LACDC’s RIFT juxtaposes fantasy and reality as it delves into the human psyche

_DSC4966-136Featuring choreography by Nathan Makolandra, Genevieve Carson, and Stephanie Zaletel, RIFT included much of what I adore about LA Contemporary Dance Company. The program was varied and well-balanced while flirting with demanding themes of the human condition as mediated by the characteristic flare of LA concert dance.

Overall, RIFT was well-performed, beautifully lighted, and intimately staged in the Odyssey Theater, which I now identify as my favorite performance venue for this company. The theater is a small stadium seating space that gives all of the benefits of being close to the dancers while still maintaining great sight lines for everyone in the audience. The strength of the show was the beautiful performances of both new and returning company members, who delivered excellence in their athletic and expressive facility.

The show opened with NOMAD.LORE. by Julliard graduate Nathan Makolandra. Despite his New York education, Makolandra’s work felt the most “Hollywood” of the evening and embodied the virtuosity, speed, and wow-factor that we see in the commercial dance industry. The program notes explained that this work was about a hero’s journey through a mystical world; however, the manifestation of this narrative of self-discovery and transformation fell short of its bravado. The piece began in a provocative way with otherworldly figures dressed in beautifully detailed space-age costumes designed by Sami Martin Sarmiento. The individual designs of each dancer were elegant, bold, sleek, and playful, with shiny fabrics and multiple textures and silhouettes. The costumes in conjunction with the precise and eerie lighting design by Bosco Flanagan succeeded in transporting me into this futuristic-feeling world. The movement generation included a strong theme of placing hands, reaching, and connecting through touch. This aspect of the work evoked a strong sense of human connection despite the often blank faces and the cool manner of the performers. Makolandra’s movement sequencing was also interesting and nuanced; however, it lacked cohesion from section to section. Duets and trios were brilliantly performed, but there was little to communicate the choreographic questions and the respective answers that would give meaning to the athletic performances and stunning displays of technique.* The use of the upbeat EDM music by New Villager alongside the monotone personas within the work didn’t quite align for me, causing me to question Makolandra’s aesthetic and expressive goals.

Genevieve Carson presented excerpts of a quartet she created in collaboration with the dancers that she playfully titled Stimulaze. Featuring long-time company members Drea Sobke, Tiffany Sweat, Ryan Ruiz, and Genevieve Carson, this piece was an absolute joy! It began in earnest with release technique-based athleticism before skillfully venturing down the road of absurdity. The work was so subtle in its slip into insanity that it was a while before the audience relaxed into the humor of the work. The dancers were convincing, athletic, unapologetic, and darn-right funny. The piece danced across the line of gravitas and levity both in mood and in movement vocabulary. The partner work was pristine as dancers grasped, pulled, pushed, levered, lifted, and pressed each other through complex kinetic patterns. The comfort between these dancers was evident in the fluidity of the partnerships and made the piece feel honest and entirely unique to these dancers. While watching, I thought to myself how a work of this specificity and with these interpersonal dynamics could only be performed by these dancers. It wasn’t until after the piece that my friend pointed out that the original cast included JM Rodriguez instead of Genevieve Carson. I would have never known Carson was replacing someone last minute in this performance. This is a testament to her excellence and rightful place as Director of LACDC. The simple mock turtleneck shirts in muted colors and black shorts and pants was functional but unremarkable as a costume design. The black socks were a disservice to the dancer’s line with the black backdrop in this performance space.

The final piece was entitled summer by Stephanie Zaletel of szalt (dance co.) here in LA. Zaletel’s work in five sections illuminated the power of the senses in the magic of ordinary moments. Zaletel’s use of dynamics was engaging and drew the viewer in with gentle, quiet moments before surprising them with a sudden burst of breath-catching attack. The dancers’ energy ranged from the careful light touch of removing spider webs from one’s eyelashes to the crack of lighting as the dancers slapped their arms around themselves in a way that said, “Wake up!” Even though the craftsmanship from section to section was unrefined in its use of blackouts to transition, the care of performance and the performers’ sense of surrender within the work carried it through in a way that was entirely satisfying. The female soloist near the end of the work was absolutely stunning and is a performer whom I look forward to seeing in the future. She had a way of moving that was entirely unassuming and yet breathtaking.

Another concern I had with the piece was the choice of costuming by Genevieve Carson, namely, the choreographic through line of the one male dancer in the white T-shirt was weak, and I’m not sure if his unique costuming was warranted from a thematic perspective. The long-sleeve mock turtleneck shirts and black shorts reminded me of the prior piece. The muted tones of the tops worked for the humanist aspects of this work and the clarity of the gestural, heavy movement vocabulary. However, the black shorts and black socks chopped the length of the dancers as well as causing the gestures of the feet to be lost with the black on black. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the gentleness of Zaletel’s movement palette and the aesthetic simplicity of this work.

One final note I feel I need to make is about the title of the show. Of course, all shows need a title; however, with a title like RIFT, LACDC (perhaps unintentionally) underscored the dramatic aesthetic separations between the three works of the evening in a way that, for me, was disjointed more than diverse. I love that LACDC is a diverse company of dancers who excel in a variety of styles, yet RIFT was less about the breaking open of the human psyche and more about the disconnect of aesthetic values between these works.

My concern with the show title aside, I found this performance to be another wonderful example of LA dance, which prides itself on technically skilled performers who flavor their artistry with an LA savvy. This company is about taking risks, and as a fellow artist, I understand how risks are scary when producing work for a public. I love that LACDC continues to invite new choreographers and to present a variety of local voices. I celebrate the beauty in risk taking and encourage the LA dance audience to join me in supporting this amazing company. LACDC is in good hands with Carson, and I look forward to seeing the next set of risks they take.

 

*I later learned that the dancer who performed the central character of the work had fallen ill and was not able to perform. The cast of dancers reworked the parts in order to be able to present the work and finish the run. This undoubtedly shaped my perception and understanding of the piece as a whole; however, I felt it important to share what I did observe and how I responded to the work as it was presented.

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