There is no doubt that this year will go down as one of the strangest—and possibly saddest—in memory, at least politically speaking. And since the political is personal, with 2016 offering dashed dreams in terms of breaking the glass ceiling, the tragedy of Aleppo and the onslaught of so-called fake news, many of us, thankfully, continue to be consoled by art, with this writer particularly under dance’s spell for salvation.
On that front, there was good news. Here, then—and in no particular order—are the dance highlights in what might otherwise be considered an annus horribilus.
If there was a more original, more mind-blowing, more provocative work than WIFE’s “Enter the Cave,” we’re hard pressed to find it. L.A.’s own female trio—Jasmine Albuquerque, Kristen Leahy and Nina McNeely—converted a funky Frogtown warehouse into a phantasmagorical wonderland, one teeming with impressive sets, lighting, costumes, music and projected body-mapping animations that even had choreographer William Forsythe bow down to the troupe that is L.A.’s best kept secret.
Oh—and the moves, as Tony Soprano would have said, “Fuggedaboutit!” They were sublime, precise and swoonworthy, as the cast of 13 (including singers and Capoeira-esque dancers), turned a humdrum LA weekend into something magical.
And speaking of Forsythe, the Music Center celebrated the dancemaker in a trio of his works performed by three different companies, with Houston Ballet’s rendition of “Artifact Suite” (originally made for Scottish Ballet in 2004, itself a remix from 1984), a bona fide jaw-dropper. Couples made easy work of Forsythe’s fiendishly difficult steps, while some 30 corps members maneuvered militaristically in Beyoncé-like formation.
Other imports included a standout visit by Garth Fagan Dance, the Rochester, New York-based troupe founded in 1970 by the choreographer who would go on to win Tony and Olivier awards for “The Lion King.” Notable on the program at Nate Holden Performing Arts Center: Fagan’s 2015 work, “Geoffrey Holder Life Fete…Bacchanal,” a tribute to the late great dancer, choreographer, painter, designer and actor, brimmed with hip-swaying women, jiggy men and heartfelt passion.
Curiously, another remembrance of Holder, who died in 2014, was that given by his widow, L.A.-born Carmen de Lavallade (their marriage lasted nearly 60 years), whose one-woman tour-de-force, “As I Remember It,” graced the stage of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. At 85, this dancer/actor still has a bevy of articulated moves in her autobiographical arsenal, one that also recounted performing with Lester Horton and Alvin Ailey.
Also summoning an African-American legend was Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Co-directed and founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in 1994 (the pair had met in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 1987), the troupe made its third appearance at the Music Center on a bill featuring seven high-octane works. Included was Rhoden’s latest, “Imprint/Maya,” an homage to the late poet, memoirist and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. Dancing solo, the electric Richardson, 48, blessed with über-flexibility and seductive charm, continues to mesmerize, albeit if only for this work’s six glorious minutes.
Stellar solos also abounded at REDCAT, including “Bound,” a work made by Judson Dance Theater co-founder and creator of contact improvisation, Steve Paxton. The veteran reimagined his 1982 piece for 38-year old Slovenian-born Jurij Konjar. Featuring props and a diverse music score, the dance was sprinkled with scenes suggesting war, aging, resolve and rebirth. An added treat was a pre-performance improv between Paxton, 77, and Simone Forti, 81, deliciously played out in the REDCAT lobby, where style, wit and—oh, yes—genius, resonated with the sold-out crowd.
Speaking of inventiveness, one can always count on Butoh master Oguri for artistic sustenance, and such was the power of “Caddy! Caddy! Caddy!” A long-running exploration into William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” this iteration was performed in various outdoor spaces at the Hammer Museum. Abetted by Hirokazu Kosaka’s sumptuous hanging installation and a lush soundscape performed live by the composer Paul Chavez, the work also featured the neo-cosmic noodlings of sisters Roxanne and Morleigh Steinberg, and Michelle Lai, along with Joel Shapiro and Kenneth Hughes.
The work was riveting in its abundant starkness: Glacial moves gave way to whimsy with a chair and flower; off-kilter pliés populated a patch of bamboo; and lunatic laughter echoed in the brisk November air. Then there were the shovel maneuverings that recalled American Gothic, with the 90-minutes opus climaxing in a resplendent finale, a flood of kaleidoscopically colored streamers blanketing the terrace.
“Ibuki, The Veterans Project, Phase One,” conceived by L.A.-based Jacques Heim, proved a fruitful collaboration between several members of Heim’s DIAVOLO | Architecture in Motion™ and nine United States veterans. Filling the Hollywood American Legion Post 43 with Diavolo’s signature rolls, mini-swan dives and vocal commands, the performers made use of Daniel Wheeler’s simple platform with aluminum poles, fluidly—and furtively—darting in, out and around them as if on a sacred mission. And so they were, with Nick Davidson’s moody lighting accentuating Robert Allaire’s percussive, if overly synthesized, score.
With so much good dance this year—from both our local heroes and imports—the choices were, indeed, many. Other highlights included: “Soma Path,” a fierce duet performed by Laurel Jenkins and Chey Chankethya, as part of REDCAT’s Now Festival; Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s “When I Am King,” a rigorous site specific work boosted by Amy Knoles’ mind-altering score, featured eight dancers—Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo—always a commanding presence—in a non-functioning Chinatown theater; and Sarah Elgart’s haunting duet, “The One & the Many,” exquisitely danced by Charissa Kroeger and Raymond Ejiofor as part of the Western Arts Alliance (WAA) showcase.
Special mention also goes to Los Angeles Ballet and its 11th season opener, a diverse triple bill that gave dancers multiple opportunities to shine, and a student choreography showcase staged by Madeleine Dahm at the Wallis: “Mo.Men.Tum” saw 15 gifted students performing their own works as the culmination of a nine-month course taught by Dahm.
Kudos also go to L.A. Opera’s spectacular mounting of Philip Glass’ opera, “Akhnaten.” Directed by Phelim McDermott and conducted by Matthew Aucoin, this rendering featured Sean Gandini’s astonishing choreography for a coterie of…dancing jugglers! Dance also popped in the touring version of Bartlett Sher’s Tony award-winning revival of, “The King and I,” with Christopher Gattelli doing a majestic job of adapting Jerome Robbins’ original—and brilliant—choreography, especially in the second-act ballet, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.”
With so much of the world in turmoil today, it’s gratifying to know that we can look to dance for solace. That said, we’re ready to be feted by the movers, shakers and fascinating terpsichores of 2017!