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Review: Bodytraffic and L.A. Dance Project in motion

By Victoria Looseleaf

4:41 PM EDT, June 17, 2013

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Some heavy lifting took place on Sunday night at American Jewish University’s Gindi Auditorium, when Bodytraffic performed excerpts from its 2009 work, “Transfigured Night.”  One of three pieces on a shared bill with L.A. Dance Project, the lifting, unfortunately, had nothing to do with partnering, but instead featured dancers awkwardly raising and lowering Ascon de Nijs’ hefty lighting sticks shrouded in wood and made of PVC pipe. 

Perhaps Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, who co-founded the L.A.-based troupe in 2007 (and present only commissioned works), intended these actions as metaphor, since the piece by Guy Weizman and Roni Haver is about motion and stillness.

Set to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night,” which is saturated with Wagner harmonies and was suppressed during the Holocaust, the dance, too, felt disjointed, with long sections performed in silence and interrupting the flow of Schoenberg’s silken score.

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Opening with Guzmán Rosado’s muscular solo -- articulated footwork, crisp pirouettes -- “Night” teemed with a push-pull angst as couples began movement idioms only to let them fizzle. Quivering legs, swooping arms and unison lunging gave way to militaristic stomping and calisthenic floor drills, which then dissipated into that fussy light pole business. 

Six dancers, including Hai Cohen, Miguel Pérez, Melissa Bourkas, Barbeito and Finkelman Berkett, displayed fierce technique, but the terpsichorean interruptus factor, instead of bringing depth to those moments between work and rest, left one longing for deeper connections. 

And while Swinda Reichelt’s playful costumes, sherbet-colored tops, pleated pants and flouncy skirts lightened the mood, distractions again abounded when dancers fiddled with their sneakers.

L.A. Dance Project also has stellar performers, though its “Attitude de Cage,” choreographed last year by two group members, Nathan Makolandra and Julia Eichten, was another disappointment.

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The troupe, founded in 2012 by Benjamin Millepied (the “Black Swan” choreographer and former New York City Ballet principal), initially considered a feather in L.A.’s dance cap, will be somewhat rudderless next year when Millepied decamps for Paris Opera Ballet to become its new director. 

That aside, “Attitude,” set to music by the late renegade composer John Cage, may have strived for randomness (Cage and partner Merce Cunningham often used chance operations, consulting the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text on changing events, to create work). But this lacked cohesion.  Featuring spidery steps, sculptural formations and lots of sashaying, the 25-minute opus had the dancers throwing dice that did not, alas, dictate movement.

Charlie Hodges, a riveting performer, also had, at one point, the unfortunate task of donning a silver wig, shorts and purple socks (costumes by Lydia Harmon), as he forayed into disco mode. Wiggling and slapping his rear, Hodges brought to mind Dirk Diggler of “Boogie Nights.”

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While the score veered from percussive and pianistic to cowbell sounds, other choreographic gambits included zombiesque walking, one-legged hops and leap-frogging, dance so seemingly anti-Cagean that it might very well have been embraced by the rebel musician. In addition to the choreographers, Morgan Lugo, Amanda Wells, Rachelle Rafailedes and a cape-brandishing Aaron Carr, danced in the meandering work.

Closing the program was “O2Joy,” a 2012 Bodytraffic commission by Richard Siegal set to vintage jazz classics. Upbeat with jitterbugging and a hubba-hubba vitality, the short, coda-like number also featured Andrew Wojtal lip-synching to Ella Fitzgerald. 

Bodytraffic, having already performed in New York, is slated for Jacob’s Pillow this summer and the Broad Stage in October. The company is a welcome addition to the local dance scene, but one hopes the troupe’s future commissions better showcase the dancers’ prowess.

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