Hand gestures, body isolations, facial expressions and big battements weave together for TL Collective.

The TL Collective is a hot-ticket item for LA contemporary dance with its founder and Artistic Director Micaela Taylor being featured on national dance magazine covers and commissioned by elite contemporary repertory companies like BODYTRAFFIC. Long-limbed Taylor has assembled a company of dancers who are as expressive as they are athletic with a resulting style that is high in energy, strong in force, and relentless in its intensity. 

Long arms and legs fan and sweep through the air punctuating spaces between nuanced articulations of the hands, head, torso, and hips. DRIFT opened the program with a cast of dancers in androgynous black slacks and jackets, with dusty colored, button-down shirts underneath. Slicked back hair and white painted faces with pink cheeks completed the mime-like look embedding Taylor’s voice with urban flavor (akin to clowning as seen in urban LA dance). 

Drift choreographed by Micaela Taylor (L-R) Jennifer Lacy, Gianna Todisco, Micaela Taylor, Matt Luck, and Jessie Thorne features robust gestures exaggerated facials and groove-forward footwork. Photo by Jamie Pham

DRIFT is characterized by elements of early hip hop vocabulary with gesticulating hands, isolations of the body, and mime-like relationships to space and shape with many body holds and spot holds to make the movement nuanced and detailed much like original popping. Impact phrasing dominated this work as dancers hit their shapes in whole body changes that were bold and powerful. A hunched stance styled the torso, with a strong forward-head posture, and a direct gaze that added ferocity to each shift and look. Energized lunges contrasted fluid extensions, sweeping arms through the horizontal plane, and multiple turns with exquisitely elegant exits. The brilliance of the cast is indisputable. Led by Micaela Taylor, performers Jennifer Lacy, Matt Luck, Jessie Lee Thorne, and Gianna Todisco each had a distinct flavor while still being highly effective in their unison moments. 

The program articulated DRIFT as a story of personal growth, yet the compositional progression was more episodic than linear in nature making identifiable “growth” hard to track. The abrupt shifts in staging and music continually disrupted the forward flow and rattled momentum for the whole of the work to resolve in a traditional narrative. Despite the lack of overall arc, the moment to moment stream of consciousness effectively kept the audience engaged. Brilliant ingenuity in movement invention carried the piece along nicely as it offered plenty of intrigue through the blend of street dance culture with classical vocabulary rooted in ballet and release techniques. 

The program credits Micaela Taylor and various artists with the music which on the one hand made sense because the music was highly edited with many samples from various popular songs as well as atmospheric elements. The remix was complex, and it would have been hard to list each element in the soundscape. Yet, the lack of information about the sources makes it difficult to effectively comment on it which is a shame because the music is so clearly an important compositional element to Taylor’s work. The dancers sometimes lip-synced along with parts of the songs and frequently gestured in direct reference to the music. 

Aggressive lighting designs by Katelan Braymer utilized floor lights upstage which pointed at the audience in glowing red. Similar boxes of light reinforced the edgy definition of the space. The high-contrast lighting, while effective in the tone, made it difficult to see the facial expressions of the dancers as the shadows dominated even the clown-like makeup at times. 

World Premiere of Time choreographed by Micaela Taylor featuring Matt Luck and Micaela Taylor. Photo by Jamie Pham

The company included an unexpected addition to the evening program with a brief duet by Taylor with Matt Luck, entitled Time. It was a pleasure seeing Taylor and Luck paired in a brilliant display of technical prowess and expression. Intertwining bodies with a balance of length and strength between them, focused on contact and grasping support. The dancers interacted in connections that were gestural as much as functional. The movement was highly rhythmic while being outside of the musical accompaniment (again credited to Taylor and Various Artists). Having removed their suit jackets from the prior piece but otherwise clothed the same, this piece lacked visual separation from the former piece which put it at a slight disadvantage. Similar movement vocabulary and costumes made it difficult to differentiate it from DRIFT which also featured sublime moments of dueting between Taylor and Luck. The work concluded with the dancers in alternating pools of light, still near, but separate from each other creating a sense of distance and separation between them in the final moments.

Taylor hit her choreographic and aesthetic stride in ‘90SUGAR. The red Lycra unitards and baggy, black pants fit with the 90s vibe while highlighting the gestural aspects of Taylor’s mimetic choreography. An expanded cast of seven (Micaela Taylor, Jennifer Lacy, Matt Luck, Keilan Stafford, Jessie Lee Thorne, Gianna Todisco, and Austin Tyson) made this a great choice to end the concert. The red-gloved hands offered expressive commentary to the text and lyrics of the piece. The rapid-fire structure of the music and sound remix fit the theme of the ADD lifestyle of 90s millennials struggling to make sense of a world that is conflicted and confusing. 

‘90Sugar choreographed by Micaela Taylor features a large cast of red gloved millennials: Jessie Thorne, Keilan Stafford, Micaela Taylor, Austin Tyson, Jennifer Lacy, Matt Luck, and Gianna Todisco. Photo by Jamie Pham

The collage structure of the work heightened the agitation of the piece which was both comic and thought-provoking. Dancers wore body mics and spoke a script that blended English with onomatopoetic gobbledygook. The inclusion of spoken word made this a theatrical experience that brought the individualism of the dancers to the forefront of the work while integrating the dancers with 90s party favorites like Push It and This is How We Do It.  Add in some sound bites featuring early commentary about the internet and a concluding reference about growing up and living life from the classic movie Good Will Hunting, and you have a palette that could not have been more representative of the 90s. 

Quirky poetic phrasing and onomatopoeic flow added to the absurdity of the piece as dancers expressed the all too common feeling of being caught between rushing and slowing down in a world that is scrolling past us at record speed. The dancers spoke clearly and effectively while also dancing tremendously and without fault. 

While not quite delivering a single narrative as described in the program, the work offers an amalgam of images interwoven into a world of power and distress. The evening largely consisted of the same movement style, leaving most of the distinct storytelling to occur through the design elements of speech and sound rather than a progression of movement qualities or movement vocabulary. 

For people looking for a show that speaks equal parts pop culture and contemporary dance theater, the TL Collective is sure to please. Taylor’s smart and expression-rich approach bridges mind and body while her personal blend of urban funk and contemporary dance is a force to be reckoned with. 

Categories: The Wallis

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