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Animal Kingdom

It may not be the height of fashion—a dull grey hoodie worn upside down and backwards—but it certainly served a higher purpose in, “These Are the Ones We Fell Among,” a one-hour duet seen last weekend at the UCLA Nimoy Theater. (Formerly the Crest Theatre, the reimagined movie hall named for the late actor, director, and philanthropist Leonard Nimoy, has a full slate of performances scheduled for its inaugural 2023-24 season.)

Performance

Ann Carlson in collaboration with inkBoat: “These Are the Ones We Fell Among”

Place

UCLA Nimoy Theater, Los Angeles, California, October 7-8, 2023 

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Ann Carlson in collaboration with inkBoat's “These Are the Ones We Fell Among.” Photograph by Robbie Sweeny

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Conceived, choreographed, written and directed by award-winning interdisciplinary artist Ann Carlson in collaboration with inkBoat, the Swiss-based physical theater and dance troupe led by the husband and wife team of Shinichi Iova-Koga and Dana Iova-Koga, the opus is a playful and profound mix of planned improvisation and Japanese performing and martial arts (the nod to Sumo wrestling is apparent), all infused with a dollop of Daoism.

That there was also plenty of text, both witty and provocative, and was inspired, according to the press notes, “from the movements, myths and metaphors of our non-human cousins,” did not mean the work didn’t occasionally drag—suffer from sameness, if you will—while preaching to the proverbial choir also seemed to make the stakes that much lower. 

Still, there was much to ponder and enjoy. Indeed, with Carlson, who has choreographed works for lawyers, basketball players and, well, a flock of sheep (her “Animals” series, i.e., interspecies performance collaborations, have also included concerts with dogs, chickens and a cow), the theme of extinction has been paramount to her. 

From elephants and marine animals, including the tiny dolphin known as the vaquita, to humans facing our own mortality, especially in the face of Covid-19, during which time this work was made—over Zoom and ultimately premiering in San Francisco in November, 2021—this dreamscape delivered on several counts.

Shinichi Iova-Koga and Dana Iova-Koga in “These Are the Ones We Fell Among.” Photograph by Jason Williams

Set to a circus-like score by Shahzad Ismaily and Carla Kihlstedt (with additional contribution from Stellwagen Symphonette), that captured a frolicking flavor as well as serving up the much less successful extended dronings of a kind of hurdy-gurdy, the piece showcased the many talents of the Iova-Kogas. Whether balancing on a medicine ball or deploying full-body spasms, the duo, their faces and arms smeared with a grayish kind of make-up and who morphed from elephantesque creatures—those baggy hoodies amazingly resembled pachyderms, replete with trunks and tails—proved mostly beguiling.

As if in their own world, they continuously spouted disjointed phrases that veered into Beckettland—“When/Where;” “Get it done;” “Numbers are like people”—their rapid delivery, in unison and solo speak, made the banal almost seem beautiful, the rudimentary nature of their stand-and-orate style endearing. 

As for the portable set (concept by Carlson; fabricator/scenic elements by Amy Rathbone)—yellow squares laid on the floor in various patterns—a trio of “on stage deck hands,” Evan Drane, Eric Erickson and Billy Foster—were, in fact, actors playing the roles of stage hands, their varying entrances and exits mildly amusing, while Allen Willner’s lighting design proved effective.

Shinichi Iova-Koga and Dana Iova-Koga in “These Are the Ones We Fell Among.” Photograph by Jason Williams

Both performers, skilled in the art of butoh, committed to an array of shapes—less grotesque than praiseworthy—while moving within the confines of the baggy hoodies/bodysuits was all part of their animal kingdom-like thing. When a pile of gray dung dropped from above, the element of surprise was met with much-needed laughter. 

Talk of rhinos (thankfully, not RINOS—Republicans In Name Only) conjured the tusked beasts by dint of a pointed finger on forehead, albeit also wrinkly like their elephantine counterparts, with the couple’s trudging through a pile of crumpled paper making for some effective imagery. 

“What’re we gonna do now?” they posited in unison, before madly stuffing their attire with aforementioned paper, and moving on to tiny dolphin talk. Yes, the pair, themselves like proverbial fish out of water, had some quick thinking and nimble moving to deploy, all while bringing our attention to the desecration of the planet. 

Humor again came as the aforementioned vaquita was realized in the form of a fish on a stick. Held aloft by one of the prop-movers, it traversed the sun—a painted yellow ball backdrop—and provided a sort of relief, a remedy, to the current state of our world.

Remedy? Why not, as in this day and age, we’ll take what we can get. So, whether offering Seussian rhyming schemes or an inventive movement vocabulary, the Iova-Kogas’ cure, a transient one, to be sure, came in the form of their channeling an array of creatures, even, perhaps, Carlson herself. And if, as the title says, “These Are the Ones We Fell Among,” let us at least try to rise up and do our bit to save the planet, and, in the process, also rescue our zoological and ichthyological friends. 

For, without them, our world would be a far stranger and more inhospitable one, leaving us to wonder, “Who would we be?” 

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.

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