The 5th annual “Dance At The Odyssey” runs from June 2nd through July 16th. With the guidance of producer/curator Barbara Mueller-Wittmann and associate artistic director Beth Hogan, the Odyssey has created performance opportunities for emerging contemporary dance artists and companies. The intimate black box theater is the perfect place to present new and ongoing work. Sunday June 5th was the perfect opportunity for me to see L.A. Contemporary Dance Company’s world premier of “Dancing In Snow.”
Choreographer Roderick George brings his poetic eye to the stage as out of the black box, chalky figures appear dressed from head to toe in white “Gatsbyesque” garb, their faces obscured by netting. The initial music, a compilation of pop tunes of the 50’s, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, The Crew Cuts, etc., makes for an amusing canvas from which George creates engaging and intriguing movement. His dance vocabulary runs the gamut from modern to jazz, ballet to street, with a deft touch of musical theater tossed in. The movement emanates from the core with the torso always in use and the arms beautifully rendered. With small gestures or perhaps a nod of the head George captures the musical accents and innuendo throughout. He understands the need to keep the stage moving, yet also knows when to slow it down for a solo or unison work. I was instantly drawn in.
As the dance moved forward, the music slowly drifted to an electronic score with an occasional overlay of the 50’s/60’s retro tunes. The lighting, nicely designed by Claire Chrzan, moved from shadowy white to yellowish while the movement became more aggressive. All of George’s work is original and easy to watch as one move flows seamlessly to another. What becomes clear is that he is not conveying the message he means to send. With the progression of the electronic score the dancers begin to shed their white clothes to reveal themselves as a diverse group in barely there rehearsal clothes.
When one female dancer steps forward to recite a monologue it is joltingly out of synch with what has gone before and unfortunately we could not hear much of what she said over the score. As she speaks, a male dancer appears wearing brightly colored leotards while bringing out a rack of clothes which he displays, to what end, is the question. With most of the choreography working well, this felt like an indulgent add on. Fortunately, the wail of a siren sent the dancers running for shelter and thus the dance began again. Though the reasoning for the siren was unclear, it was a relief when they resumed what they do best, dance. The excellent performers are Kate Coleman, Jamila Glass, Nicole Hagen, Colleen Hendricks, JM Rodriquez, Ryan Ruiz, and guest artists, Edgar Aguirre, Sam McReynolds, and Dave X.
The dancing continues apace and again the steps are interesting, the staging is inventive and the dancers give it their all but this section bogs down along with the repetitive electronic score. The dancers struggled with some of the lifts and partnering but the confident solos helped to boost this final half of the show.
In the program notes George states that “Dancing In Snow” is “a metaphor for those who have had to assimilate into a society of White America.” He also states that this work is “about Black and Queer experiences and how cultural appropriation and tokenism separate Black dancing and culture from Black bodies.” None of this was evident by virtue of the choreography. Even having read the notes I did not see this on the stage. At no point was anyone shunned, no action indicated an “otherness,” in fact it was whimsically entertaining.
There is no doubt that Roderick George is an accomplished choreographer and I would be happy to take the work as presented without delving too deeply. However, because he based this work on the above statements, it is reasonable to expect the narrative to be on the stage. This I did not see. To fulfill such complex concepts sometimes a more literal approach is better. Clearly the opening costumes of white are meant to be an indictment of white society, but that is not enough to bring his view to fruition. With more thought and focus, these questions can be answered by Mr. George as he moves forward in his career. I will be looking forward to seeing what he does next.
The commitment from the Odyssey to this summer dance festival is extraordinary and so appreciated by the dance community. Perhaps, other theater companies will follow in their footsteps and give more opportunities to nascent companies. We can only hope.
The original Music is by slowdanger. Co-costume designers are Robert Huerta and Ashley Kayombo with consultant Kelsey Vidic. Jamila Glass is the Artistic Director and Napoleon Gladley is the Executive Director.
There is still a chance for readers to see Roderick George’s “Dancing In Snow” this weekend, June 9 – 12, 2022. To purchase tickets, click, HERE.
To learn more about L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, please visit their WEBSITE.
To see the full lineup of “Dance at the Odyssey” and to purchase tickets, Please click HERE.
To learn more about The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, please visit their WEBSITE.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: LACDC in “Dancing In Snow” by Roderick George – Photo by @TasoPapadakis for L.A. Contemporary Dance Company.