Trisha Brown Dance Company
The Retrospective Project
UCLA Center for the Art of Performance at Royce Hall
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Trisha Brown Dance Company in I'm going to toss my arms–if you catch them they’re yours
Photo by Stephanie Berger
Trisha Brown’s choreography abstracts movement. Period, end of conversation. Try as one might, it seems impossible to pull meaning, story, even “entertainment” out of her works. If, however, one is satisfied to consider her work as movement per se, her ideas stimulate at least interest and appreciation, at best fascination and awe.
CAP UCLA, the university’s performing arts center, curated this collection of Brown’s work (more is continuing at various UCLA-affiliated venues). The evening “Performance A” comprised a range of Brown’s works, from early to her latest, from a solo to complex group choreographies, from frenetic perpetual motion to slightly more placid dances. One can visualize the magnificent young Brown (she is now 76) dancing each of them, so distinctive is her work.
Set and Reset is Brown’s iconic 1983 dance. It’s a half-hour piece set to Laurie Anderson’s original, chattering score titled “Long Time No See,” accented by bells and drums. Eight dancers (Tara Lorenzen, Megan Madorin, Leah Morrison, Tamara Riewe, Jamie Scott, Stuart Shugg, Nicholas Strafaccia, and Samuel Wentz) were draped in diaphanous fabric vaguely resembling large newsprint. Years ahead of their time, costuming and visuals were designed by Brown’s reliable collaborator Robert Rauschenberg. The stage’s wings are translucent, so the audience can watch as the dancers prepare for entrances and wilt in exhaustion on exiting. The dancers invariably did both. The piece consists of manic perpetual motion, seemingly random—obviously not, though—until relatively far in, when first two dancers and then more dance in unison. Exhilarating to watch, it’s even more exhilarating to ponder its creation and structure.
Next on the evening’s program, Brown’s 1978 solo Watermotor featured Samuel Wentz. The three-minute piece is a charming etude in which the dancer, clad in grey sweats, works in movement impulses that occasionally develop into a finished phrase.
Foray Forêt, from 1990, starts with dancers in silhouette against a cyc lit in deep purple. The eight dancers from Set and Reset, joined by Neal Beasley, wore Rauschenberg’s coppery-gold costumes. The 35-minute piece provided the evening’s first moments of stillness. It begins in silence, as movement develops from single dance steps. Occasionally the steps were recognizable, such as the expansive leg sweep of a grand rond de jambe en l’air. Movement periodically led to pauses, as dancers struck Egyptian-pictograph poses. Hands and feet peeked from the wings, building anticipation.
Music for Foray is credited to “traditional” and is played by marching bands from neighboring schools. This evening the Hamilton High School Marching Yankee Band displayed its chops, even though the musicians played outside the theater as their sounds reverberated through walls and drifted under doorways.
In the moments of silence, dancers seemed to stay in unison by glancing at each other. Normally not permitted, nor expected, in a professional performance, the “informality” lends an academic-study feel to the piece.
The troupe, minus Scott, lastly offered a 30-minute work said to be Brown’s last: the 2011 I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours. Its title comes from a transcript of a rehearsal, part of directions from Brown to her dancers. A portion of the transcript, reprinted in the program, allows great insight into her creative process and the work the dancers do, the understanding and kinship they have with her, to be able to derive movement from her words.
On a bare stage—no backdrop or wings—the piece features huge wind machines. The air stirs the dancers and their identical loose-fitting white trousers and tops, eventually peeled off to reveal bright-colored leotards and shorts (costumes by Kaye Voyce). Dancers gather as if members of a group, then strike off on their own to take on their own personas. Original music, by Alvin Curran, titled “Toss and Find” as fits Brown’s directions to her dancers, consists of notes in octaves, played on horns, piccolo, and harmonica.
Brown’s dancers, though flawless in her choreography and certainly stageworthy, don’t concern themselves with “performing.” There’s not much of the presentational in their presence. In the audience, the professional contemporary dancers, dance students, and dance lovers clearly found this evening to their satisfaction. Others in the audience had hoped she would speak more directly to them.
April 15, 2013
Pennington Dance Group at ARC Pasadena
Reviewed by Pamela Hurley Diamond
Photo by Frances Chee
Four intriguing and intelligent dances whose choreography, musical scores, and sensibilities were culled from influences spanning 100 years constituted Pennington Dance Group’s Traversing Time/s.
Five dancers in filmy cape-like garments flowed onstage for The Goodman Dances, choreographed by John Pennington with music by Alexander Zemlinsky, whose art songs were inspired by period Germanic poetry and cogitate on the nature of love. Detailed, nuanced, and beautiful, the dance was an evocative, classically modern piece imbued with naturalistic movements and a soft, precise fluidity that’s often more difficult to achieve than an oh-so-showy athleticism. In solo after solo, the dancers embodied elements of nature, with hands fluttering and feet skittering like autumn leaves and with draperies that floated behind like the wings of doves.
Li Chang Rothermich’s solo crackled with energy from head to toes, an inner fire burning through fierce barrel turns and strong slow balances. By contrast, Michael Szanyi brought sprightly timing and a graceful expressionism to his solo, deftly emoting his character to create a visual poem.
Choreographed by Pennington with music by Mary Lou Newmark and Edgar Rothermich, Overlay was originally a collaboration with the London-based Yorke Dance Project. Here Pennington gave his modern moves a slight contemporary feel, and the dancers embraced them with a clean, effortless cohesion. Backed by the score’s rather jarring, techno beat, they edged in and out of spotlights and swung back and forth like pendulums engendering tension and a weighted serenity born of confidence: These dancers seem mature beyond their years, and that emotive quality played well in the intimate space of ARC.
Pennington danced the iconic solos of Tänze vor Gott, choreographer Harald Keutzberg’s 1927 dark jewel, reprised and with new choreography by Lew Thomas and Pennington, with music by Paul Des Marais based on the original scores by Friederich Wilckens. In much the same way that Baryshnikov can command a role—and a room—by the simplest step or sweep of an arm, Pennington wowed with his opening moves: a slow, stately turning of his head, the slight gesture of a hand to his face. The intensity of emotion pierced the air. It’s a silent scream of a dance, a work in which the costume (here a stone-grey tunic and cape) sculpts its wearer—expressing tension, anger, fear as it whips and binds, much like the shroud in Martha Graham’s 1930 Lamentations. Pennington’s swirling cape unfurled like fate as his clasped hands pled; it spilled around him like wet cement when he fell forward to the ground in supplication.
At first glance a puff of a piece, the premiere of PODCAST—with extra text by the cast, a witty sound collage by Pennington, and score by Tom Peters—proved its worthiness in the end. It was an interesting juxtaposition to follow such heavy drama with seeming fluff, but while the dancers romped in cartoon color jogging suits and bright T-shirts reacting to fictionalized podcasts, they began to take on a cultish cheerfulness that engendered questions about the podcasts’ meaning.
While Tänze vor Gott explored the angst of the inner, PODCAST offered a sendup of the outer: today’s focus on attention, expression, going with the crowd. The not-so-silent scream, perhaps? In the end, Pennington’s deft choreography had the dancers stumbling backwards like zombies, one hand on their headsets and one hand outstretched toward the audience. Are podcasts the genesis of the possible zombie apocalypse everyone is talking about, or do they just represent our ongoing quest for self-expression? Is it healthier to hold it in or to let it all hang out? Perhaps not even Pennington knows the answer.
December 27, 2012
Sic Transit (Space) Gloria
Diavolo Dance Theater brings its newest ‘modern acrobatic dance’ piece to The Broad Stage.
by Pamela Hurley Diamond
you discover that French-born artistic director and self-proclaimed
rebel-with-a-cause Jacques Heim earned his early creds as a street
performer in Paris, dancing with friends on cars and in the subway in
what sounds like a très-cool takeoff on the movie Fame, the origin of the avant-garde architectural aesthetic that drives his Los
Angeles–based Diavolo Dance Theater becomes immediately clear.
early non-conformist who admits he was kicked out of several schools as a
youth, Heim stayed true to himself, emigrated to America, and found a
home in the dance department at Middlebury College, Vt., where he earned
a BFA in theater, dance, and film, and where he discovered, “it didn’t
matter that they couldn’t understand my accent.”
Speaking by cell
from Holland, he continues, “It was only years later that I realized my
fascination with architecture came from the streets of Paris. One was
rebelling against schools and the rules of Paris. I was kicked out of
six schools; it was too rigid, too exclusive. So I did a lot of
performing in the streets and later realized I was connecting with the
environment; I realized how fragile we are, how powerful the environment
is, yet also how powerful we are.” It was at Middlebury that he fell in
love with the power of movement and in California—where he received an
MFA in choreography from California Institute of the Arts—where he began
to experiment with space, architectural structure, and their effects on
movement. “That’s how it started,” he says.
Heim formed Diavolo in
1992, and the company has been astounding audiences since with its blend
of dance, drama, gymnastics, and athletics, spiced by surrealistic sets
and unusual structures. Its 14 multitalented performers tackle an array
of works that “explore challenges and relationships.”
The Boards at The
Diavolo brings the California premiere of Transit Space to Santa
Monica’s The Broad Stage this weekend. [show closed] The piece originated at Penn
State University, where the company was in residence, and grew out of a
grant the campus had received, the theme of which was “the secret life
of public spaces.” Inspired by the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys,
the new work is edgy and urban, culling Diavolo’s trademark intensity,
energy, and connectivity to create an abstract take on the
The title of the piece grew out of an intensive
workshop at Penn State. The company had invited students from the dance,
architecture, and landscape architecture departments to participate.
Using skateboard ramps, students experimented with movement and
afterwards discussed what they had seen and experienced. They came up
with the title Transit Space—meaning the space between the physical and
the mental. Says Heim: “In our life we are always in transit, whether
physically or mentally, and we have to navigate between them.
Skateboarders are, too—they’re always looking ahead to the next, higher
“I was always fascinated with skateboard ramps and parks and
inspired by skateboard movement,” he says. “A long time ago I saw a
documentary about a group of friends, all a bit rebellious. Their life
was all about skateboarding, it was all ‘how can we go further.’ As soon
as the group was together, there was strength and power, but
individually not. Transit Space began to emerge about a group of people
who can function together, who belong with one another and are trying to
connect. It is not about skateboarding but about the philosophy behind
In creating the piece, the company worked with 17- and
18-year-olds. The group spoke about skateboarding and the reputation it
has for “disturbing the peace.” On the contrary, says Heim, “I would say
they are very much bringing peace within themselves.” He asked one, “Do
you worry you will get hurt?” The youngster replied, “If you worry
about everything that is going to happen, you cannot move forward in
So, notes Heim, “They are very much Zen, at peace. There is a
looseness of movement that as adults we forget about. They just have to
be completely relaxed and at one with the board. With Transit Space it’s
about the unit, and one individual connects with the group. To be able
to function at peace with himself, to go further in life, he needs the
As is usual with Heim’s artistic process, he brought in other
artists to collaborate on the piece. Steve Connell, a spoken-word
artist, wrote all the text, which has been recorded and intertwined with
a musical score by Paul James Prendergast. Physical-interactive
designers David and Valeria Beaudry created sensors that are placed in
the dancers costumes; when the dancers touch their costumes at certain
points, the text begins. Additionally, sensors under the skateboard-like
props allow the music to start when the performers jump on. This gives a
sense of immediacy that is important to Heim: “In one scene of
freeways, the dancers go up ramps and there’s the sounds of cars. The
audience doesn’t know about the sensors—and it’s not about the audience
knowing—the point is the immediate response. A board operator will not
be able to move with the speed of the dancers. Immediate response,
immediate interactive movement and sound, is more real.”
Diavolo in the
Calling himself “the most dyslexic and un-flexible artistic
director you will ever meet,” Heim says he loves the process of
collaborating with his dancers. When he’s working with them, he says,
he’s “extracting their minds.” For Transit Space he sent his performers
home with homework: to deconstruct skateboard movement and explore other
movement that used the imagery of Connell’s words, “which are layers of
metaphors for connection, disconnection, going away, freeways, and
getting lost not only physically but mentally.” The piece fuses everyday
movement with ballet, modern dance, hip-hop, and martial arts. Added
in, says Heim, are his favorite themes of chaos, borders, danger,
survival, love, faith, deconstruction, and reconstruction. “That’s the
company in a nutshell!”
“I am driven by passion,” says Heim. “When we
watch rehearsal, I drive my dancers crazy. It’s not anger, it is
passion, and I will push them physically and mentally until they cannot
stand it, and then I can touch them, find their passion. Then they feel
more like gladiators or heroes. They are ready to climb Everest, they
are ready to fly.”
He says his efforts are not so much about the work on
stage but about the dancers respecting one another, pushing one
another. “It’s funny how some dance companies look at us, wondering if
what we do is dance because our work is very abstract, very visual,” he
says. “You can just feel the wow factor. For me it is a load of crap.
For me, going to the supermarket and watching carts in the aisles is a
form of dance.”
September 27, 2012
Top photo: Jacques Heim, courtesy Diavolo Dance Theater.
Middle photo: Transit Space, photo by Julie Shelton.
Bottom photo: Transit Space, photo by Michael Misciagno.
Compagnie Étant Donné at Theatre Raymond Kabbaz
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Frédérike Unger (in silhouette) and Jérôme Ferron (as her mirror image)
Frédérike Unger and Jérôme Ferron are charming, well-schooled dancers, and their choreography of duets and solos that make up En Aparté provokes thought and appeals to the eye.
At least what can be seen of it appeals to the eye. The two introduce
themselves to the audience by heel-toeing a Crawl to music that sounds
suspiciously like “Honky Tonk Woman” on xylophone. Then they get down to
the business of an ordinary day, as they reveal the joys and quirks of
sitting, eating, showering, dressing, bickering, and trying to sleep.
These French dancers’ choice of and use of music is elegant and
appropriate. Bach’s Prelude No. 1 accompanies the couple’s entrance
through their front door, as a video projection creates chalk drawings
of doors and later of a full kitchen. A transcription for piano of
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 underscores Unger as she “dresses.”
Thank goodness for these aural pleasures, because too much of the
work is obscured under dim lighting or behind sheer curtains and flats.
Someone overdirected this piece, not letting the dance tell its own
story. Ferror engages in a small battle in trying to don and remove his
sweater, but he does so in the dimmest of lighting. That duskiness
should have been limited to Unger’s efforts to sleep, her restless night
turning into hilariously gymnastic feats.
The one section that belongs behind a screen is Unger’s shower, in
which she washes herself, everywhere, to comedic effect. But the couple
bickering across a dinner table, performed behind a sheer curtain,
conceals the dancers’ expressive faces.
The piece’s most effective, most enjoyable moment, as it happens,
plays out in the brighter lighting. Unger wears a crisp white dress, as
she admires herself in a “mirror.” We assume she’s trying it on in a
store, using a three-way mirror; certainly no self-respecting French
woman would appear in public in that dress while wearing black socks.
She tussles to reach the zipper. Soon, Ferron becomes her “mirror
image.” One can imagine her distress at seeing a much larger image
reflecting back at her. She and her image play, they frolic à la Marx brothers, and then they develop a companionship each will miss when they part.
Another highlight, no pun intended, is a pillow fight, performed in
spectacularly good slow motion. Even the pillow seems to cooperate,
appearing to move slowly with the dancers.
The production here, lasting 45 minutes, was designated for young
audiences (and their families), ages 6 and up. A pleasing number of such
viewers attended. In the main, their interest during the performance
seemed to ebb and flow. Then again, a little girl in the front row
turned to her father the instant the program ended. She clasped him in a
spontaneous hug and exclaimed, “I loved it! Thank you!”
April 5, 2013
Arcosm Co. at Theatre Raymond Kabbaz
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Emilien Gobard, Matthieu Benigno, Anne-Cécile Chane-Tune, and Alexandre Esperet
A bit of the ballet Le Spectre de la Rose haunts this piece by French contemporary dance troupe Arcosm. The lights come up on a man asleep in an armchair. But instead of gently awakening him and inviting him to liltingly waltz, his visitors shake him out of his daily complacency.
The man (Emilien Gobard) goes about his highly structured routine in his modular kitchen. He walks in straight, not curved, paths. He crisply prepares his morning beverage and toast; he obsessively straightens his oven mitt. He lives an orderly life, predicting to the second when his newspaper will arrive.
Suddenly his doorbell announces newness: the arrival of a pretty, friendly woman (Anne-Cécile Chane-Tune). She borrows his pepper mill. His walls shake, his toaster shoots projectile toast, and his kitchen is invaded by strangers.
Choreographed by Thomas Guerry, composed by Camille Rocailleux, this is a story of letting go of strictures and finding enjoyment, whether in one’s sleeping subconscious or in full awareness. The man is visited first by a wild-and-crazy guy (Matthieu Benigno) in a pale pink suit, then by a sort of human dust devil (Alexandre Esperet). Dishes get thrown into the trash, doorways get moved, the man and his life are turned upside down, and all is done with dovetailing rhythms the dancers bang out with household implements against cabinets and countertops.
The man treats the woman shabbily, almost brutishly at first; Chane-Tune and Gobard’s first pas de deux is jerky and disquieting. The man seems to eventually learn how to treat a woman, and the dances become more supporting and frolicsome.
They also become chattier. The woman can’t recall what she wanted to ask for; the mimed conversation turns to voiced gibberish, then to a quartet of “Oh, my God” (yes, the French troupe speaks English words whilst Charles de Gaulle spins) as the man tries to fit in with the crowd. The four eventually dance in unison as the man seemingly absorbs a little fun and a little disorder in his life and finds helpmates in the visitors.
The dancers are exceptionally well-versed in Guerry’s style, which distills everyday activities into nearly unrecognizable yet natural motion. The dancers’ dynamics are strong and clear, and the complex rhythms they drum and stamp feel relaxed yet sound precise. Rocailleux’s playful score is eclectic, including lines for marimba (which Benigno and Esperet expertly mime at an onstage instrument). The lighting plot was surprisingly lavish for this unfortunately one-night-only stop in Los Angeles.
This one-hour work seemed ample for an audience satisfyingly including school-age children. Traverse could also be paired with any of the classic fairy tale ballets, including perhaps—in a wry bit of programming, considering the visits here from the generous fairies of hedonism and sloppiness—the prologue from Sleeping Beauty.
Show closed. For upcoming programming, www.theatreraymondkabbaz.com.
Sundays Only in NoHo
MKM Cultural Arts Center
“A program of new dance works accompanied by live music.”
Martin Dancers, directed and choreographed by Shirley Martin, with world music by Chant Et Voyage.
Musicians include Carlos Cuba, Kamal, Henry Mejias, and Andres Vadin Vales.
Dancers include Avital Aboody, Michelle Atwood, Shiva Bulgeri,
Monisha Garner, Brittany Lawless, Colby Nelson, Glor Parong, and Amye
11401 N. Chandler Blvd. Last Sunday of the month, 4pm.
Glorya Kaufman Dance at the Music Center
The Joffrey Ballet
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Alonzo King Lines Ballet
American Ballet Theatre