Lillian Barbeito and Tin Finkelman Berkett co-founded BODYTRAFFIC in 2007 after relocating to Los Angeles from New York City. In addition to celebrating its 10th Anniversary season, the company made its debut at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts with a very strong and varied program. The company has always featured beautiful dancers, performers and well-known choreographers, but this concert included a majority of good works. The choreographers were not simply in fashion, they created works that will continue past one season.

Sidra Bell is an award-winning choreographer and the Artistic Director of Sidra Bell Dance New York. Beyond the Edge of the Frame with its driving, hard-edged techno music by British music artist Perc, was filled with angular arm gestures, constant partnering shifts and incredible performances by Tina Finkelman Berkett, Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, Guzmán Rosado, and Jamal White. Lighting Designer Burke Wilmore enhanced Bell’s vision with his stark lighting and use of a template which cast a misshapen grid across the stage floor.

BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – ‘Beyond the Edge of the Frame” by Sidra Bell – (L to R) Guzmán Rosado, Joseph Davis, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Natalie Leibert, Haley Heckethorn, Jamal White – Photo: Rob Latour

The dancers were costumed by LA based designer Raquel Barreto in primarily black leather with sequined headbands, giving them a persona of the social elite. Dancers moved from one partner to the next without clearly establishing lasting relationships. Beyond the Edge of the Frame reflected our current population busily moving amongst one another while remaining disconnected. This sense of loneliness culminates in the final solo performed by the amazing Guzmán Rosado, whose physical isolations took him through an array of emotions before almost destroying him. Bell leaves us with some hope as Rosado rises to continue.


BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – “Beyond the Edge of the Frame” by Sidra Bell – (L to R) Jamal White, Joseph Davis, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Guzmán Rosado, Natalie Leibert, Haley Heckethorn – Photo: Rob Latour

Stijn Celis is a Belgian choreographer and set designer who has created a stunning work entitled Fragile Dwellings. BODYTRAFFIC presented only an excerpt of this dance, but enough to clearly represent Celis’ sense of loneliness, emptiness and silent communication. He dedicated Fragile Dwellings to the homeless Los Angelinos, and while the dance does not in any way reflect the living conditions of those unfortunates, it does express a sense of aimless wandering, a forced separation from others and their longing for personal contact and normalcy.

BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – “Fragile Dwellings” by Stijn Celis. – Joseph Davis. Photo: Rob Latour.

Beautifully costumed in all white by Celis and Company, the work included an amazingly simple but striking set and lighting design by Erwin Redl. Long strands of light ropes hung above the heads of the performers. As the piece progressed, the light ropes shift from harsh white, to soft blue and to alarming red. By subtle shifts in placement, the set created separate landscapes for the four performers to exist in. One by one, these four quietly drift across the stage expressing individual struggles. The movement is halting, though exquisitely lyrical. When they do unite into two couples, the gestures and physical manipulation of one another continued a sense of solitude and longing.

BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – “Fragile Dwellings” by Stijn Celis – (L to R) Jamal White, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, Joseph Davis. – Photo: Rob Latour

Fragile Dwellings (Excerpt) was powerfully performed by Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, and Jamal White. Celis’ chose the hauntingly beautiful and saintly music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt to help create this very secluded world.

Choreographed by co-founder of BalletX, Matthew Neenan, A Million Voices had its world premiere at The Wallis. Set to music sung by the iconic Peggy Lee, the work is laced with humor and wonderful performances by the entire company. There was a soulful duet performed by Natalie Leibert and Jamal White as the rest of the cast moved slowly and rhythmically together nearby. Neenan also incorporated elements of 1940s and 1950s social dance trends with both opposite sex and same sex couples.

BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – “A Million Voices” by Matthew Neenan – (L to R) Natalie Leibert, Jamal White and Company – Photo: Rob Latour

There is a wonderful running gag throughout A Million Voices of liquids being tossed at dancers Berkett and Rosado; the contents of a bottle of beer, a bucket of water and a drink from a martini glass are but three examples. This culminates in the final section performed to one of Lee’s most famous songs Is That All There Is? while a parade of circus-like characters added more and more ways of dousing one another. The work was inventive, entertaining and a wonderful end to the first half of the concert.

Tina Finkelman Berkett gave an commanding performance in the company’s premiere of Ohad Naharin’s George & Zalman. Hailed as Mr. Gaga, Naharin is a dancer and choreographer who, from 1990 until 2017, was the artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company.

BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – “George & Zalman” by Ohad Naharin – Tina Finkelman Berkett – Photo: Rob Latour

Costumed in a plain chocolate brown dress, Berkett moved through a repetitive and accumulative movement phrase that intensified as it progressed along with the text of a poem by Charles Bukowski. Berkett always returned to an original pose but she was emotionally altered with each passing. Recorded vocals by Bobby Smith, the poem also built upon itself with advice on how to proceed through life. The poem is interrupted briefly by another gorgeous score by composer Arvo Pärt.

Like much of Naharin’s work, George & Zalman was a statement on his perception of humanity. My research revealed that the work was premiered by Batsheva Dance Company in 2006 with a cast of five dancers. The structure was direct and repetitive yet allowed the subtle shifts in Berkett’s emotions and personalities to clearly shine through. Bukowski’s poem is read with the same accumulative structure and it also swings between different moods and ideas. As with Berkett’s repeating pose, each time the poem begins with the word “ignore”, and, like the dance, it feels pre-determined but never predictable in its outcome.

BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – “o2Joy” by Richard Siegal – (L to R) Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Tina Finkelman Berkett – Photo: Rob Latour

The program ended with o2Joy choreographed by American dancer/choreographer Richard Siegal, the founder and artistic director of The Bakery Paris-Berlin. Although the work was performed wonderfully, and it was the obvious choice to send the audience home humming familiar tunes and tapping their toes, o2Joy quickly became oh so cute. The work appeared great fun to perform, but its theme was trite. Joseph Davis deserves special mention, however, for his brilliant lip syncing of a song sung by jazz singer and scat artist, Ella Fitzgerald. David managed to pull this off while dancing beautifully and royally camping it up. The other highly talented cast members were Tina Finkelman Berkett, Natalie Leibert, Guzmán Rosado, and Jamal White.

Co-founders Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett must feel pride for their accomplishments and the beautiful dances and dancers that they have gathered together and share with the world. The Wallis should be thanked for finally presenting this beautiful company and Los Angeles should be pleased that BODYTRAFFIC calls it their home.  Los Angeles is rich with dance artists and amazing dance companies and BODYTRAFFIC is but one of LA’s finest. It would be great if more of our city’s prominent venues took notice and presented them to their audiences. A dance audience for local companies can only be built in this way. National and international visibility will only happen if the city’s presenters and philanthropists increase their support for their own artists and not just those from elsewhere. Thank you to venues like The Wallis and The Broad Stage, and donors like Glorya Kaufman and the Broads, who have taken the lead.

Many are saying that dance is suddenly booming in Los Angeles. I respectfully disagree. There has been wonderful and innovative dance companies and dance artists in Los Angeles for decades; the rest of the world has finally begun to take notice.

For information about BODYTRAFFIC, click here.

Feature photo: BODYTRAFFIC at The Wallis – “A Million Voices” (World Premiere). Choreography Matthew Neenan. (l-r) Haley Heckethorn, Natalie Leibert, Guzmán Rosado, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Jessica Liu, Joseph Davis, Lorrin Brubaker, Jamal White. Photo Credit: Rob Latour