For more than an hour Ate9, one of L.A.’s edgy new dance companies, blazed away on the wide open spaces of Los Angeles Theater Center’s thrust stage. Dancing on a white floor, the dancers seemed surrounded in an airy domain that glowed under the lighting. Beginning with a long, silent opening and eventually completing the journey with its own brand of noisy movement, the company looked powerful, tireless and in charge in their latest evening-length odyssey, “Mouth to Mouth”.
The company has had a great run lately with local performances of “Sally Meets Stu” at the Carpenter Center and other smaller venues as well appearances in Vancouver at the Chutzpah! Festival, and Palm Dessert’s McCallum Theater. An excerpt of “Mouth to Mouth”, renamed “EXHIBIT a”, premiered in March at the Alex Theatre with Jamie Nichols’ iconic L.A. dance festival, Celebrate Dance.
Directed by former Batsheva company member Danielle Agami, Ate9 has an obvious debt to that company’s movement spirit and its director, Gaga creator, Ohad Naharin. But Agami and company are well on their way to burning a place for their own dance ethos into the hearts and minds Los Angeles dance audiences, both among hipsters and traditional concert goers. That they are doing it with a pint sized eight member company and far fewer resources than many of the city’s more prominent name brand ensembles is more than a little remarkable.
In “Mouth to Mouth” Agami has woven together a disarming and beautifully crafted flow of ensembles small and large, as well as solo turns for several company dancers. She knows how to spread the wealth around and embrace the unique abilities of the dancers, including herself. While the movement can at times astonish you it also plays with an equal hand to subtle gestures and quiet pools of repose as in the opening which, in its length, somehow elevates silence to a near fearsome audibility. Also exceptional was Rebecah Goldstone. Goldstone dances with imposing presence but also a sense of serenity. It’s an affecting vibe that sets her apart even in a company of strong and dissimilar dancers.
And if it’s virtuosity you’re looking for there’s plenty, but not always the kind you’re used to. When Scott McCabe hoists his leg over his head and bounds powerfully off stage on one leg you are convinced of distant realms of unexplored territory for dance. Likewise, Ate9’s other male dancer, David Maurice. His opening manic, athletic solo set against a trio of aloof women finally disturbs them enough for the three to begin moving their mouths in rubbery contortions. Later, when he circuits the stage on all fours in a frenzied gallop, he is probably setting some kind of a land-speed record for humans.
Taken together, the Ate9 crew fully inhabits movement that acknowledges the usual steely backboned core common to most dancers but they also deliver an angular, roiling sleight-of-body version that makes you think they might be strung together solely with high tensile cartilage. Agami in her long solo towards the end of “Mouth to Mouth” was particularly convincing with odd, disconcerting shifts of position and a contemporary dance version of the pop locker’s style. And these dancers are as versatile on their feet as they are when they hit the floor. The floor work isn’t just there as an obligatory alternative, it’s part of a bigger picture that explores humor and dance’s extremes, but remains fastened on genuine feeling and interaction. Backing the company was Jodie Landau’s original music as well as an edited soundtrack. Landau’s compositions, underpinned by miminalist and jazz groves, were performed live by the local contemporary music ensemble wild Up. The small orchestra of mixed winds, strings, percussion, keyboard and vibes was conducted by wild Up Artistic Director Chris Rountree. They blended seamlessly with pre-recorded music by Radiohead (The Gloaming, Kid A) and Nina Simone (I Got it Bad…). The sound was designed and mixed without hitches by Nick Tipp and Terence Deutsch. Lighting designs were by Jeff Forbes. The provocative and delightfully off-beat costumes were designed by company dancers David Maurice and Ariana Daub.
“Mouth to Mouth” repeats next weekend on Saturday at LATC. The company is picking up momentum. They are bound to be better next time out. This is dancing you’re going to want to see, and remember.
(The reviewed performance took place on April 26, 2014, and was dedicated to Ohad Naharin. Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY will be taking “Mouth to Mouth” to New York City in May for performances at The Salvator Capezio Theatre. The photographs accompanying the story are by Jeff Forbes)