“I’m trying to remem—hi. Hi.” Spenser Theberge greets audience members with fragments as they file in for Intimates. He’s genuinely saying hello (he’s talking to you, yes you, it’s been a while!), and musician/composer Maxwell Transue is seated upstage left, building a score. Theberge is trying to recall how it went, asking out loud as he tries out versions of effortless steps, in search of a phrase, a feeling, a movement, or maybe all three.

Los Angeles Performance Practice’s LAX Festival lineup is stacked this year, running just over a month and featuring a fantastic cohort of artists. On Saturday, Theberge drew a crowd to L.A. Dance Project, everyone packed ear-to-ear across the benches.

Spenser Theberge in his solo "Intimates" - Photo ©Michael C. Palma

Spenser Theberge in his solo “Intimates” – Photo ©Michael C. Palma

He’s still casual, conversational, as he challenges the audience to investigate with him. They speak into the mic, they cradle his elbow in their hand and send it through as he spirals.

“Well, except you actually have to do it,” he prompts them. He wants us to be involved, rather than pantomiming the interaction. Theberge is funny, friendly — a warm sort of passive-aggressive tone as he coaxes audience members into doing it just the way he wants. Being told you’re doing it wrong has never felt so endearing.

Spenser Theberge in his solo "Intimates" - Photo ©Michael C. Palma

Spenser Theberge in his solo “Intimates” – Photo ©Michael C. Palma

From what I’ve seen in Theberge’s past work, which is usually made with his partner Jermaine Spivey, there’s often a foundation of investigation and improvisation. They lose the fourth wall in favor of collaboration with the audience or each other, favoring process over a traditional performative product. That’s not to say Theberge lacks performance. His sparkle is in full view. He tries on several characters and affects, switching on a dime. He’s curious with each step, still trying to remember, and playful. He’s delightful, and he can make us laugh with just a flick of his toes.

As he searches, the ambience ebbs and flows too. Transue, on sound, is responding live as Theberge asks for more bounce, for less of that effect. He’s accommodating and unfazed, smiling the most genuine smile and continuing to shape and form the tone. Christine Ferriter on lights obliges each time Theberge says, “actually Christine, that’s not it,” cueing soft tone shifts with ease, almost bringing us into a different room.

(L-R) Maxwell Transue, Spenser Theberge in "Intimates" - Photo ©Michael C. Palma

(L-R) Maxwell Transue, Spenser Theberge in “Intimates” – Photo ©Michael C. Palma

Through it all, Theberge’s movement improvisation appears so natural, a second language waning in and out of the foreground. The ease with which he can deconstruct, reverse, reorient each movement, return to physical memories, is impeccable and effortless, and even more important: interesting.

So it’s particularly humanizing when he stops to share what and why he’s trying to remember, which is the feeling of creating work with Spivey. This is a show about missing — missing several things — he notes in the program. He misses Spivey’s “I don’t know,” a challenge to his “should it go like this?”

Spenser Theberge in his solo "Intimates" - Photo ©Michael C. Palma

Spenser Theberge in his solo “Intimates” – Photo ©Michael C. Palma

It’s comforting to see an artist I admire so deeply confess that he questions what he makes. He’s suddenly blurred the line between curiosity and self-doubt. And he continues to remember, to search. It went something like this…

As he gets closer to and further away from his memories, their absence takes on a whole new meaning. Intimates seems to be Theberge’s way of challenging our expectations for payoff. What if the searching, the process, is actually the thing? If it’s always this lovely, I’ll gladly stay and participate.

For more information about the Los Angeles Performance Practice’s LAX Festival LAX, please visit their website.

To learn more about Spenser Theberge, please visit his website.

Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Spenser Theberge in his solo Intimates – Photo ©Michael C. Palma.