Los Angeles, often dubbed the ‘city of the future,’ is not a town known for honoring its past. But with the Music Center having recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, it seemed the ideal venue for four local dance troupes to perform simultaneous, site-specific works on and around its Grand Avenue campus, one that’s been, on occasion, likened to New York City’s Lincoln Center.
Adding to the festive feel was the fact that the four companies are female-led, with Renae Williams Niles, the Center’s outgoing vice president of programming, having conceived the series while planning for the mid-century milestone. Williams Niles, an architecture aficionado as well as one of L.A.’s major dance presenters, has said she was attempting to reconcile the institution’s “illustrious past” with forward-thinking programming.
To that end, each of the choreographers chose their specific locations, their dances, in turn, inspired by the space. Viewers, in groups ranging from 50 to 100, moved from site to site, taking in short (15-20 minutes) performances that varied in quality, style and daring.
The evening’s stand-out—and ironic—work, “Kelev Lavan,” choreographed and danced by members of Ate9 under the direction of Israeli-born Danielle Agami, purveyor of Gaga and erstwhile performer with Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company, subverted the staid, plush confines of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s Founders’ Room. It was there, amid the old-world splendor of lavish chandeliers and highly polished wood paneling, that seven dancers, under the watchful gaze of Dorothy “Buffy” Chandler’s portrait, crushed the formalism of such a space with a series of rowdy, provocative and wildly inventive moves.
To a feisty, metronomic-like taped score, the dancers unleashed flurries of energy, with balloon-popping, playing card-hurling and confetti-strewing all contributing to the party atmosphere. And with unleashing comes, well, leashing, literally, as Agami, at one point led Ariana Daub on a prettified dog leash! Whether they were on all fours or dashing about the room—and jigging on furniture—with determined glee, these dancers enticed: Agami offered a swivel-hipped, spasmodic solo on a table; she and Genna Moroni cavorted on the bar; Rebecah Goldstone, sporting a fake eyeball, sliced the air with glorious lunges and also neo-waltzed with Thibaut Eiferman.
Micaela Taylor mesmerized with gorgeous extensions and a “don’t f**k with me” attitude, while Sarah Butler completed the eminently watchable cast of frenzied, fun-loving hipsters. It’s a shame that this party, alas, ended all too soon.
Moving from Buffy’s high-falutin’ area to the reflecting pool of the Mark Taper Forum, viewers were warned of the front row’s “Splash Zone.” Ana María Alvarez, an activist as well as a dancemaker, presented “wade en el agua,” an excerpt of a larger work, “Agua Furiosa” to be premiered in an eight-show run in January at CAP UCLA. Performed by several generations of female dancers, including a few former members of Alvarez’s Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater, the piece and its execution ultimately disappointed.
According to the press release, this snippet “honors women and mamas, those responsible for cleaning up the mess of these tumultuous times and pays homage to the water and wind deities in all of us.” In reality, the work, accompanied by Magaly “La Voz de Oro,” singing live—as well as a taped track by d. Sabela grimes—was little more than a study in over-earnestness, the kicking, kneeling, running in the pond more child’s play than well-considered choreography.
That it took place in water did give it a ritualistic quality, yes, but there were none of Alvarez’ signature moves—a fusion of salsa, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban, modern—evident in these eight performers. Perhaps sitting in the “Splash Zone,” might have livened things up a bit for this reviewer.
Tamica Washington-Miller, associate director of Lula Washington Dance Theatre (founded in 1980), and daughter of Lula and Erwin Washington, made a compelling choice to use the curved entrance staircase of the fabulous Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall for her politically-driven, “Message for My Peeps.” Set to a collage of taped music that included Jimi Hendrix and Yo-Yo Ma (the sound quality was muddled), with Cash Tijerina’s unimpressive graphic designs projected on the edifice, the work showcased a child and a dozen dancers, including apprentices.
A screed against “greed, war, mass distractions and other human-manufactured plagues,” the piece did, however, feature some fine dancing, the staircase railings serving as partners in a launching pad kind of fashion. If not exactly a tribute to the Nicholas Brothers and their astonishing split-leg jumps down a set of stairs, the performers’ arabesques, turns and simple up-and-down jaunts were made more profound with the Hall’s billowing sails as backdrop.
The evening’s finale, “Restructure,” had all audiences converge on the plaza, where seven members of Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett’s Bodytraffic wove through and around Gustavo Godoy’s marigold yellow jungle-gym of a sculpture. Comprised of plywood, Plexiglas and fluorescent lights, the structure has built-in ramps and passageways designed for dancers’ interactions.
Choreographed by Montreal-based Victor Quijada (founder and director of Rubberbandance Group) and premiered last year as part of Dance Camera West (a festival devoted to dance on film), the work, set to Jasper Gahunia’s music, is frolicsome enough, with healthy doses of athleticism displayed by dancers, including Finkelman Berkett, Andrew Wojtal and Joseph Kudra.
Still, when it comes to architecture and dance, nobody does it better than Jacques Heim and his L.A.-based Diavolo: “Architecture in Motion,” whose North American premiere of the trilogy, “L’Espace du Temps” bows at Valley Performing Arts Center September 19-20.
It is exciting, though—and certainly about time—to have the Music Center present local dance again. With any luck, then, “Moves After Dark,” slated to be an annual affair, will also continue to be a platform for those many wonderful artists—terpsichoreans and others—who call the City of Angels home.