Jacob Jonas offers another peek through the “Side Door” into exciting, physical work

If you have an Instagram account and enjoy scrolling through photos of dancers, you’ve probably heard of Jacob Jonas, or at least his #camerasanddancers initiative, which brings together professional photographers and dancers from around the world to capture stunning moments of movement. The young choreographer, recently named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch, is more than just a force on social media. Jacob Jonas The Company has performed across the US since its beginnings in LA circa 2014, presenting at New York City’s Ailey Citigroup Theater, the Inside/Out Series at Jacob’s Pillow, and recently back home at The Ford Theatres, presented by The Music Center.

In the second installment of their Side Door Series, produced in an intimate setting at one of Los Angeles Ballet’s studios (where you do, indeed, enter through the side door), the company presented five works, including two films and three premieres. Part of Jonas’s mastery of social media as a promotional tool is his commitment to the company’s aesthetic, which translated to his live production through the minimal design and monochrome color scheme of everything from the program, to the lighting, to form-fitting, understated costumes. Jonas’s aesthetic choices suggest he intends not to distract from the movement – whether live or on film, the diversely-trained, athletic dancers are the focus of each piece.

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Jacob Jonas the Company in ‘On Me’ at the Ford Theatres   Photo: Matthew Brush

The first work was a premiere of ‘Interconnect’, featuring Lamonte Goode and Jill Wilson. Beautifully shot by Will Adashek, the film featured the dancers intertwining in continuous, tightly bound shapes, noticeably never making it up off the ground until Good leaves Wilson alone. It gave the sense of the two trying desperately to fill each other’s gaps, Goode’s impressive mix of breaking and yoga-like inversions fitting somehow just right in the negative space of Wilson’s modern and ballet-influenced lines. The quick-fire piece introduced the audience to Jonas’s now-signature style of combining acrobatics, modern dance, ballet, and hip hop along with speedy, intricate partnering.

After a somewhat uneven couple minutes while technical crew put the projection materials away (the pains of a more intimate space), the company transitioned to the live work ‘One Pair Off’, with four dancers. More of Jonas’s signature choreographic style is apparent in this piece: linear, angular shapes, particularly in the arms, along with quick bursts of heart-stopping tumbling passes. As the dancers paired off, I found myself craving a greater sense of emotion between the duets; despite the physical contacts the dancers made, their connections never seemed to go beyond that – perhaps the point Jonas was exploring.

Continuing with this theme of disconnection, the premiere of ‘Regret Minimization Framework’ ruminated on ‘how work and technology can act as a distraction in modern-day life’, according to Jonas’s program notes. A man sat at a desk on one side of the stage, staring into a bright light simulating a computer screen that also illuminated the three dancers who eventually filled the rest of the stage. Eerily, the man did not move during the piece except for periodic, abrupt falls out of his chair – how many of us have felt like doing the same after a long day at a computer screen? Brooklynn Reeves and Emma Rosenzweig-Bock quick, bound movements and flawless technique paired well with Lamonte Goode’s graceful breaking/yoga floorwork, though they never connected with each other in partnering moments as in other pieces. Each dancer seemed to be in their own world, much like we all are with our technological devices.

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Jacob Jonas the Company in ‘On Me’ at the Ford Theatres  Photo: Matthew Brush

At one point two dancers’ repetitive, angular arm movements reminded me of a camera shutter – an ironic nod to our obsession with capturing the moment? The original music by Dylan Alexander Freeman added emphasis to the disjointed atmosphere, with sharp noises sounding like machinery. The longer piece did begin to feel stagnant near the end, as dancers repeated their individual phrases and we waited for the next time the man would fall. I started to feel desperate – would we finally see a dynamic change? I had to remind myself of the themes Jonas was exploring, realizing the cycle wouldn’t end as long as the man stared at his screen.

The next video premiere ‘Able’, was directed by Jacob Jonas but featured the freestyle movements of ILL-Abilities Dance Crew, a group of B-boys with a range of disabilities performing tricks that defied any sort of limitations society may have placed on their dancing. The powerful video had the audience visibly moved, and perhaps this collaboration means there could be more between the two companies in the future.

One of the dancers from the film, Jacob “Kujo” Lyons, who was born deaf in one ear, featured in the company’s final piece ‘On Me’, which originally premiered at The Ford Theatres last year. The seven other dancers alternated piling on top of him and then hovering ominously as he slowly moved on the ground in impressive breaking phrases. At a turning point in this structure, he escaped the pile and manipulated the other dancers, this idea of asserting control over outside forces continuing throughout the piece in duets and group vignettes.

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Jacob Jonas the Company in ‘On Me’ at the Ford Theatres Photo: Matthew Brush

The piece featured increasingly impressive weight-sharing and partnering feats Jonas has become known for – the female dancers balancing on male dancers’ calves, shins, and backs as if standing on the ground – suggesting a heaviness and co-dependence. Brooklynn Reeves was a standout in a solo showcasing both her graceful lines and an emotionally invested presence that added some needed dynamics to Jonas’s powerful choreography. The entire company’s well-executed physicality of the piece elicited visible and verbal emotions from the audience, including gasps at acrobatic flips, and tension when dancers were pushed noisily to the ground – I only craved more visible feeling in the dancers’ expressions throughout.

Jonas will continue to be ‘one to watch’ as he further explores and solidifies his place in Los Angeles dance and beyond. This month’s Side Door Series introduced exciting new work and themes for Jonas, whose fusion of diverse dance styles and technology continues to position his company as one uniquely suited for the digital generation.

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