An incandescent evening with Stephanie Zaletel's “moon&”
szalt (dance co.): “moon&” choreography by Stephanie Zaletel and company
Ford Theatres, Hollywood, California, August 26, 2018
While the full moon was never actually visible—at least from this reviewer’s seat—during the world premiere of Stephanie Zaletel’s “moon&”—there was still an incandescent quality to the dancer/choreographer’s fifth evening-length work. Especially when Zaletel took center stage at the outdoor amphitheater, a sylvan venue nestled in Hollywood’s Cahuenga Pass, where she led her six-person, all-female szalt (dance co.), a collaborative founded in 2015, in a work that veered from meditative stillness and surrender to frenzied states of prolonged rapture and the accompanying struggles—gravitational and otherwise—of what it means to live on this earth.
That the hour-long performance began with a helicopter hovering overhead—unintentional but inevitable, and certainly in keeping with the electronic thrashings of a score performed live by Louis Lopez (Zaletel’s husband) and Jonathan Snipes (vaguely calling to mind Stockhausen’s “Helikopter-Streichquartett”)—was perhaps precursor of things to come: In other words, this was not your mother’s “Moonlight Serenade,” but something more akin to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” with a little Van Morrison’s “Moondance” metaphorically thrown in for good measure, meaning Zaletel and her troupe, through gestures—heroic, articulated and occasionally sly—explored euphoria, combat and self-reflection, via the body beautiful.
With some 80 onlookers seated onstage and another 400 plus in the audience (Zaletel was striving for—and achieved—intimacy), the dancers seemed wrapped in a cocoon of safety, as Amir Rappaport, her back to us, remained rooted, with Eden Orrick lunging beside her, offering faux warrior poses and with them, the notion of resilience. These moves were repeated by Mecca Romero when Rappaport exited, with swooping arms counterpoint to the swooping soundscape, and Lopez, however disarming it felt, intermittently—and cavalierly—walked across the stage.
Enter Zaletel, whose choreography has been featured in music videos for recording artists Jofridur, clipping and Maxi Wild, and has presented her work at L.A.’s Hammer Museum and at REDCAT, performing a Cunningham-esque solo, with one-legged balancing, splayed fingers and assured footwork, the soundscape becoming more, well, alien-like. Shortly thereafter Lindsey Lollie arrived, hopping backwards and running in what looked to be a jagged circle. The feverish pace increased as Romero offered a solo with a delicious back bend and a handstand followed by a filigreed arabesque.
All were clad in white (costumes by Zaletel and dancer Sarah Prinz), lending an angelic, albeit über-casual quality to what was already streetwear, although when Zaletel and Lollie repeatedly banged into each other, front first and frantically, with sadomasochistic intensity, this dominion of calm turned troublesome, the score now a relentless pounding, the musical clangings reverberating through the cool night air.
Whether the segment was dubbed “waxing gibbous,” as was described in section four of the program that featured eight phases of the moon, or “full,” the work featured the aforementioned duo displaying unison pigeon poses before moving into full-on walking, which might be described as plucky, and also bathed in soothing pink (lighting design by Pablo Santiago-Brandwein). There were also various slo-mo sections, as well as traffic cop/crossing guard moves, and upraised arms a recurring motif.
The composers also injected quasi-machine gun sounds and a throbbing bass ostinato into their score, unfortunately reminding this writer—and through no fault of their own—of the latest mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, which had only occurred hours before. These sonic blarings accompanied quasi-kick boxing moves, group spinning and rolling on the floor.
Here the soundtrack was also reminiscent of the nefarious computer HAL 9000, from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, when HAL was in major meltdown mode, with Romero, in a duet with Prinz, displaying huge, elongated extensions, butt-shaking as well as a bout of mutual face-slapping, before lights went down in what was the “waning crescent” phase.
In the finale, “new,” repeated voice-overs intoned the phrase, “How would they react to the macro-gravity?” as a quintet ventured into hip-swaying and flexed feet territory. There were also numerous faux bourrées and quarter turns to the occasional sounds of revving engines and white noise pulsings.
Was this “Mission Impossible” or “Mission Possible” as Zaletel and Lollie fiendishly offered karate kicks and a rocking back and forth on their heels before returning to the warrior pose/lunging themes that opened the concert. Oh, yes, the screams of sirens along with high-pitched noises, for want of a better word, topped low strings as Prinz executed a handstand in a most unusual pas de deux with Romero, their bodies eventually coming together as a unifying force.
While this reviewer would have liked more conventional partner lifts, the choreography proved a cohesive and convincing whole, with the sextet’s assorted back bends, modified bow poses and ebullient leaps a call to action.
As the score simmered into a more harmonic endeavor (synthesized Tibetan bells, anyone?), replete with overtones and sustained organ-like pedaling, the troupe, high-stepping and looking skyward, eventually yielded the stage to Rappaport, who lay flat on her back, her arms raised and fingers splayed. Stretching her body, with knees bent, the dancer, it seemed, was about to be reborn.
As Sunday was a day of both sorrow and satire—the eulogizing of the late Sen. John McCain, the gaming massacre in Florida and the airing of Sacha Baron Cohen’s final episode of Who Is America? in which the Brit’s character, an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, Sgt. Erran Morad, portrayed a lesbian sporting a pink pussy hat, and his charge, a similarly clad clueless right-winger, the pair in search of blowing up liberals at a woman’s march, Zaletel’s troupe proved to be the real thing: fierce, fine and looking towards a future, whatever that—and the many moons to come—might bring.
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