Dance At the Odyssey, presented CollectiveDrift on Friday, Jan 25, 2019 with “The JA Collective” and “TL Collective” respectively.   In the age of overexposure and breast-beating, these two groups presented a refreshing evening of unique viewpoints of dance, which often surprised and delighted the unexpecting audience.  Their engaging twists and turns covered a myriad of dance styles which differed between JA and TL.

The evening began with JA Collective, named for Aidan Carberry and Jordan Johnson, two young men who encountered each other at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.  The decision to co-choreograph was nearly immediate…and this 30-minute performance gave just a taste of the talent of these two highly creative, and interesting dance stage craftsmen.   The warm response from the audience was immediate.

Aidan Carberry, Jordan Johnson – JA Collective – Photo by Celine Kiner

They began with a makeshift black duvetyne cloth mounted on steel stands.  The stage darkens, lights up and it began, first one hand, then another and another, snake their way out of the small but numerous openings in the black cloth.  At first they seem random, almost disconnected, but with their own personalities. Then with open Jazz hand precision, they grow like flowers.  And like a group of amoeba, seem to find each other, eventually connecting and uniting in wave-like forms.  Then with reverse amazement, we’re surprised to see a real human form. A male enters at first oblivious, then caught up in the connection, and embraced by all the organisms.  Blooms appear and finally he’s pulled into this ingenious universe, disappearing as the stage goes dark.

Obviously, this magical form has been explored before, however their unique message of “connection,” the cleverness, the ideas, charm, humor; all of what these choreographers brought, was somehow “new” and came from their unique exploration and intelligence, thus advancing it further to a personal and artful place.

The rest of their set was equally intriguing; a Cellist bowing long scratchy notes dressed in what looked like a Bee Keepers hat and tunic, with Carberry, morphing from skivvies to full dress with methodical precision.

Aidan Carberry and Jordan Johnson - JA Collective - Photo by Celine Kiner

Aidan Carberry and Jordan Johnson – JA Collective – Photo by Celine Kiner

Then changing the pace, a feast of a delightful amalgam of Hip Hop, Wave, Gaga…brought Carberry, Johnson and the supple Patrick Cook together in a spirited and very connected trio, with Carberry letting the audience in on a secret.

There was a rhythmic duo with Cook and the very capable, Dani Scaringe with her percussive zeal.   Changing the mood was Jessica Muszynski.  As though fingering each small rosary bead, she spoke a kind of confession both physically and vocally, then looping back again to repeat the ritual prayer.  Her extreme physicality was reminiscent of an homage to The Lady of Guadelupe.    Stephanie Dai with her technical expertise added her contribution to the evening, completing that dance moment.

JA used this opportunity to show they incredible versatility and guile. Even to the end of the 30 minutes, Johnson instigated a Gene Kelly soft shoe, in the midst of a rain storm (all sound) so subtle as to let the audience catch up to this tongue-in-cheek takeoff.

These are folks to watch.  They are reminiscent of the joyous work of Lou Conte’s original Hubbard Street, a relieving and joyous transformation from the dark breast-beating of much contemporary dance these days.

TL Collective under the choreographic direction of Micaela Taylor, conversely explored the underbelly of disconnection and its many facets.  Her dutiful and energetic dancers: Jennifer Lacy, Matt Luck, Brandon Mathis, Jessie Thorne, Gigi Todisco, Kevin Zambrano and the technically excellent Elizabeth Finfgeld were supportive in Taylor’s mission.

Micaela Taylor – Photo by Megan Guise

Her 30 minutes covered a kind of continuous apprehension which shown on the faces of the performers; mouths wide open, faces twisted, reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” There seemed to be a message, the need to say something, but it was not always clear what it was, or the reason why.  The subtext was simply never really unveiled.  The use of the spoken word, the broken phrases and almost meaningful utterings set the mystery of the second half of Dance at the Odyssey that evening.

The piece was primarily a crossover of styles.  The movements were generated from a second position dance stance, always making the performers appear to be ready for a fight, a tough challenge. The choreography seemed mechanically connected, then disconnected.  Appearing to entice the audience to come closer, while repelling them.

The music was at points, white noise, and at other times welcomed us with familiar Disco and R&B songs and rhythms, replete with backup dancers or Greek Chorus, an upbeat relief. The message for each sub-section often had a kind of wandering that left the audience believing the end was near, which often did not come.  This made some of the sections over-long.

Micaela Taylor - Photo by Tatiana Wills

Micaela Taylor – Photo by Tatiana Wills

There was however, an intriguing few moments where Taylor attempts to reach out to connect to members of the group, only to be passed by, ignored or rejected.  There was a searching and a withdrawal.  A kind of  Obsessive Compulsive rigger with “Always look on the bright side of Life” accompanying the sweet sadness.  Then a pretend smile, turning into uncontrollable laughter, then crying.  “I’m alright!” she assures the audience… and then has a kind of mini breakdown.

There is a great deal of potential in Taylor’s raw and emotional work, which if further explored with discipline and focused thoughtfulness could carry the work to an exciting and impassioned theatre/dance piece.  This is a work in progress with elements of potential that should be explored.

For more information about Micaela Taylor + TL Collective, click here.

Dance At The Odyssey continues through February 9, 2019. For information and tickets, click here.

Feature image: Aidan Carberry, Jordan Johnson – JA Collective – Photo by Celine Kiner