According to the company’s email blast, this was the final performance of Danielle Agami’s powerful dance Mouth To Mouth in Los Angeles. If true, it is be a great loss for the audiences of our town. This thought provoking work is saturated with strong emotions, tireless facial expressions and above all, boundless uses of the human body. All this is greatly enhanced with the driving music score by Jodie Landau, a very young composer out of the California Institute of the Arts; better known here as CalArts. His dynamic score was performed by the Wild UP Ensemble with seamlessly edited, mixed and mastered work by Nick Tipp. Danielle Agami definitely has found her own voice as a choreographer and she has a lot to tell us about.
The Live Arts Los Angeles, headed by Karen Quick and Jennifer Vaughn, is a lovely space challenged only by very limited street parking. The spacious studio/performance space was set up to seat approximately 100 people and it is indeed an inviting environment. Though the technical equipment for lighting is limited, it was done with great professionalism and care; adding to the mystery of certain sections of the dance. Sadly, the Lighting Designer was not listed on the program. An oversight? The costumes by David Maurice and Danielle Agami are wonderfully designed to bring out each dancer’s individual personality and body type.
Dedicated to Agami’s mentor Ohad Naharin, the opening of Mouth To Mouth brought back memories of listening to lectures by John Cage in the 1960s where he spoke of silence as not being silent at all. The dancers of Ate9 each entered separately, walked across the performance area and sat down in black folding chairs situated around the sides and back of the space. There was no music here, but we had the opportunity to listen to their feet touch the floor, our audience neighbor’s breathing and the occasional car passing by outside. For one, I always get pleasure from watching trained dancers walk; especially when they walk like pedestrians. Unlike some, I enjoy the sounds of dancers’ feet and bodies hitting the floor and their breath changing dynamics.
This stillness doesn’t last long before the space suddenly comes alive with movement that ranges from the familiar dance vocabulary to that of creatures from inside the depths of someone’s most secret thoughts. A somewhat disturbing sequence evolves with a woman wearing a tight fitting dress is confronted by others who, one at a time, cut huge sections out of her dress with scissors. They then proceed to shun her by blocking her path or moving away when she tries to join them; not once looking at her. This moment is shattered by a disjointed but powerfully controlled solo for David Maurice set inside three very serene and quietly moving women. The trio is finally awaken by Maurice’s presence and begin making every facial expression known to mankind. This weakens in the telling, but it is a strong and sometimes humorous statement of emotions when seen in performance.
A duet with Maurice and Thibaut Eiferman made me think of the seven feet tall Watusi tribesmen of Africa, and how, as part of their ritual dances, they jump straight up and down, getting higher and higher with each jump. Maurice and Eiferman managed to jump to amazing heights as well as to excite us with the other choreography in the duet.
Each dancer in Mouth To Mouth gets their moment to shine. Each one demonstrates total control but never once making us think about their dance technique. They are like disjointed creatures, then flocking birds. One moved like an upside crab; another like an elegant Break dancer. Then each one demonstrated high leg extensions and controlled turns. I loved how the very energetic first section suddenly ended with all the dancers sitting in chairs along the edges except the amazing Rebecah Goldstone who sat just off center stage facing the audience. We get to see each dancer’s face before they move clockwise to the next chair. Once the chair is empty and we are forced to focus on the design of the chair. Each dancer is seen before Ms. Goldstone returns and dons a rubber Cone Head cap. I then realized that all the dancers wore different masks and I had not witnessed them putting them on. It was one of those magical theater moments. There was the Green Grinch, a panda, a huge fuzzy bear’s head, a gas mask and even a bondage type mask wore by Agami. This section had a powerful ending as one dancer ran across the space, flung herself at Eiferman and the two of them crashed silently to the floor changing not only the lighting but the music. Sudden, surprising and shocking are the adjectives that ran through my mind at that split second.
I was struck by the strong unison dancing when it occurred in duets, trios and the one full cast unison section. This company moved as one during these sections and their timing was impeccable, down to the height and angle of their limbs. This speaks to the professionalism of Ate9 and that they are beautifully rehearsed and coached by their director Agami. These dancers’ names are Danielle Agami, Sarah Butler, Ariana Daub, Thibaut Eiferman, Rebecah Goldstone, David Maurice, Genna Moroni and Micaela Taylor. Beautiful does not adequately describe this company of dancers. They are each individual and unique in how they move. Their bodies are all different and sometimes do not fit the stereotypical image of a dancer. Agami’s choreography gives us the illusion that we know each dancer personally, that we know what they are thinking, but that they are a total mystery to us and perhaps to themselves. They are both performers and incredible creatures of unknown origins.
I think that it would be a shame not to be able to see Mouth To Mouth again in Los Angeles. The theater presenters in the Los Angeles area need to wake up and begin to support the extraordinary number of talented choreographers working right under their very noses.