a program featuring the works of four choreographers, including “Snap,” created by former BodyTraffic dancer Micaela Taylor. Inspired by James (“Godfather of Soul”) Brown, the 20-minute, high-octane work featured snippets of Brown’s music—and an occasional spoken word—as well as an original synthesized score by singer/songwriter David Schocke.
With Taylor herself leading the charge with her electric, swoony moves—think breaking and popping meet the Rockettes—the dance was a 21st century “Soul Train”-like groovathon. A statuesque Taylor, who also has her own troupe, the TL Collective, was by turns joyful and jumpy, skittish and seductive. Joined by Berkett and six others, “Snap” is a portrait of our technologically driven, attention deprived culture.
The imaginative physical language Taylor set on these bodies, where startlingly abrupt and abbreviated isolations meld with quivering torsos, head-bobbings and high kicking gams, come together in narratives both dark and bright (lighting by Burke Wilmore). There are also flapping chicken arms and jazz hands aplenty, punctuated by Brown’s raspy-voiced croonings from “I Feel Good” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” to the anthemic “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”
With “Snap,” however, it’s clearly Taylor’s world—and we just live in it.
The world that Netherlands Dance Theater 2 artistic director Fernando Hernando Magadan created in “(d)elusive minds” (2014), was of another sort: The work is based on the true story of Santiago, a mental patient with Capgras delusion, a type of schizophrenia where one becomes convinced that a family member has been replaced by an identical imposter. This leads Santiago into killing his wife. Sounds ghastly? Not exactly, as Magadan turned this duet, featuring Guzmán Rosado and Berkett, into an homage to film and TV, replete with a laugh track and bits of text (inspired by All the Stories by Dora Garcia’s Inserts in Real Time) and dialogue (“I’m ready for my close-up”), much of it mimed and lip synched by the dancers.
Portions of Schubert’s Trio for violin, piano and cello are interspersed throughout, as the duo brought life—and eventually death—to their portrayals. Unfortunately, there were not enough extended periods of pure dance, the constant interruptions of silent screendom overpowering the beauty of the couple’s gestural, articulated and deeply felt movements. One refrain, “Nothing is as it seems,” added yet another layer of surrealism to the scenario that also featured Peter Lemmens’ lighting design, Magadan’s set—an oversized arm chair, a backdrop of jumbled manuscripts and a faux window suspended from the ceiling, resulting in this delusion being, alas, a tad too elusive.
The West Coast premiere of “Resolve,” by L.A.-based choreographic duo Wewolf (Rauf “Rubberlegz” Yasit and James Gregg, the latter a former BodyTraffic member), featured Joseph Davis and Rosado in a heart-pumping dance set to music by DJ Tennis. Moving in a Wilmore-designed rectangle of light, the men made use of frequent isolations in a quasi-B-boy face-off before ultimately becoming allies.
Dressed in drab gray pants and tops (uncredited), the dudes also offered neo-yoga poses, fifth (!) positions, and occasionally resembled dueling Laurels (though not as tall), of Laurel and Hardy fame. However, having recently seen Rubberlegz perform at the Montpellier Dance Festival in William Forsythe’s “A Quiet Evening of Dance,” I couldn’t help but miss that guy’s pretzelized limbs, making me long for more cohesion and twisted connectivity in the Wewolf pas de deux.
BodyTraffic’s finale was a reprise of last year’s “A Million Voices,” by Matthew Neenan, an in-demand choreographer whose works have been commissioned by, among others, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. Featuring a host of Peggy Lee songs, the dance gets much of its charm from breezy moves that complement such hits as “Blues in the Night” (1941) and Lieber and Stoller’s “Is That All There Is?”
That ditty, written in 1967 and made popular by Lee two years later, is an iconic ode to pleasure-seekers and booze, its glib meaning somewhat fatalistic: If life is nothing more than a meaningless series of, well, downers, then party on. The jukebox opus featured the entire company, including Haley Heckethorn, Tiare Keeno, Myles Lavallee, Rachel Secrest and Jamal White, and began in a kind of Paul Tayloresque mode with exuberant jumps, turns and smiles galore.
Also taking cues from Broadway, the performers had fun literalizing the moves of a train in neat unison fashion in “Freedom Train,” while shoulder swaying and booty-shaking were on view, as well. Props included umbrellas (why not?), and a beach pail, with the dancers occasionally getting doused with glasses of water. This is a fun, fol-de-rol of a work, because, as Ms. Lee so nonchalantly crooned in that smooth, sultry voice, “If that’s all there is . . . then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.”
Happily, BodyTraffic does keep dancing—and we’re grateful for it. Please pass the Scotch.