Running for two separate weekends at L.A. Dance Project, the one distinction that Bobbi Jene Smith + Or Schraiber’s “The Missing Mountain” has is a cast of extraordinary performers: Lorrin Brubaker, Jeremy Coachman, Courtney Conovan, Daphne Fernberger, Shu Kinouchi, and Hope Spears. There is a stark but stunning set designed by Smith complete with a wall-to-wall red carpet, and a superb mixture of music genres which includes an original score by Yonatan Daskal. The work is definitely worth seeing, but it does have its issues.
As the audience entered, the space was filled with mist, which I guess was to draw attention away from the minimal lighting design by Christine Ferriter. A woman, Courtney Conovan, is sitting on one side of a pale blue couch, another, Hope Spears, sits at the base of a tall wooden ladder propped against the stage right wall, along with two men, Lorrin Brubaker and Jeremy Coachman, seated at the end of a long dining table placed downstage left. There was an upright piano against the upstage left wall with an antique looking lamp on its top. The room could have been in one of many venues; a hotel, a spacious rural lodge, or a large living room in a country home. At some point I even wondered if these people were in purgatory.
What was never established was the relationships between the six characters. Were they friends, family, or simple lost souls randomly thrown together. I guess the latter. A complex relationship developed between two of the main characters, Lorrin Brubaker and Daphne Fernberger, as well as with other pairs, but somehow none were never resolved. I was, however, intrigued by the story within a story within yet another story element of “ The Missing Mountain.” Smith and Schraiber have indeed created an intense dance drama!
Fernberger entered carrying a fan shaped bouquet of branches from a shrub in front of her face. While she slowly moved around center stage, she was joined by Brubaker for a very lonely yet supportive duet. Wearing a tuxedo, Shu Kinouchi walked up to an old fashioned radio mike and gave a weather report and Jeremy Coachman performed a brief solo only to walk over and bang on the piano keys which abruptly changed both the lighting and the music.
Smith and Schraiber created a series of duets and solos which although unique in nature, share the same sporadic and disjointed movement making it difficult to distinguish personalities. The non-verbal conversations between each character were clear but each time cut off without resolution. Immediately following an unfulfilling duet with a man she was drawn to, Coachman, Conovan performed a solo that had her body totally off her center and ended with her collapsing to the floor, flailing her right arm back and forth. It reminded me of the scene from “Giselle” where she is betrayed by the prince and goes mad.
About the title, “The Missing Mountain.” There was a section where Coachman acted as a director interviewing an Conovan by asking her questions and requesting her to jump, sit, fall, etc. At one point he asked her if she could become a mountain. She answered yes and proceeded to make the required shape. Later on, he asked Brubaker similar questions including can you become a mountain. He received similar responses and about 45 minutes into the hour long work, Spears draws back a black curtains covering the stage left wall to reveal a large watercolor painting of a mountain. It was no longer missing.
Program notes stated that “The Missing Mountain” contains elements, themes and moments danced or dreamed in the companion pieces – Lost Mountain and Caldera. Lost Mountain was created at LaMaMa Experimental Theater and produced by Liz Sargent”. It had its premiere in 2019 with a different cast of performers. Perhaps this mixing of elements is what caused the work to seem disjointed. It was successful in having the sense of peering inside someone’s dreams, and like dreams, some of the situations and people did not appear connected.
Highlights of “The Missing Mountain” included solos by Coachman, Conovan, Daphne Fernberger, and Shu Kinouchi, and the two scenes with the entire cast at the dining table was fantastic, humorous and wonderfully complex. Kudos to the sound design by Yonatan Daskal and to the six awesome dancers.
“The Missing Mountain” can be seen again September 28, 29 and 30, 2023 at 8 PM at L.A. Dance Project. For more information and tickets, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Courtney Conovan in “The Missing Mountain” by Bobbi Jean Smith and Or Schraiber – Photo by Josh S. Rose for L.A. Dance Project, 2023.