On a breezy Sunday evening in Plummer Park, you might not be too surprised to find a group of dancers moving under the palms — it is West Hollywood, after all. But when the movement builds in tandem with Ravel’s Bolero, the dancers shifting with the landscape, it’s easy to lose yourself in the action.
Suárez Dance Theater’s Rendicíon/Surrender began unassuming, a park piece built on the ethos of surrendering to the land (unceded by the Gabrielino-Tongva and Kizh-Gabrieleño peoples), the music, and other surroundings. Christine Suárez announced her work for the crowd, explaining how this particular recording of Bolero inspired her early in the pandemic. It’s a video of Gustavo Dudamel conducting Wiener Philharmoniker at the Lucerne Festival in 2010 — and if you’ve ever seen him conduct here at home in Los Angeles, you know how his emphatic style can inspire movement.
The dancers took their places quietly among the palms, ebbing and flowing from isolation-based improvisation tasks into slow and deliberate steps. The cast was beautifully assembled: Bernard Brown, Jay Carlon, Veronica Caudillo, Patrica “Patty” Huerta, Ilaan Mazzini, Arushi Singh, Willy Souly & Tom Tsai; plus a last-minute additional player, unbilled, who introduced himself as Carl.
While the movement direction seemed rather nebulous, the dancers found their patient surrender within it. They meditated in the tasks; a bit apprehensive at first but then wondrously playful as they warmed up to the crescendos. To see them make space for each other in close quarters was peaceful and sweet, especially among a cast with such a range of styles and specialties. Though I had hoped to see them show off their individual talents a bit more, there was a satisfaction in seeing them navigate the score together, inspiring each other’s experiments and listening for cues.
As they began to move from the original formation between the palms, Tsai and Souly excavated new spaces in the music to show us. Carlon bounced joyously around the children in the audience, expertly engaging their curiosity. Together, the cast and audience moved across the park, blending seamlessly into each other. We each discovered many ways to surrender — the audience drifting into the repetitive sounds of Bolero, the dancers navigating park scenes that already were, the parkgoers gathering to join in.
For me, the gift Suárez gave this assembly was not necessarily the choreography itself but the facilitation of a communal space. Her emphasis on the concept of surrender and exposition of its many facets came alive through this simple improvisational structure in a public space. It was an exercise in giving in, but also in looking out and finding peace in what may come.
We shared a final rousing romp in the grass, dancers’ arms conducting just like Dudamel’s. And the 17 minutes of Ravel’s famously repetitive Bolero were over before we knew it; just a moment in the park where we all let go.
To learn more about Suárez Dance Theater, please visit their website.
Featured image: Suárez Dance Theater’s Rendicíon/Surrender – Photo by Nguyen Nguyen