Agami Explores Edges of Discomfort in World Premiere of a blind LAdy

3452 photo by Dan Steinberg

Ate9 performs a blind LAdy by Danielle Agami at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; (l-r) Devon Joslin, Claire You, Cacia LaCount, Paige Amicon, Genna Moroni                     PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Steinberg

In the world of international contemporary dance, LA is right to celebrate its resident Gaga-based dance company, Ate9, under the direction of Danielle Agami. For those unfamiliar with the current world-wide contemporary dance trends, Gaga technique is an Israeli dance practice established by Ohad Naharin and now perpetuated by former company members such as Agami in big cities around the globe. A former Batsheva dancer, Danielle Agami has effectively and officially brought Gaga to the LA dance scene. The history is important for audiences to know because the inherent nature of the dancer-centered Gaga movement differs greatly from other threads of modern dance and contemporary dance that focus on more traditional form-based compositional and theatrical designs within a dance narrative. As I explained to my neighboring audience member at intermission, Gaga centers on the experience of the human body from the inside out rather than the outside in. It is rooted deeply in the internal experience of the mover and choreographer from a sensory perspective. The art is rooted in the movers’ personal conversations with the visceral. Agami’s latest work may best be viewed through this lens as unanswered questions abound in her latest work.

 

3525 photo by Dan Steinberg

a blind LAdy by Danielle Agami at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; (l-r) Paige Amicon, Jobel Medina, Genna Moroni, Jordan Lovestrand, Devon Joslin, Rebecah Goldstone, Alexander Quetell; PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Steinberg

A world premiere, the piece was entitled a blind LAdy. Set to live music by Russian Red (Lourdes Hernández), the piece for ten dancers, dressed in an array of brown and dusty-pastel dresses, jackets, blouses, and slips, was melancholy, bordering on morose, as the dancers endured a world of disconnect, isolation, and emptiness.* While the program notes indicated the work was a reflection of the insecurities and absurdities of being a female living and working in Los Angeles, there was little uniquely LA about the movement vocabulary or imagery employed. The work seemed to be more of a movement treatise on sorrow, loneliness, and human vulnerability in contemporary times. The often unidirectional lighting of Jeffrey Forbes created a stark flatness to the dancers in gentle cool and warm tones. The selective side lighting was often reserved to highlight the aqua benches maneuvered and explored by the ensemble as the background landscape for the work.

 

 

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This piece had a number of highly memorable images, including an opening phrase for five seated women performing distinctly slow leg gestures in unison. A duet of a man and woman running ferociously in place created a choreographic study of theme and variation; a conveyor belt of slashing, springing, wringing, and turning was featured in a frenetic diagonal pathway performed repeatedly in canon; the (yes, completely) nude female, performed by Sarah Butler, gifted the audience with a patient and serenely executed solo; and the darkly humorous ending consisted of a blue satin slip-clad woman diving headfirst into a coffin-like configuration of benches. Altogether, there were more image-rich moments than can be named in a single review or even processed in a single viewing of the work. Unfortunately, the piece lacked forward momentum despite the brilliant dancing and memorable images, so when part way through it paused for a commercial break, I found myself uncertain whether I should be annoyed by the commercials or grateful for the dramatic change of pace. This piece delivered more questions than answers as the flat affect of the dancers’ expressions kept me separated from the theme of the narrative. The inclusion of the nude dancer was the least of the provocations made in the work. She was just there, a part of the landscape like the other, clothed, dancers. The nudity was a non-issue. The inclusion of the dark humor and painfully long commercial break were far more disturbing.

4060 photo by Dan Steinberg

Ate9 performs calling glenn by Danielle Agami at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Steinberg

The second portion of the show featured the acclaimed work, calling glenn. A tremendously engaging work, it unfolded step by step with a natural ease of design that had the audience on its feet at the end of the show. The difference between the two works? calling glenn effectively establishes the context of the work. The aurally spacious and complex composition of Glenn Kotche framed a world of wilderness with nature sounds that transported the audience into a forest glen. The dancers, with their exquisite technique, transformed into birds and beasts entering into the clearing to prance, swoop, crawl, and hunt. The initial fitted black and lace costumes** with cowl-like hoods helped dehumanize the bodies into this world of animal fantasy. As the piece progressed, the dancers’ humanity spontaneously blossomed forth, turning passionate, playful, ferocious, envious, shameful, celebratory. The costume change into the red dresses underscored the primal premise of the dance. The lighter notes of situational humor played well against the visceral animalistic movement vocabulary and generated more than a few chuckles from the audience. The driving power of the live percussion underscored the dancers’ incredible athleticism and Agami’s forceful and fearless movement vocabulary. Right to the end of the evening, these dancers were bounding through the space performing feats of strength that were truly awesome. calling glenn is a masterwork for the books.

4326 photo by Dan Steinberg

Paige Amicon, Alexander Quetell in calling glenn by Danielle Agami PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Steinberg

Ate9 is a company of elite movers. Founding members Sarah Butler and Genna Moroni, along with newer company additions Jobel Medina and Montay Romero, stood out with their ability to evoke dynamic range and theatrical integrity within the physically challenging movement. The versatility in the qualities of movement from moment to moment is something that continuously impressed me in this evening’s show and is something that I associate with Gaga dancers and choreographers in general. The dancers are lithe and strong, light and grounded, gentle and ferocious, with impeccable precision. The precision lies not just in the timing and space but in the progression of energy within an action or gesture as rooted in the intention behind it. The company, while consisting of universally flexible dancers, includes incredible variety in stature and body composition. Yet the unison they can achieve is absolutely remarkable.

Ate9 is not a company for someone who merely wants to see a dance show that is fun and easy. It helps if you know a little more about the global contemporary dance practices and the trends of Gaga spreading into dance communities around the world. Agami is bold in her vision and her willingness to take continued risks at every step in the artistic process. She asks the uncomfortable questions and inspires a company of dancers to be awe-inspiring movers. The large but still intimate Wallis Center for the Arts is an ideal place to see this company because it balances the large-scale vision with much needed proximity for the nuance of the movement. If you love to be a part of the most contemporary and edgy dance practices available to LA audiences, Ate9 is a great option.

*Costumes for a blind LAdy by Lourdes Hernandez and Danielle Agami
**Costumes for calling glenn by Eli James, Ghost Apparel

Image of percussionist kneeling with three drums sticks

Collaborative percussionist Glenn Kotche

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Categories: The Wallis

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