On Sunday, May 15, 2022, I attended the final performance of Bret Easterling’s intense, hour long work BRECHT at the L.A. Dance Project in Los Angeles. If John Cage were alive, he would have thoroughly enjoyed the evening, primarily because of how Easterling integrated the composer and the recording devices into his performance.
Easterling, Artistic Director of BE MOVING, was already performing as the audience entered the space and seating was placed along the perimeter of the space, making this a theater in the round experience. Twelve microphones and their stands were placed throughout the space, attached at their bases by black rope or cord. Seated at a table in one corner was Los Angeles-based, international composer, percussionist, and producer Maxwell Transue who utilized the sounds captured by the microphones to build the sound score live. Here again, evoking memories of electronic composers such as John Cage, David Tudor, Gordon Mumma and others who worked with Merce Cunningham and other dance artists during the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and beyond.
For the work’s title, Easterling inserted the German work “echt” meaning “authentic and Typical” into his first name Bret. So, Bret became Brecht. Though not mentioned in the program, the work definitely led me to think of the German theatre practitioner, playwright, and poet Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) who developed “Epic theatre”. Artists involved in this genre generally created plays that responded to the social and political climate of their time. Via his choice of movement styles, vocals and interacting with the microphones, Easterling produced a dramatic evening while becoming the center of visual intensity, emotional journeys, and references to current political and social traumas around the world.
A former member of the Tel Aviv based Batsheva Dance Company, Ohad Naharin’s influence is visible in Easterling’s movement vocabulary, but it is not what is prevalent or important to the work. What BRECHT accomplishes is a total integration of every element, both artistic and technical. Easterling does not simply speak into the microphone, he moves them around the space, knocks them over, and builds an enclosure center stage to broadcast his developed over time phrase “Hello, can you hear me?”
Easterling understands how to structure and increase a scene to its apex, and he does so here in several different ways. This work is also an experience for the audience. There is no interaction with Easterling, but he pulls one into the space, assails ones senses, evokes mental images that cause one to do more for the world, and except for the very end, BRECHT is rarely predictable.
Transue’s stunning music score slowly appeared as a rhythmic beat for Easterling to react to with repetitive movements. He created environments for Easterling to exploit and then his music helped us to relax only to assault and test one’s auditory senses. R.S. Buck accomplished these same qualities with their lighting. Different colors from four lighting instruments introduced a new section and a slow pulsating white light that developed into what felt like an inescapable strobe light trap brought one to the edge of panic.
I was wonderfully exhausted at the end of BRECHT. Easterling provided more than just fine dancing. It was a tour de force of emotions and stamina for all.
To learn more about Bret Easterling and BE MOVING, please visit their WEBSITE.
To find out more about what is happening at L.A. Dance Project, please visit their WEBSITE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Bret Easterling in “BRECHT” – Photo by Sophie Kuller
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