BODYTRAFFIC, founded in 2007 by Tina Finkelman Berkett (now the sole Artistic Director) and Lillian Barbeito, presented works by five choreographers: Amadi ‘Baye’ Washington and Sam ‘Asa’ Pratt, co-directors of Baye & Asa; Chicago-based Alejandro Cerrudo; BalletX Co-founder Matthew Neenan; and TL Collective founder Micaela Taylor. I attending a performance by this beautiful company on Thursday, November 3, 2022 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
The night opens with Matthew Neenan’s “A Million Voices,” a 5-section work inspired by iconic artist, Peggy Lee. Neenan uses Lee’s songs to showcase a quirky set of characters I would have definitely loved to know. While Lee’s music serves as a type of Greek chorus, giving us commentary and context for these characters’ internal commotion, Neenan uses costumes to enroll the cast in Lee’s artful use of “persona.” The costumes are set in a black and white palette, which, against the elegant lighting by designer Burke Wilmore, make the dancers pop out into the space.
Amidst Neenan’s creative staging and fun use of processions throughout the stage, Katie Garcia (with her gorgeous limbs majestically stretching into eternity) and Joan Rodriguez dazzle in a lovely pas de deux to Lee’s “Blues in the Night.” Ty Morrison is stunning in his solo, as are Guzmán Rosado (BT’s Associate Artistic Director) and Jordyn Santiago in their pas de deux to Lee’s “That All There Is?”
You know that one friend who is able to make the craziest combinations of patterns and color palettes look amazing? That is Micaela Taylor. Her movement is multi-layered, employing a dizzying fluidity between various qualities punctuated by the most delightfully unexpected moments of stillness. She is a master of the tiny movement. A head tilt here.The quiver of a hand there. In another moment, the small vibration of a trio’s back in unison at the perfect moment takes your breath away. On top of that, she layers sound design, which at the same time provides the environment for her creative adventures and is the dressing on the work that takes the viewing experience to another level.
“SNAP,” which “urges audiences to ‘snap out of’ social pressures to conform, and to connect with their individuality” and community, opens with Ty Morrison feeding us soul as he grooves to James Brown’s “I Got the Feelin.” At the end of Morrison’s solo, the song begins to deconstruct, repeating Brown’s famous refrain, “Baby, baby, baby.” The music, composed by SHOCKEY, transitions into a frenetic mashup of indistinguishable sounds, with occasional moments of Brown’s voice piercing through. This unleashes the dancers who, in impressively gorgeous unison and synchronicity, begin to move in that distinctively Taylor style. Lighting Designer, Burke Wilmore, and Costume Designer, Kristina Marie Garnett of KAART KAART GALLERY do a wonderful job of helping create an immersive world for these lovely dancers to execute Taylor’s creative vision.
Baye & Asa’s work, “The One to Stay With,” is a “response to Patrick Radden Keefe’s ‘Empire of Pain,’” which “chronicles the Sackler family’s rise to power and their central role in the opioid crisis.” I have to admit, this piece snuck up on me. I struggled in the beginning. I remember wishing I didn’t know what the piece was about because I spent the first half looking for clues, story, or evidence of the theme and it didn’t seem like it was there. The work was about the opioid crisis but it opened with dancers moving vibrantly to Georgy Sviridov’s “The Snowstorm: II. Waltz.” But the arc was there. I just needed to be patient.
I do not know what the ‘story’ was. I don’t know why Costume Designer Oana Botez dressed two women in white, some in camo green, and the others in black. I don’t know what the lit fixture placed downstage left was for, or what it was supposed to signify. But here’s what I do know: Tiare Keeno was stunning! She had me transfixed the entire time. In my favorite solo (danced to Bèla Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56:III. Pe-loc-Andante), Keeno mirrored the piano with such mesmerizing commitment and precision that you had to wonder who was playing who. Was her movement causing the piano to sound? Or was she a marionette being moved by the pianist’s fingers? Either way, I was here for it!
Another thing I know is that the creative team did a masterful job creating an environment that gave us a small glimpse into the unfortunate, but too often repeated arc of opioid use. Baye & Asa used music to usher us through the journey. The music choices that seemed so dissonant to me in the beginning came to mean a great deal as the piece went on. One entrancing choice was Baye & Asa’s repeated use of “On the Hills of Manchuria [Na Sopkah Manchzhurii],” by the Russian Brass Band. It was used as a sort of refrain that was returned to again and again throughout the work. But each time you heard it, it was different and highlighted a visual change in the dancers’ countenance. One instance of this repetition particularly gripped me. The dancers were in a clump stage left. Their movements were familiar. The song was familiar but Sound Designer Jack Grabow had manipulated the song by slowing the tempo and altering the pitch. The ache I felt seeing the once vivacious, but now slumped over dancers moving to this music that descended from joviality into this unsettling eeriness before our eyes caught me by surprise and brought the piece together in a heartbreaking way. Kudos to Baye & Asa for the ways they used repetition to show the theft of life and vivacity that accompanies this crisis.
Designer Michael Jarrett’s lighting was such a vital piece of presenting this journey. I was so taken with the way he used lighting to evoke loss, isolation, and diminishment. And Botez’s jumpsuits beautifully brought that touch that helped you get lost in the experience.
In Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Pacopepepluto,” soloists Joan Rodriguez, Pedro Garcia, and Guzmán Rosado dazzled the audience in more ways than one. Dancing to the tunes of Dean Martin against lighting by designer, Matthew Miller, they cheekishly dared “viewers to nakedly and joyfully embrace their true self-expression.”
The cast was lovely to watch as the evening’s program showcased BODYTRAFFIC’s incredible range and stylistic prowess. The extended and exuberant standing ovation was evidence of that. They included: Katie Garcia, Pedro Garcia, Alana Jones, Tiare Keeno, Ty Morrison, Joan Rodriguez, Jordyn Santiago, and Whitney Schmanski.
To learn more about BODYTRAFFIC, please visit their website.
To see the full 2022/23 performance season at the Segerstrom Center, please visit their website.
Written by Marlita Hill for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: BODYTRAFFIC – SNAP by choreographer Micaela Taylor – (L – R) Alana Jones, Katie Garcia, Joan Rodriguez, Lindsey Matheis, Tyeri Morrison, Tiare Keeno – Photo by Tomasz Rossa