BODYTRAFFIC, founded in 2007 by Artistic Directors Lilian Rose Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett presented four works on January 30, 2020 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, and gave a performance that confirmed why it is considered to one of Los Angeles’ finest. The cast was in top form and much of the choreography was excellent.
A Million Voices was choreographed by Matthew Neenan, who drew inspiration from the music sung by the great American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer, and actress Peggy Lee. It was wonderful to hear Lee’s music and to see choreography that was both pleasing to the eye, thoughtful and humorous.
Standouts were the traveling solos to Benny Goodman’s 1942 song Let’s Say a Prayer honoring the men and women serving abroad during World War II. Neenan’s choreography expressed individual experiences of separation from loved ones during those difficult years, and the section with Peggy Lee and Johnny Mercer singing Irving Berlin’s 1947 song The Freedom Train, spoke directly to the seriousness of what is currently facing our nation. Do we let our rights slip away, or do we hop aboard the freedom train and stand up to power? Neenan’s subtle choreography bid us to do the latter.
The topper for A Million Voices occurred during Ms. Lee’s singing her iconic Is That All There Is? written in the 1960s by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The movement, the add-on costumes, the props, and the deadpan quality of the New Orleans like parade, brought the lyrics alive and a depth of comedic timing that was enjoyed by all.
The costumes by BODYTRAFFIC hinted at an era, but their simplicity was just enough to take one back into the time these songs were made popular. A Million Voices was a perfect opening work because it relaxed and entertained. Adding quality to this work was the rich and lush lighting by Burke Wilmore.
The full cast of A Million Voices included Ethan Colangelo, Joseph Davis, Tiare Keeno, Haley Heckethorn, Guzmán Rosado, Rachel Secrest, and Jamal White.
The excitement level in the audience increased with the opening solo in SNAP, choreographed by Los Angeles choreographer and founder of TL Collective, Micaela Taylor. Performed to music by James Brown, and original music and Sound Edition by SCHOCKE, the solo was performed by the extraordinary Taylor who almost brought the audience to their feet two minutes into the piece. For the past few years, Taylor has been a labeled as a rising star in Los Angeles and on the east coast. With her recent accomplishments, her company and commissions include a new work for the Cuban company Acosta Danza, Taylor’s career as a performer and choreographer has soared.
With her signature fusion of contemporary dance and hip hop, Taylor has added a level of humor, street smarts, drama and choreographic virtuosity. Beautiful duets like the one between Tiare Keeno and Joseph Davis, highlight Taylor’s ability to express discourse through movement. Dialogue through dancing is certainly not new, but Taylor’s dancers speak to each other with their bodies. In a duet between Guzmán Rosado and Jamal White, we saw and “heard” them argue, nearly starting to a knife fight, and then their agreement to back off and walk away.
Here, Taylor demonstrated strength and power with accents to her movement statements provided through sudden stops that froze dancers in place. She closed the work with a street scene where a woman stood up to and dismissed a man and celebrated the win with her friends. It is humorous but also drew our attention to the resurgence of women taking back their power.
Costume Designer Kristina Garnett dressed the cast in a variation of the black sweat clothes that Taylor has generally used for her company, and the addition of color was a nice touch. The dark but appropriate lighting was by Burke Wilmore, and the remaining cast of dancers who did more than an admiral job of keeping up with Taylor were Ethan Colangelo, Joseph David, Haley Heckethorn, Tiare Keeno, Guzmán Rosado, and Jamal White.
Unfortunately, the second half of the program did not live up to the excitement of the first. The very physical and gestural complexity of Resolve by the Los Angeles based company known as Wewolf, suffered by going on too long. Performed brilliantly by Joseph Davis and Guzmán Rosado to the all-consuming music by Italian born Punk and New Wave music artist DJ Tennis, strength of the very intriguing and intertwining of arms and legs waned due to over exposure. Arms that repeatedly intersected to form geometrical shapes grew weary in spite of the efforts of the performers.
Lighting Designer Burke Wilmore created a nice combination of vastness and confinement through a naked stage and rectangular boxes of light blue lights.
Richard Siegal choreographed o2Joy to music by jazz greats Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, and ‘30s and ‘40s big band leader Glenn Miller. Although the work achieved Siegal’s stated goal of expressing “sheer joy through music and movement”, the trap that he fell into was over-the-top presentational humor that, in every case, dampened the desired response.
There were a couple of redeeming moments in o2Joy, however. One was the opening solo performed by the amazing Guzmán Rosado, whose incredible technique and stage presence makes anything he does look great. I had to look past the vaudevillian ending, however, to otherwise enjoy the choreography.
Siegal’s most honest choreography occurred during the closing section which featured the powerful and musical performance Haley Heckethorn. This sometimes-somber section would be enjoyable seen alone. Perhaps Siegal’s other work reflects this depth of emotion. If true, I look forward to seeing it.
The cast of o2Joy included Joseph Davis, Haley Heckethorn, Guzmán Rosado, Rachel Secrest, and Jamal White. The open and cheerful lighting was designed by Burke Wilmore based on an original design by Kindred Gottlieb, and the costumes were designed by Rita DiLorenzo and Richard Siegal.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, February 3, 2020,
To learn more about BODYTRAFFIC, click here.
For more information about programing at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, click here.
Featured image: BODYTRAFFIC in o2Joy choreographed by Richard Siegal – Photo by Christopher Duggan