The outstanding Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, under the leadership of Ron Sossi, has opened their house to DANCE AT THE ODYSSEY. The Theatre has been set aside on weekends in January and February for new works by choreographers. This is a gift to young dancemakers  wishing to expose their work in front of an audience of peers and professionals.  Friday, January 24, the audience got to see Slauson Rec’s PRINCIPIUM, What Once Was, is Now No More and the JA Collective: WRENZ KALOOGY. 

Slauson Rec Company originated in 2018 by Shia LaBeouf, Bobby Soto and Donte Johnson in the community of South Central Los Angeles. They made clear that “The company is an unconventional, experimental, …devised theatre group.”

Slauson Rec – PRINCIPIUM defined as a “fundamental principle, beginning, axiom” is directed by Scott Felix and Diana Valencia. It had quite a challenge with such a large subject and cast to be able to make sense out of this special evening.  It began with a young man dressed in black holding a flaming red rose with a large heart projected on the back wall.  With that, 20+ young characters walking slowly onto the stage, began to fill the entire space “in character.”  All had individual costumes by designer Kat Antoniazzi, with some casual, some revealing, some not fully thought out for the bodies wearing them.   This piece was a set of spotlighted vignettes with expert lighting by Dalton Odell.  There were solo performances, pas de deux between men and women, women and women, men and men.  At times an emotional outburst of sounds on legato lines of music tones (composition and Sound by Dani Ragan) accompanied each vignette.  It appeared to have evolved from Theatre Games which explored mostly physical and emotional movement as opposed to dance.  It appeared, however, to address historical and personal concepts which seemed to show the impact on humanity.

Slauson Rec Company - Photo by Dalton Odell

Slauson Rec Company – Photo by Dalton Odell

What was most interesting was the uniting and forming of physical patterns that blossomed out into unique and beautiful arrangements, and at times the formations were quite primal, animalistic. There was a formation of crawling bodies, into lines, like dominoes, rocking into position then swallowing up a young woman and man which was cleverly and quite creatively done. Another segment showed the barbarism of man to man in an impressive Greco-Roman Wrestling sparring scene accompanied by Masculine guttural yelling and heaving, which devolved into the act of pulling imaginary knives out of bodies.  It was an explicit powerful moment.

On the other hand, what appeared to be shock for its own sake, a flash of a young woman feigning vomiting straight out at the audience with hardly any subtext, appeared to be inserted in the piece simply for effect.

This piece was strong on impingement, however, difficult to interpret for meaningful impact. The transitions were choppy leaving continuity behind with hardly a resolution. Finally in a ritualistic moment, the group circles a young girl.  She is then lifted as kind of sacrifice at the end…perhaps to life, youth, God, it’s not clear. The act of trying to say too much fails to give clear meaning to this piece.

JA Collective - Photo by Jake Lanza

JA Collective – Photo by Jake Lanza

A Collective WRENZ KALOOGY – Having seen JA Collective last year and being struck with the unique talent of Aidan Carberry and Jordan Johnson, perhaps expectations were too high. Their volume of experience gathered in one year with Capezio’s Ace Awards First Runner Up, and the Now Not Yet World tour, may have briefly explained the dichotomy of what appeared onstage this time.

Wrenz Kaloogy began with a lovely young Stephanie Dai slowly walking from back left of the Black Box stage to a desk down right. The desk was replete with a reading lamp, sticky notes, pens and a notebook. She scribbles notes then judiciously sticks them on the lamp and desk.  Then she speaks.  She lays out a kind of Ten Commandments, reciting quick precepts , Overcome evil with Good, Weep with those who weep…and on it goes for several minutes.

The execution of this piece was a number of quick scenarios that were more theatre than dance. Some quite interesting and unique.  Dai’s rich but repetitive “Armography”…popping, locking, slithering snake-like, unique and quite endless movements, went on too long without evolution.  There was hope of some resolution to the happenings in front of us.  Then they moved on to a collage of bodies that slowly unraveled into movement sculptures, knotting and unwinding jacket sleeves, arms and legs.  They next moved to a bench which evolved into quite an intricate shell game of arm patterns set initially with a smiling character centered between male and female.  This scene ended victorious by Dai’s outsmarting Carberry and Johnson.

JA Collective - Photo by Jake Lanza

JA Collective – Photo by Jake Lanza

This morphs into a kind of foot puppet show replete with a red nose placed on the arch of the foot, with a set of three stacked microwaves popping popcorn for this event. The bags of the popped corn was then passed out through the audience. When done, we were carried up center to a violist and cellist, whose arms were then intertwined with the three movement artists.  It was then topped with more Dai fascinating yet interminable movements and back to the desk.

All fascinating, but the question is, to what end? This young talented group surely can narrow it down to more than a set of “interesting” scenes.  Perhaps taking one scene, integrating it and resolving it may have been a better decision for story and spirit.  The way it appeared was that it was a set of jokes or magic tricks, and what we lost was the humanity, dance and brilliance that was in their last performance.  It would have touched us with a kind of resolution of spirit.  This time it was an exercise in flimflam artistry when this talented group definitely has the intelligence to make a true and authentic mark.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Collective, January 28, 2020.

Dance at the Odyssey continues through February 9, 2020.  For information and tickets, click here.

Featured image: JA Collective – Photo by Jake Lanza