LA Grown Dance Resides This Year at the Wallis

There is nothing quite as wonderful as having a home- Jacob Jonas The Company has found one and is flourishing this season as the resident company of the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.  Comprised of a talented mix of street and studio trained dancers, Jacob Jonas The Company has garnered plenty of attention within the regional dance scene.  The appeal of his work and his company is the working balance between gritty strength and formal training.  Such fusions are tricky beasts from the aesthetic perspective as dancers’ training inherently shapes the line of the body, the vocabulary of movement, and the energetic signature of the dance.  This season’s show was successful in its overall blend of dancers’ strengths into a variety of messages and creative themes.

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Transfer Choreographed by Jacob Jonas (Photo Credit: Lawrence K. Ho)

 

The evening began with Transfer choreographed by Jonas in collaboration with dancers and featuring founding company member Jill Wilson.  The piece was structured as a succession of duets, in which Wilson paired with each of four male company members including Jonas.  The movement utilized the graceful contemporary training and gymnastic skills of Wilson, as the men lifted, balanced, wrapped, swung and otherwise manipulated her into impressive semi-acrobatic shapes and Pilobolous-like counterbalances. While the physical execution of the work was stunning, the message of the work was less clear.  Wilson’s role while displaying her incredible strength blended graceful stoicism with emotional neutrality as the men passed in and out of the dance.  It begs the question whether she in her sleek, decidedly feminine one-shoulder leotard was the one transferring, or perhaps she was in fact the one being transferred. In the end, she ended up alone again.

The second piece, Unknown Territories, featured choreography of Jacob Jonas’ mentor Donald Byrd.  This piece included gems of imagery that resonated hints of human connection as the dancers combined in duets and trios before coming together in a final tableau showing a landscape of human connection.  This piece maintained a similar tone to the first piece, introducing each duet or trio with an exploratory nature of the individual dancers’ strengths and skills.  The piece quickly became a study in the physical and aesthetic effect of the dancers in combination with each other.  I found myself taking note of each dancer’s specific strengths and skillsets.  Some dancers could easily be distinguished as being either urban trained or studio trained due to their body shape, displayed vocabulary, and energetic signature.  The broad, muscular upper bodies of the urban dancers (possibly b-boy, parkour, Capoeira trained) was unmistakable while the slim silhouettes of the high-bun, long limbed contemporary dancers became heightened.  For me, the contrast highlighted the power of body shape as a component of aesthetics design.  While all of the dancers displayed jaw-dropping moments of athleticism, I found myself recalling the historical shift toward the Balanchine body in ballet and wondering how the urban dance forms may generate a new look in the future of concert dance. Byrd created a work that gave me time to see each dancer as an individual, as well as how each one paired with others in various combinations, thereby helping me to appreciate the diversity of the company.

After intermission we returned for a sweet and somewhat sentimental change of pace with Jonas’s Make a Toast.  The audience was welcomed onto the stage to give a toast to someone in their lives while dancers performed solos to the spoken word accompaniment.  Nostalgic and heartfelt stories of family members passed and newly born became the aural landscape for the contemporary solos performed by five company members.  At first, I suspected that the movement may have been improvised, as each dancer performed a unique solo and there were no evident recurring themes or motifs between the dancers that I could discern.  However, there was a sixth speech, and the repeated first solo reprised the same material which let me know that these movements were in fact choreographed.  I wondered how the solos were devised and if they were based on people in their lives to whom they wanted to toast. I would have appreciated some additional insight into the concept and development of this piece in the program.  Nevertheless, the conceptual premise of the piece was successful if the goal was to be at once wistful, celebratory, personal and communal.

Cupido by Omar Román De Jesus was a spectacular trio featuring the three dancers I had come to identify as the classical, contemporary trained dancers.  A remarkable little dance ditty that was short and sweet, Cupido portrayed Jill Wilson as a leather winged Cupid with Lorrin Brubaker and Emma Rosensweig-Bock as the neutral clad lovers.  Using a variety of Latin and Latin inspired pieces of music, De Jesus created a new world of movement for these dancers to inhabit.  The vocabulary was quirky, fun, elegant and groovy.  Its rebounding rhythm and groovy vocabulary made it a refreshing change of pace for the program.  The dancers executed the contemporary work beautifully, in a performance that was indicative of the current contemporary trends, but which were also nicely blended with a sabór that was uniquely De Jesus.

The show closed with Jonas’ Crash which embodied the push and pull of the tides as waves crash onto our Pacific coast.  Crash included a hypnotic opening in which we witnessed the cumulative power of the ocean waves transferring energy in an eternal ebb and flow.  The dancers became the water molecules colliding and evolving into mesmerizing patterns of continuous, relentless flow.  This piece successfully unified the diverse group of dancers into a single company.  In this piece, I felt whatever divide may have existed between the dancers due to divergent training was erased, and the dancers truly became a company fused together in one shared movement vocabulary.  One of the undeniable highlights of the evening was the live music performed by Okaidja Afroso.  His voice, guitar, and percussion instruments blended into a landscape that was transcendent. The power of a single resonant human voice and the rhythms of the human bodies moving as one augmented the intimacy of the work, making a piece about the ocean become more a journey of the human spirit.

With lighting by William Adashek and select costumes by Tessa Mathias, the Wallis Lovelace Studio Theater was the perfect venue for this concert. The intimate audience was packed with loving and supportive fans who seemed to claim this dance and this company as their own. There was an air of solidarity within the theater that was poignant for the Jewish audience, as this day marked another tragedy in the form of multiple deaths in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Jonas is clearly working to diffuse lines and bridge cultural gaps within his work, and in this time of turbulence within America, it‘s a timely and noble choice in this reviewer’s opinion.

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Categories: The Wallis

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