Precision Meets Humanity at the Wallis with BODYTRAFFIC

When it comes to elite contemporary concert dance in LA, it doesn’t get better than BODYTRAFFIC. The caliber of this company, its repertory, and sleek production value is akin to the biggest company names worldwide. Under the artistic direction of company founder and longtime performer, Tina Finkelman Berkett, BODYTRAFFIC is riding a wave of brilliance in which the pristine dancers, engaging dance works, and elegant flavor blend beautifully in a captivating dance experience. With a number of new dancers in the company and veteran dancer Guzmán Rosado assuming associate artistic directorship, the nuance and precision of the company is breathtaking. 

Groups of lunging dancers reaching sideways with energized hands and aggressive faces.
Photo of Alana Jones, Katie Garcia, Joan Rodriguez, Lindsey Matheis, Tyeri Morrison, Tiare Keeno in SNAP by Micaela Taylor, BODYTRAFFIC at the Wallis, photo by Tomasz Rossa

The show opened with a large ensemble work featuring Tyeri Morrison, a robust black dancer who grooves hard and plays fierce. The work by Micaela Taylor, entitled SNAP, premiered first at the Wallis in 2019 and with good reason was brought back for another season. This work was hip, dynamic, bold, and moving. Dancing to James Brown’s classics that were riffed and remixed with original sounds by SHOCKEY, the dancers effortlessly transitioned from refined concert technique to the Africanist rooted aesthetics of black American culture in a way that seemed entirely organic in its fusion. A pedestrian mix of shiny jewel-toned costumes by Kristina Marie Garnett and colorful lighting by Burke Wilmore completed the flavor of pop culture that was both showy and human. The loopy narrative of the work conjured images of a composite black, male experience in America mixing in components of fame, celebrity, glory, fear, intimidation, and violence among others. Scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild identifies the Africanist Aesthetic of “embracing the conflict” in her research, which was thematically and somatically evident in this work through the blend of human strife with a distinct sense of cool. The dancers used the emotional power of hurt to fuel fierce inner rhythms that could not be denied.

The following duet entitled Recurrence, by Ethan Colangelo, featured Paige Borowski and Pedro Garcia in a buttery relationship of sliding contact, support, and counterbalance. The piece had premiered virtually in the Copenhagen International Choreography Competition this past July, but was being performed live for the first time in this show. Dressed in dusty neutrals, Borowski and Garcia performed beautifully together in a way that alternated the viewers’ gaze between them to form a balanced relationship albeit a seemingly tragic one. Spoken word by Jamie Lawson was mixed with music by Vincent Royer into a sound score with additional contributions by Travis Lake. The result was a swelling of audible friction that reset the piece again and again. Colangela supported the theme of trust and relationship by keeping the dancers in nearness and contact for the majority of the work. This closeness was made increasingly intimate by Michael Jarett’s lighting design in which the upstage black curtain was lowered, shortening the performance space and drawing in the viewer’s eye to the interactions of the bodies in space. Sudden moments of dropping punctuated the work throughout until it culminated in a final moment of surrender to gravity and perhaps the heaviness of trust in another human. 

Dust, by internationally renowned choreographer Hofesh Shechter assisted by Chris Evans, continued the program with a dramatic and eerie ensemble work uncovering the nature of our human experience as we suffer through days of productivity with little respite from the wheel of the mundane. Schechter’s self-created soundscape and projected words, referenced the beginning of time and the darkness from which all emerged as a solo figure, Guzmán Rosado, shook with tension in a pool of light amidst a void of nothingness. Three women dressed in sleek red dresses seemed caught between a world of tension-filled existence and sensuality with gestures sometimes soft and sometimes frenetic. The three men, all dressed in black suits and disheveled shirts, contrasted the nuanced and detailed movement of the women, with rapid sweeping and circling gestures as they ran, loped, and lurched through the space, heavy with defeat and fueled by desperation. The stark lighting by Chahine Yavroyan, highlighted the moments of loneliness felt by Rosado as the audience witnessed his return to dust once the flurry of work ended. The dancers performed exquisitely and in such contrast to the former pieces, that their excellence was again affirmed. While the composition was touched with a bit of clunkiness between the solo figure and the group, the piece as a whole resonated due to the tremendous commitment and precision of the dancers inhabiting Schechter’s world as it reflects our world. 

Image of solo male dancer in a suite and brown disheveled shirt. Associate Artistic Director of BODYTRAFFIC, Guzman Rosado in Dust by Hofesh Shechter
Associate Artistic Director of BODYTRAFFIC, Guzman Rosado in Dust by Hofesh Shechter

The closing piece PACOPEPEPLUTO, choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, completed the evening on a playful note as three male soloists, Joan Rodriguez, Pedro Garcia, and Joseph Davis showed off their skill and physical prowess set to big band classics by Joe Scalisi and Dean Martin. Wearing nothing but nude dance belts and evoking the power of Olympian gods, the performers played coy and quirky in this light-hearted parody on nudity, vulnerability, and masculine strength. Bold jumps and turns balanced by flicked wrists and frolicking runs, made PACOPEPEPLUTO a piece that featured the exquisite form of the dancers while not taking near nudity too seriously. The backlighting by Mathew Miller accentuated the musculature of the dancers while keeping their privates in shadow when they faced front. Cerrudo clearly designed the choreography to favor facing back and side, with flexed and internally rotated shapes being reserved for front-facing moments in which playfully cupped hands often covered the business below, causing the viewer to wonder if in fact this piece could be performed in the buff without feeling gratuitous. While the piece didn’t quite have the triumphant ending one might enjoy from a large ensemble work, the final solo was poignant for Joseph Davis who was concluding his tenure in the company this very evening. 

The audience stood in ovation at the end of the evening, and rightfully so, as this performance was a visual and visceral feast of the human experience. With the mission of sharing the love of dance worldwide, BODYTRAFFIC certainly succeeded. The company is drawing in new members trained at the highest acclaimed schools and programs. The works being commissioned continue to delight and refresh the audience. The racially diverse company of ten (Paige Borowski, Joseph Davis, Katie Garcia, Pedro Garcia, Alana Jones, Tiare Keeno, Lindsey Matheis, Tyeri Morrison, Joan Rodriguez, Guzmán Rosado) blends perfectly together into a unified body that is articulate and decisive. Additional production contributions by Callen Gosselin, Lindsey Matheis, Michael Jarett, and Linda Chow, completed the spectacular event. It is important to note however, that the evening wasn’t made special by machinations of theater, but rather because of the ability of the company to drill down to the essence of what matters most in the human experience as experienced through the human form in motion. Bravo!

Man arching over and supported by a crouched female.
Recurrence by Ethan Colangelo featuring Paige Borowski and Pedro Garcia from BODYTRAFFIC

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Categories: The Wallis

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