Backhausdance appeared last week in the Janes Theater located in the beautiful MUSCO Center for the Arts on the campus of Chapman University. Founder and Artistic Director of Backhausdance, Jennifer Backhaus is on the Department of Dance faculty at Chapman University and was recently the recipient of Chapman’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award. She is also the recipient of three Lester Horton Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography.

For this concert, Backhaus presented only one of her own works, two by guest choreographer and performer Ido Tadmor and one by Walter Matteini with Ina Broeckx. The Backhaus dancers are strong, talented and versatile performers, and it was they who sustained the evening. All but the work by Matteini were, in my opinion, too long considering the material presented.

Ido Tadmor in “Netta” – Photo by Doug Gifford

Before joining the dance faculty at Chapman, Ido Tadmor was Artistic Director of the Israeli Ballet (2014 to 2016) and led his own Tel Aviv-based company for 13 years. He is a recipient of Israel’s esteemed Landau Prize in 2011 for lifetime achievement and now works internationally as performer, choreographer and teacher. Performed in silence, Netta was choreographed and performed by Tadmor and its performance was dedicated to his mother, Netta Berdichevsky Tadmor. There were beautiful moments of tenderness, strength and anger, but there were also times when I felt that he was demonstrating how flexible he was or simply showcasing his technique. These would not have bothered me had they been better integrated with the work. Tadmor dropped character during these complex and breathtaking feats of virtuosity, while leaving his subject, Netta, behind. The silence worked beautifully during Tadmor’s introspective moments, but it only accentuated his choreographic weakness. Tadmor is a very strong and beautiful dancer/performer, but this was not one the strongest of his works that I have seen.

Santiago Villarreal, Ellen Akashi – “Beyond the Noise” – Photo by Doug Gifford

Walter Matteini is the Artistic Director and Choreographer for imPerfect Dance Company which is the resident dance company of the Pisa Opera and Ballet Theatre in Italy. Beyond the Noise, by Matteini with Ina Broeckx, is a stunning, dark and lonely work that was performed beautifully by the cast of Backhausdance. Its strength began right away with the opening solo performed with stunning clarity by Katie Hatwick. The work felt lonely due to how Matteini set the dancers apart from each other, brought them together, only to isolate them again. There was a sense of being within the rat race of society, but individually set apart, living privately within oneself and always alone. Matteini with Broeckx investigated relationships, how they falter, fall apart, or if not, how they are forever altered. The other dancers who stood out were the dynamic Ellen Akashi, also an alumna of Chapman University Dance Department, and very talented Santiago Villarreal who is a Backhausdance 2017-2018 Company Apprentice. Backhaus should hang on to Villarreal if possible.

Beyond the Noise is beautifully crafted, without the process being visible. It seamlessly shifts from one scene to the next, section to section without ever becoming repetitive or wearisome. The stark, black and white lighting by Tiffany Williams and the choices of music are perfect for this dance work, giving it a haunting and dreamlike atmosphere.  The dancers not mentioned above included Tawny Chapman, Amie Lee Kilgore, Kaitlin Regan, Chihiro Sano, Megan Seagren, Evan Swenson and Amanda Kay White.

Ellen Akashi, Ido Tadmor – “The Empty Room” – Photo by Doug Gifford

The Empty Room by Tadmor was a look at a couple’s life together from their time of meeting until one of them dies. It is performed with great humor and cleverness by Tadmor and Akashi. It is Akashi’s comedic timing and facial antics that dominated this work. Despite Akashi’s brilliant work, the piece became predictable and the jokes too obvious, causing the work to drag from scene to scene.

The Elasticity of the Almost was choreographed by Backhaus in 2013. It is a wonderful showcase for her dancers and for the multitude of primarily red balls ranging from large marble size to baseball size. The sound of a metronome and the dripping of water, gave the feeling of monotony that life sometimes offers. Backhaus reading from her calendar offered that same sense of regularity and limited time to accomplish a great deal. At first the dance had my attention, but the longer it went on the less I cared. The constant changing of layers of costumes felt unnecessary and at some point, the dance became more about the red balls than about the people. Chihiro Sano was wonderful in her solo with many of the red balls, but there too, it went on and on. Kaitlin Regan was equally wonderful in her brief solo, as was Amanda Kay White.

Backhausdance – “The Elasticity of the Almost” – Photo by Doug Gifford

The music for Backhaus’ work was an interesting fusion of pieces by Erik Leckrone, Ryan Denee, Hasuchika, Diplo, and Alghalem, but the way in which they were spliced together was not sustainable. As the dance progressed, I felt that Backhaus began to depend too heavily on her props, and the props won.

Feature photo: Backhausdance in Beyond the Noise, Photo by Doug Gifford.

To visit the LA Dance Chronicle Calendar of Performances, click here.