This weekend at The Wallis, Ate9’s audience was met with a challenge from stage to house: try, for a single minute, to be completely passive. On Thursday night at least, we failed the challenge on cue each time. Can one ever be truly passive when observing, let alone observing art? What’s more, can the artist expect their audience to follow directions, even in the name of trust?
The task did prompt a beautiful sort of engaged attention from attendees, almost a tool to keep viewers present in the NOW, the first of three acts. Cellist Isaiah Gage introduced a score he would build throughout the night with his loop pedal, echoing over itself to paint a warm, full soundscape.
As we practiced our passivity, or the opposite: our presence, the dancers warmed the stage up for performance. They introduced quirky movements that would become themes and explored their weight in varied gravity. Montay Romero articulated himself into soft contortions, inhuman but somehow still gentle and kind. Jordyn Santiago established her electricity with solid footing and displaced hips. Nat Wilson bounded forward with an offering of open palms.
Choreographer and Ate9 founder/artistic director Danielle Agami set the stage with humor and play. Hashtags flashed across the projector screen as her dog trotted across the stage. Plants and dirt fell from the ceiling. Bronte Mayo squished her impressive limbs into a child-size, battery-op Mercedes Benz and made sure to check her blind spot in reverse. She parked and then crawled out, her bones melting into a supple puddle that flowed to center stage.
The act went on, waste piling up and Mayo racing the rest of the cast to clear it from the stage. Agami’s movement phrases, dispersed throughout the chaos, gave the eye something pleasing to latch onto, the heart something patterned and pretty to leap at. Each dancer had their own sensitivity, but the style was almost united by its individuality. Agami’s movement practice, called Oomi and evolved through but not beholden to Gaga, is her research avenue. It seems to both root the dancers deeply in their own strength and open them to new ways of moving.
In THEN, the second act, Agami wove the phrases into canons and unison in a satisfying counterpoint. Paige Amicon executed a lengthy solo with laser focus and nuanced intention, not once losing her mark. Evan Sagadencky and Cacia LaCount mirrored each other beautifully in duet, building a quiet communication into an enthralling stagewide confrontation. Agami herself entered to resolve the conflict with a call-and-response that closed the act thoughtfully, gracefully.
In third act WHEN, Jobel Medina dug into the ground with a muscular attention to the movement that made effort a thing of poetry. His was the first of a round of solos, LaCount standing among collected childhood memories and Christopher Hahn blending style into a unique mastery of his lengthy limbs. Agami ventured to center for a climactic birthday scene that involved several literal pies to her face: pure joy, shared celebration.
Each artist embodied such curiosity throughout the piece, working through mutual research to serve the art. Their determination and commitment to three full acts evoked such gratification when the nostalgia set in at the end. Agami’s work reshapes the idea of what is possible in the body, communicating a sensation-based understanding to an observant audience and challenging them to absorb the feeling. At the curtain call, there were certainly no more passive audience members — just a standing ovation to commend JOY.
# # # #
To learn more about Ate9, please visit their website.
To read more about The Wallis, please visit their website.
Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: World premiere of Joy, choreographed by Danielle Agami (Starting in circle from far left going back) Montay Romero, Paige Amicon, Nat Wilson, Bronte Mayo, Chris Hahn, Evan Sagadencky, Danielle Agami, Cacia LaCount (facing upstage), Jobel Medina, Jordyn Santiago (middle), Isaiah Gage (on cello) – Photo by Rob LaTour / Shutterstock