During my many years observing dance, I have seen many fads, trends, and styles come and go. On Friday, January 12, 2024 at the opening performance of the Dance at the Odyssey Festival, yet another new form of dance art made its way into our repertoire. What has been labeled Dance Wrecking, a practice of choreographic feedback created by American choreographer Susan Rethorst, was introduced to many of us in Los Angeles under the heading of We are Destroying Ourselves: A Dance Wrecking. Surprisingly, I found the results rather refreshing. It must, however, take a choreographer who is very secure in their work to have another artist literally ‘wreck’ a dance that you have worked weeks or months on to create.
My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again//Vol. 1 (Land), set to music by Asuna, was created by dancer, choreographer, and educator Rebecca Pappas and on this night the “dance wrecker” was transdisciplinary choreographer, performer, director, writer, and filmmaker Shoji Yamasaki. The performers were Ellen Smith Ahern, Theo Armstrong, and Taylor Zappone. Pappas worked on dance projects in California between 2001 and 2014 and her dances have been performed both nationally and internationally. Currently, she has a faculty position at Trinity College in Connecticut.
The dance as it was performed in The Odyssey’s theater 1 and because I had no idea what dance wrecking entailed , I wrongly assumed that it would all take place there.
Pappas’ work began with three performers entering the space pushing a costume rack. Each was wearing different colored shorts and floral patterned shirts. Sheer white dresses laced with colorful daisies were put on with one arm outside creating a Roman tunic-like effect and the three women lay down on the floor in a close knit line.
For the majority of the work, all three took turns speaking about different places and periods of their lives as well as reading separately and together from a script that touched on the subjects of legacy, race, and gender. There were even some facts revealed behind The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and the history of Sepulveda Blvd. While the subjects were intriguing and the dance was laced with subtle humor, the quality of the choreography never quite reached the topic’s level of interest.
Pappas’ movement style was contemporary, well-constructed and rehearsed, but best of all, the movement was not always reflective of the meaning of the text. One strong duet performed wonderfully by Ellen Smith Ahern and Taylor Zappone appeared to have been the result of working with contact improvisation. It was also a rare and welcomed part of My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again//Vol. 1 (Land) that occurred void of words.
During several parts, the performers spoke about how the land that their families lived and worked on was first owned by indigenous people. For example, what we know of as Los Angeles was first inhabited by the Tongva Tribe. At the end of Pappas’ work, one performer asked, “How does it feel to dance on stolen land?”
After hearing “dance wrecker” Shoji Yamasaki describe how he went about wrecking Pappas’ dance, the audience was asked to relocate outside in front of The Odyssey Theatre. It was very cold that night but we wrapped up and headed out where a bluish four door SUV, several cameras, and floodlights awaited.
What happened next is next to impossible to describe and it sounds impossible, but those three women performed Pappas’ My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again//Vol. 1(Land) inside the car while speaking all their script through bright colored kazoos. While some of the sections were recognizable, there were times when it looked like unruly kids messing around in the back seat of their parents’ car during a long trip.
At one point, another member of the audience, who happens to be one of my dear colleagues for many years, decided to aid in wrecking the dance even further by removing a kazoo from a dancer who was speaking. Not missing a beat, the woman was handed another kazoo from one of the assistants and continued talking. She did manage to smile and wink at my colleague.
If I had the time, I could have attended all three of the performances of Pappas’ run because for the next two nights there were different dance wreckers and therefore each night would have had a different ending. The other two wreckers were co-founder and collaborator with Primera Generación Dance Collective, Alfonso Cervera and Dance Educator, Choreographer & Performer, Melanie Río Glaser.
Dance at the Odyssey continues for the next five weeks: Archetype, Created by Lily Chumas, January 19-21; 3X3, Created by Punto de Inflexión, January 26-29; Nomad, Created by Goblin Party, February 2-4; how i became kinder, and kinder, Created by Azuki Umeda, February 9-11; and The Un(Double), Created by Galiana&Nikolchev’s The Useless Room, February 16-18. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays are at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit The Odyssey Theatre website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Ellen Smith Ahern, Theo Armstrong, and Taylor Zappone in “My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again//Vol. 1(Land)” by Rebecca Pappas – Photo by John Atashian.