Los Angeles Dance Review: YOUTH (L.A. Contemporary Dance Company at Club Fais Do Do)

by Myra Joy Veluz on May 7, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

Post image for Los Angeles Dance Review: YOUTH (L.A. Contemporary Dance Company at Club Fais Do Do)

JUST DANCE

I recently read an email from a dance mentor whose advice for performing was simply, “Let it all go and Dance, Motherfuckers!” I couldn’t help but think back to the email as I watched L.A. Contemporary Dance Company’s closing performance of YOUTH, its Spring Repertory Concert. After three Dance Theater works—which included social commentary, modern dance, and avant garde—I wondered where in the heck all of the dancing went. Was I not paying attention?

From Holly Rothchild's THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH by L.A. Contemporary Dance Company,  photo by Taso Papadakis.

Before Google and smart phones were the main means of entertainment, dance enthusiasts were forced to attend the theater, a magical place where anything and everything happened: 1912 Paris patrons were shocked at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées when world-renowned dancer Nijinsky positioned himself onto all fours and mimed ejaculating at the close of L’après-midi d’un faune. During the 1960s, radical choreographer Yvonne Rainer premiered pieces at Judson Theater where the dancers did nothing but walk and talk, while Alwin Nikolais pioneered the incorporation of props, lights, and electronic music to dance.

From Holly Rothchild's THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH by L.A. Contemporary Dance Company,  photo by Taso Papadakis

Whether with sex, walking, or multi-media (all elements of LACDC’s YOUTH), Dance Theater has been done before. In fact it’s been done so well that nothing today can even compare to the work of avant-garde pioneers. Since LACDC’s cast has well-trained dancers, why was Theater highlighted over Dance? Especially when it seemed that the intentions behind the choreographers’ work was best seen through the soloists in each piece: Drea Sobke in The Better To See You With, Erik Speth in I RAN, and Raymond Ejiofor in Demigods. Each stood out from the ensemble, carried their roles, and danced with rigor. Their work not only complimented the cast but also highlighted the acting portions of the performances.

From Holly Rothchild's THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH by L.A. Contemporary Dance Company - photo by Taso Papadakis.

With 10 scenes set to various music from Dean Martin to Leftover Cuties, Holly Rothschild’s 35-minute The Better To See You With (2011) is a wry and sexual look at “Little Red Riding Hood.” The girls in short tops and panties (in one scene around their knees) come off like Lolitas who often have mixed feelings about enticing the wolves. The men are consistently on the prowl and at one point don bad drag and fluorescent wigs, to which the girls respond, “Grandma, what facial hair you have!” The women are identified as sex objects while the men hungrily seduce them. As Dance Theater, this piece is the strongest in the rep. It could have done without the long introduction of a girl spooning out dog food, but the use of film (by Eric Mason), dark humor, and Rothschild and Kate Hutter’s detailed costumes all work quite well—I love the animal heads.

From Kate Hutter's I RAN, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, photo by Taso Papadakis.

Also in ten scenes, Artistic Director Hutter’s 22-minute I RAN (2009) takes a peek at apathetic adolescents who are undergoing the awkwardness and suffering known as high school. There are very funny and occasionally tender moments as the seven-member ensemble, dressed in school uniforms, endures the discomfort which can come with a prom or clumsy, uncomfortable sex. With traveling monitors on stage, there is often a lot going on, and it can be unclear where to focus. Especially successful was an adorable segment which had blasé performers dancing as though it was a kids’ recital.

From Kate Hutter's I RAN, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company - photo by Taso Papadakis.

Nina McNeely’s Demigods (world premiere), set to original music by Anna Sitko and Robbie Williamson, is not so easy to follow. The press notes state that the 18-minute work is “inspired by the purity, vitality and mystery of children, and the theory that an infant knows all the secrets of the universe when born, but cannot communicate it to the world.” With a spate of spasmodic movement which sometimes looks like slo-mo cheerleading, it’s unclear just what is communicated in the 6 scenes with pretentious subtitles such as “Raze,” “Shun,” and “Cthonic.” The big device here is that Sarah Sach’s Tim Burton-esque costumes each contain wireless lights (LED design by Derek Michael).

From Kate Hutter's I RAN, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company. Photo by Taso Papadakis.

The direct social commentary in The Better To See You With is effective enough with the lack of dancing to which I refer. But I Ran and Demigods would both have been more impactful had the dancing been fuller, more virtuosic, less internal, and less reliant on props such as television sets and light bulb-filled costumes to make a point.

From Nina McNeely’s DEMIGODS by L.A. Contemporary Dance Company - photo by Taso Papadakis.

It is so obvious when the cast jumps and turns that their young and athletic bodies are more than capable of being pushed to the limit, so why not physically challenge them? Any old Joe off of the street can walk, stand, count, and bobble profusely, but not everyone can jump high, turn fast, or extend limbs to the fullest capacity. Therein lies the art of being a dancer.

From Nina McNeely’s DEMIGODS by L.A. Contemporary Dance Company - photo by Taso Papadakis

I applaud the attempts at Dance Theater this past weekend, but for a company whose cast consists of twenty very talented and educated dancers, I so badly wanted all of them to just dance, damn it (Lady Gaga, anyone?). There is nothing wrong with letting the performers move in unison; indeed, rare moments such as these were the best parts. Who needs the awkward slow walks, forced eye contact, TV, and rigged costumes when the dancers can stand on their own? Isn’t that what they trained for their entire lives anyway?

From Nina McNeely’s DEMIGODS by L.A. Contemporary Dance Company. Photo by Taso Papadakis.

photos by Taso Papadakis

YOUTH
L.A. Contemporary Dance Company
Club Fais Do Do in Mid-Town
played May 1 – 4, 2014
for more info, visit www.lacontemporarydance.org

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