Performing to live music is a rare treat for the majority of modern dance companies. Three Los Angeles based dance companies, however, had that opportunity Thursday evening when they performed onstage with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for L.A. DANCES at the Hollywood Bowl. The evening proved yet again that there is definitely high quality dance in the City of Angels. Those three companies were BODYTRAFFIC, Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY and L.A. Dance Project. Led by Conductor Ludovic Morlot, the three composers whose work we heard were Adam Schoenberg, Daniel Wohl and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and the choreographers included Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, Danielle Agami and Justin Peck.

BODYTRAFFICE - Photo by Tomasz Rossa
BODYTRAFFICE – Photo by Tomasz Rossa

BODYTRAFFIC performed a dynamic work by choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano to the music Bounce (2013) by Adam Schoenberg. No relation to the well-known Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, Adam Schoenberg is an American born composer who is currently an Assistant Professor of Composition at Occidental College where he heads the composition and film scoring program. While studying at Julliard, he received the Palmer-Dixon Prize for Most Outstanding Composition.

Bounce is a lively score with an Americana feel to it. At times I was reminded of Aaron Copland’s Rodeo and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. The choreography for Bounce, however, had none of those qualities. Sansano’s work made total use of the long hallway-like performance space in front of the Los Angeles Philharmonic with intricate, and sometimes dizzying, arm movements. He masterfully interwove complex patterns with stillness.  Lead brilliantly by dancer Joseph Kudra, the cast of BODYTRAFFIC showed no signs of being limited by space. Kudra is a powerful and grounded performer with a stage presence that is as strong as his technique. The dancers moved in unison, independently and at times they simply walked or ran in a circle around a soloist or a duet. The work had a dramatic feel along with the quality of a pure movement piece; not an easy combination. Sansano wedded these two with ease through the drama evoked in Kudra’ solos or the relationships between dancers during their duets, while others moved around them with simpler phrases. The movement seamlessly traversed from whipping torsos and ever-moving arms into total stillness. The other 9 dance artists that performed with great distinction were Stacey Aung, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Melissa Bourkas, Joseph Davis, James Gregg, Mason Manning, Lindsey Matheis, Matthew Rich and Guzmán Rosado.

Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY - Photo courtesy of the company
Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY – Photo courtesy of the company

Composer Daniel Wohl was born and raised in Paris, and currently lives in Los Angeles. Originally composed for percussion quartet and electronics, his Replicate (Part 2) had its world premiere at the Hollywood Bowl with this version for orchestra. It is a multi-layered, percussive score with a sometimes haunting quality and Danielle Agami’s work PLAY was perfectly suited for it. Here, Agami’s movement was at times unworldly; her dancers taking on creature-like stances and walks. They skittered rapidly across the stage on their backs, slouched into abstract forms while gliding across the narrow space only to fall with angular grace into the arms of another dancer. Danielle Agami did not mirror the music. She enhanced it by creating a separate universe that passed through the one created by Daniel Wohl. One beautiful moment took place near the end of PLAY as the entire cast stood in a group blocking our view of the conductor. The group was absolutely still for approximately half a minute as Wohl’s music became louder and faster. That stillness suddenly exploded, ending with the dancers on their backs, heads draped over the edge of the stage, and spread over the full length of the Hollywood Bowl stage as the lights faded. It was like a bubble bursting and in a split second, sending its contents outward to the earth’s edge.

Before the performance this reviewer wondered how the Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY would come across in such a vast setting as the Hollywood Bowl. Agami’s movement is often intricate and seeing the details of her work is vital. Agami and her company of dance artists proved that they can vividly project those details across any space. The amazing performers in PLAY were Sarah Butler, Ariana Daub, Thibaut Eiferman, Rebecah Goldstone, Sam McReynolds, Genna Moroni, Yasmin Mahmoud and Gary Reagan. There were no program credits for the striking costumes that helped create Agami’s mysterious world. That person deserves mention.

Esa-Pekka Salonen is a Finnish born orchestral conductor and composer. He is currently the Principle Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, Conductor Laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic and Artistic Director and cofounder of the Baltic Sea Festival. Salonen was the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 17 years is widely credited with breathing life back into the organization.  His score Helix is compelling, lyrical and it accelerates as it progresses. In the program, Salonen states “The form Helix can be indeed described as a spiral or a coil; or more academically, a curve that lies on a cone and makes a constant angle with the straight lines parallel to the base of the cone.” His score does evoke that spiraling effect, but sadly, Justin Peck’s choreography does not.

Los Angeles. Dance Project - Photo by Laurent Phillippe
Los Angeles. Dance Project – Photo by Laurent Phillippe

 

Peck’s choreography for Helix offers nothing new to the art of dance. It is well constructed and includes lovely duets filled with balletic lifts and extensions, but it did not rise to the level of Salonen’s wonderful score. The staging for this performance was distracting as well. The constant extended exits and entrances that the dancers had to make did nothing but pull one’s eye away from what was transpiring onstage. Having the dancers simply stand at the edge of the performance area would have been far less distracting. The dancers in L.A. Dance Project are beautiful, but the company lacks exciting and ground breaking choreographers. The cast for Helix included Julia Eichten, Rachelle Rafailedes, Lilja Rúriksdóttir, Aaron Carr, Morgan Lugo and Nathan B. Makolandra. The unifying costumes were beautifully designed by Janie Taylor and the equally lovely lighting design was created by Brandon Stirling Baker.

Ludovic Morlot - Photo by Brandon Patoc
Ludovic Morlot – Photo by Brandon Patoc

Throughout the evening the Los Angeles Philharmonic was conducted superbly by Ludovic Morlot, and Trevor Stirlin Burk’s lighting designs truly added to the enjoyment of watching these exciting dancers perform to live orchestral music. The evening concluded with the performance of Igor Stravinsky’s very familiar or often reviewed The Rite of Spring. Thank you to The Hollywood Bowl for presenting L.A. DANCES. I hope that it becomes an annual event.

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Jeff Slayton
Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, "The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber" and "Dancing Toward Sanity". For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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