LACDC’s Youth – Review May 3rd, 2014

Part of the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company mission as stated in this evening’s program is to “foster the development of new forms in the contemporary dance genre relevant to today’s audiences.” By all standards, I can safely say that they are doing just that.  Tonight offered three dance works that were accessible, playful, well crafted and innovative.

Panties, animal heads, fur coats and dog food. These are just aspects of the wild adventure that was the opening piece of Youth. “The Better To See You With” is a twisted take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood choreographed by Holly Rothschild. Rothschild skillfully knitted together the universally known fairytale with a sensual coming of age story in this beautifully crafted contemporary dance theater work. The patient moments of this piece allowed the athletic movement to surprise the audience with a visceral experience of power and lust. Full of sensual imagery from start to finish, this piece ran the gamut of emotions. Three large branches hanging from the ceiling set the eerie mood for the drama that was about to unfold.  In addition, a small screen that doubled for video projection and silhouetting of the dancers was simple enough to transform its purpose as needed within the dance. The video of Little Red played by Drea Sobke, retold the fairytale story as one of desire and reckless abandon, giving the audience a new experience for the seduction of this young girl into a world of animal drives. The most memorable image was perhaps that of one female entering and performing a swirling drop to the ground, before I realized her knees were bleeding! Only after I saw the other women entering with the same blood dripping down their shins did I realized this was an intended design. The idea of real blood due to real effort and real danger was so powerful that it will remain in my mind as the central metaphor for this piece about the loss of a girl’s youth.

Artistic Director Kate Hutter re-staged a piece from 2009 entitled “I Ran,” featuring a video installation by Eric Mason. The ensemble of seven dancers, clad in blue and white school uniforms, was a clear crowd favorite ending in raucous applause. The youthful energy of this piece was intoxicating, from the cheerleading routine to the duet of first love.  Hutter is a mastermind of creating dances that ride the wave of character from subtle to ridiculous. The physicality of the piece mounted with each section, reaching its peak as dancers manically slid within inches of the front row with such abandon that I wondered how these dancers could walk come the end of the night.  One arresting moment of the piece was a captivating solo performed by Devin Fulton Gomez, who danced with such clarity and focus that I was riveted despite the surrounding action. Her use of space through extension and intention made for a remarkable moment within the larger piece. However, the final “winning” moment of Drea Sobke, was without parallel in terms of crowd pleasing, laugh out loud physical theater! The four-TV video-installation integrated nicely with Hutter’s design of the dancers in space. The TVs were able to be rolled through the space as needed in order to alter the school environment, at times opening the space for huge movement sections, but also closing the space for intimate moments between two dancers. The balance of the images on the TVs and the action playing in front of it was delicately handled, melting together quite seamlessly. Overall, this piece was an absolute treat.

Closing the show was Nina McNeely’s World Premier of “Demigods.” Set to an original electronic score by Anna Sitko and Robbie Williamson, this fanciful ensemble piece played a coy line between a rave and a future fantasy world. The piece opened with an explosive solo by Raymond Ejiofor, who bounded and twirled through the space with the type of energy we often hear of displayed by dancers like Merce Cunningham in his prime years. The athleticism and whimsy of this solo established an alternate reality for the rest of the piece to take place. The uniquely designed costumes in grey stripes and dots had a distinct flavoring of clown costumes in the use of bold ruffles, pantaloons and baggy jumpers. The dancers moved in perfect sync with the rhythm driven music score that played with unpredictable meter balanced by strong grooves that moved the piece forward with driving energy. The surprise of the piece came in the use of coordinated LED lights that were stitched into the costumes underneath the sheer dotted fabric. The lights were choreographed into the dance to change colors and blinking rhythms as the dance unfolded. While the piece was a departure from the strong narrative works that preceded it, this piece contained imagery of power struggle, worship and its own version of the pieta. There was no clear link between the clown-like whimsy and the more dramatic interaction between the dancers, at times venerating, pushing, and connecting (forehead to forehead).  But, the rave quality allowed for these disparate moments to flow together as a visual landscape of light and movement. The rejoicing ending did deliver a sense of closure, although I wasn’t exactly sure from where.

Overall, this evening of dance was a huge success and another feather in the cap of LA contemporary dance. When reflecting on the nature of how LA dance is perhaps different from other large cities, it came to me tonight that LA dancers are not only exquisite technicians, but are deeply grounded in the ability to tell a convincing story that is . . . gasp. . . entertaining. These dancers were as much actors as anything else and should be applauded not only for their physical skill but for the emotional transformations that occurred through their character work and physical theater skill. All three pieces had a strong narrative (or at minimum thematic) core that drew in this LA audience with open eyes and eager hearts. While the dance of LA may not be the same avant garde of other locations, this city is damn good at making excellent dance that will could contemporary dance back to the general public.

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