There is a list of ironic constants that I’ve come to expect in Los Angeles: Traffic on the 405; restaurants dripping with people pitching themselves; clubs pulsing with twenty-something-year-olds aspiring to be famous; plastically enhanced people lining up for organic pressed juices; gyms full of over-inflated, tanned egos; executives getting down on their yoga mats; and an unpredictable week of rain each year in an otherwise habitually sunny state. The soggy weather didn’t stop the LA dance audience from venturing out last night to support artistic director, Genevieve Carson and the L.A Contemporary Dance Company on a journey exploring, “The Only Constant”.
The premier of the evening-length piece is part of Dance at the Odyssey, a six-week dance festival produced for the Odyssey Theatre by Barbara Mueller-Wittman and Beth Hogan; celebrating contemporary dance from L.A. based artists.
I entered the theater and took my seat, absorbing the off-white marley floor and exposed stage, where five intentionally askew white lampshades hung (unlit) around the stage at varying heights. Upon closer inspection, the lampshade upstage-left had a thin, but consistent flow of what looked like sand oozing onto an accumulating mound below.
I shifted in my chair and thought to myself, “Is this going to be a timed performance?” I always feel unhip and uncomfortable if I don’t instantly understand a concept in concert dance.
I glanced down at my program for a hint of what to expect from the evening and discovered that the fifty-five-minute piece was not divided into formal sections. Instead, the description “about the piece”, peaked my curiosity, boasting musical selections from Bach, Mozart, Handel, Satie, and Chopin with an “enhanced and manipulated” score from Los Angeles based composer, Robert Amjarv and buzz words like, “human existence” and “perpetual struggle”.
The lights went dark and the show began.
The music and lights faded up on dancer, Ryan Ruiz, who stood facing away from the audience upstage-center. Ruiz spent the next several minutes working his way down stage via a series of resistance based movements to a recognizably addictive classical song with seaside sound effects sampled over the track. Ryan’s connection to the movement and emotion was evident, even if the audience had yet made eye contact with the strong dancer.
I can only imagine that Ms. Carson’s intention was to engage her audience through a lack of engagement. Still, I felt a bit lost and unsophisticated until, Tiffany Sweat joined Mr. Ruiz on stage and a seriously, confrontational banter unfolded in their twirling and grounded movement.
Soon after their duet, the conversation expanded with the introduction of Drea Sobke, who challenged the two in an athletic game of direction changes, which thrust the dancers into a constant flirtation between contact and avoidance.
The performance really vibrated once the fourth––and final dancer––JM Rodriguez, joined the party. Without doubt, my favorite (non-identified) section of choreography came in the form of a line drawn by the dancers bodies’ center stage. Each dancer felt compelled to advance towards the audience until a counterpart would pull them back into the line and simultaneously attempt to steal the predecessor’s spot. This emotionally and physically layered do-si-do was a perfectly choreographed and brilliantly performed metaphor for anyone struggling to get ahead in life.
Eventually the business of the dangling lamps was revealed when––on cue––the center lamp lowers from above and Mr. Ruiz pulls on the cord, dumping what appeared to be mulch, but symbolically represented (I’m guessing here) the shit that gets dumped on us––sometimes by the people who we think are our friends.
All four of the dancers were incredibly in touch with the material they were performing, and each dancer approached the choreography with style, clean technique, and incredible intensity. Ms. Carson’s strengths as a choreographer are particularly on point in her partner work. The dancers maneuvered in and out of the demanding and athletic weight transfers with ease. Genevieve also captures the accents and musicality with subtly, sublime gestures. Ric Zimmerman further magnified the choreography and enhanced the emotional inflections with his well-executed lighting design.
Perhaps the most successful aspects of the evening-length piece––which is the product of two year’s worth of fine-tuning and cultivation––was found in the honest, organic, emotionally charged acting from the cast and the quirky, committed storytelling from choreographer, Genevieve Carson.
I’m not entirely sure that I understood every aspect or theme dissected in the full-length work, still the piece left me with the space to question my patterns, friendships, and goals, while examining our endless desire to escape reality. “The Only Constant” clearly confirmed that contemporary dance thrives in Los Angeles.
You can catch L. A. Contemporary Dance Company’s performance of “The Only Constant” at the Odyssey Theatre now through Sunday January 20th; and make sure you check out and support Dance At The Odyssey through February 10, 2019.
For more information on L.A Contemporary Dance Company, click here.
For information and tickets for Dance at the Odyssey, click here.
Featured image: L.A. Contemporary Dance Company in Genevieve Carson’s “The Only Constant” – Photo courtesy of LACDC