Opening night of Dance at the Odyssey produced by Barbara Mueller-Wittmann and Beth Hogan had a few things going against it. First, we experienced one of the worse rainfalls in this area for some time. This was the week for the 2019 Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference, so many of Los Angeles’ dancers were in New York City. Finally, and through no fault of their own, Shade Théret and Lukas Panek are not well known artists in Los Angeles. Still, it was discouraging to see how low the attendance was on a Saturday night at the Odyssey Theatre.

Having said all that, this was clearly not the strongest choice to open the festival. For their work titled “maybe”, instead of taking the performance to an art gallery, Théret and Panek brought the gallery to the performance. During the 1960s and 1970s, this would have been labeled as a “happening” or an “event” and it would have been considered new or ground breaking. For a few in the audience, perhaps it was. The title, unfortunately, expressed how I felt about the “event”. Maybe it was a performance. Maybe it was an art show. Maybe it was a non-performance performance. Maybe it was performance art, or more aptly, maybe it was simply a labored audience participation event.

Shade Théret - Photo courtesy of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Shade Théret – Photo courtesy of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Shade Théret is a dancer and choreographer from Los Angeles, currently based in Berlin. In her bio, Théret states that her work “deals with the relationship between movement and the everyday tactile musts we incorporate into our lives.”

Panek’s bio readsLukas Panek is anyone, getting to know you. Previous work includes Sun at Hot Wheels Projects, Athens Greece; Some People Are Worth Melting For at Ginny Projects, Wales.”

As we entered the theater, Théret was dancing alone in the space surrounded by Panek’s black and white artwork that looked decidedly influenced by the late American painter and graphic artist Robert Rauschenberg. Two paintings were hung from above; one blocking off the view from where I and others sat, and one hanging perpendicular to the theater seats directly behind the first. A third and larger painting was mounted on the wall to our right, and several smaller works hung evenly along the remaining walls. Small black benches and a long black bench running up and downstage completed the gallery scenario. There was on big problem with this arrangement; we were not in an art gallery. We were in a theater with regular seating arrangements, and we were handed tickets with assigned seating.

There were no traditional programs, only papers placed in a neat pile on top of the long bench. (I was to learn the next day that there were indeed supposed to programs, but for some reason they were not there.) Théret moved around the space sporadically performing her long limped and loosely jointed movements in what appeared to be one or two long phrases repeated several times in differing movement sequences. She circled her shoulders, made large sweeping arm movements, torso twists and beautiful leg and hip gestures. Several times Théret stood quietly on one leg while rapidly shaking a lifted foot. While I was still seated behind the hanging panel, I watched as a foot, an arm or her head appeared around its edges, or listened to the sound of her gray sneakers squeak along the floor.

Eventually, the audience figured out that we could enter the “art gallery” to get a closer look at Panek’s artwork, and to look through the pile of papers that consisted of prose writings, cryptic poetry, nonsensical (to us) directions, and drawings. By querying Panek, I learned that none of the pages were the same.

Théret is a beautiful mover, but much of the time she sat on the benches, leaned against the walls, and she once conversed with a young couple in the front row. A man from the audience, who seemed very pleased with himself, tied a scarf around his head and “danced” around the back and sides of the space. Others, like myself, quietly inspected the art work, briefly sat on the benches or exchanged papers.

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Shade Théret - Photo courtesy by Ron Sossi

The “music” for the performance of “maybe” was the sound of people talking amongst themselves, Théret’s sneakers striking the stage floor, and during one very still period, the wonderful roar of rain hitting the theater’s rooftop.

One of the sheets of paper that spoke directly to the entire evening’s experience, had a single sentence repeated multiple times down of the page. In large type it read, “LOOK AND LOOK AT THE LOOKING”. That is what we did for the full length of the show. We looked at others looking at others looking. We even looked at Théret and Panek looking at us looking at them.

After approximately forty-five minutes Théret and Panek simply walked out of the theater. We looked around questioningly at one another for a few minutes before realizing that the performance/event/happening had concluded. C’est Tout! Das ist alles!

The Lighting Designer for the Dance at the Odyssey Festival is Katelan Braymer. For “maybe” Braymer succeeded in creating a stark gallery look. The Odyssey Theatre Artistic Director is Ron Sossi.

Dance at the Odyssey runs five more week ends with performances by Los Angeles based companies Rebecca Lemme/Acts of Matter (Jan. 11,12,13); Genevieve Carson/L.A. Contemporary Dance Company (Jan. 17,18,19); Micaela Taylor/The TL Collective, Jordan Johnson and Aidan Carberry/The JA Collective (Jan. 25,26,27); Rosanna Tavarez/LA DANSA DANSA (Feb. 2-3); and Kevin Williamson + Company (Feb. 8,9,10).

For information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Featured image: Shade Théret – Photo courtesy of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.