I’ve been sitting here trying to think, what was the last dance performance that made me plain old happy, as I was in the theater last night? Monica Bill Barnes comes to mind, but I think I have to go back to 2010, and Victor Quijada’s work with RUBBERBANDance. The Los Angeles dance company BODYTRAFFIC, performing in Reynolds Theater as the second program of the American Dance Festival’s 2015 season (through Tuesday, June 16) has a lot in common with RUBBERBANDance, including a performer (James Gregg)–and BODYTRAFFIC is performing a Quijada work on this program.
Dance has many functions as an art form, and by no means am I disparaging any of them. But one of them is to increase our awareness of being alive, and the marvel of that–to make the blood sing in our bodies, and laughter rise from our breath. In its first ADF appearance, BODYTRAFFIC does that, even in the darker moments (no brightness without shading) of the three works they are presenting.
The first, pictured above, is an evolved piece of dance theater, telling an abstracted story with gorgeously stylized movement, zany humor and short spoken stories (hilariously sexy). I couldn’t make it correlate with the story described in the program, but couldn’t care about that–the dance makes its own sense. It’s about opposition and confederacy in an intimate sense–within a family–but “family” could easily include abutting cultures or countries with both shared and contested beliefs. Much of its action takes place in lines parallel to the proscenium, or perpendicular to it, and interlocking shapes, as made by the dancers pictured above, occur all through the work. The music’s from Yiddish, Ladino and Yemenite traditions, and the dancing is powerful, graceful and sassy. Many of these dancers have ballet training, and they combine ballet’s desire for lift with modern’s desire for rootedness for a dynamic style, which they further spice with post-Modern attitude and post-millennial dismissal of boundaries.
The Victor Quijada work, for four men and one woman, uses the interruptions of sound and motion that come out of hip-hop, but here they are considerably smoothed, both in the interesting score by Jasper Gahunia and in the dance itself. The dominant physical motif is one of hooking, whether by arm or leg, and you could take the whole dance as a physics lesson: what happens when forward motion x encounters moving impediment y. But it is so much more. These are people (ordinary people, portrayed by extraordinary dancers), grasping at something ever-elusive, and the choreography is full of subtleties. I could have watched Once Again, Before You Go five times over. (Warning: heavy theatrical smoke used in this piece.)
The program ends with laugh-out-loud pleasure, with O2JOY, set to several great jazz songs (Oscar Peterson, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller). It’s a high-class frolic with an adorable lip-sync section and lots of smiles. See it for yourself; tickets here. I’ve got to shut up now and dance.