Los Angeles Dance Review: STRINGS ATTACHED (Voices Carry, Inc. at the Shakespeare Center of L.A.)

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by Tony Frankel on October 13, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


At first, the geometric shape dangling from thin cables in the fly loft appears simply as an “X”. Manipulated by slightly concealed upstage puppeteers, this creation–made up of thin green slats connected by small o-rings–morphs like a piece of paper manipulated by an origami artist. Soon, it will become an animated, continually shape-shifting organism.


Then four dancers enter the stage in silence at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, beginning to interact. After the introduction of Ariel Blumenthal’s original score (electronica with all its halting, beeping and thumping), movement artist Valerie Braaten will move towards the abstract puppet, at times seemingly swallowed up by the contortionistic puzzle box. Then, Raymond Ejiofor and Annalee Traylor perform a duet, followed by an addition of Junji Dezaki. All four dancers will continually mold around each other, sometimes supporting, in a contemporary sort of stylized high-speed voguing by choreographer Christopher Bordenave.


What’s going on here? This is “Entrapment,” the first vignette of Strings Attached–The Ties That Make Us Human, an hour-long interdisciplinary avant garde work presented by Voices Carry, Inc. Navigated by Artistic Director Madeline Leavitt, Strings Attached has at its core an examination of love. Disconnected love. Sad love. Joyful love. People are becoming more disconnected in our modern world and “this work,” Leavitt wrote, “is about finding the path back to true human interaction and real emotion.”


This world premiere cross-genre work is smothered with talent: Musicians, puppeteers, dancers, technicians and designers all get to show off their assets, as the dancers mesh with the puppets to explore love’s splintered emotions (the other five vignettes involve “Forgiveness,” “Grief,” “Devotion,” and “Joy”).


As with any abstract, contemporary work, there is a gap between what we see (which is subject to interpretation here) and the intentions of the creators. While there is no doubt as to the emotional work through the movement and music, I found little emotionalism in the puppetry. Which is not to say the puppetry work wasn’t fascinating in design and beautifully executed by Marie Bergenholtz, Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh, Drew McCourt, Liz Nankin, and Lauren Monti Silva. This recommended evening was better for me when I just let the art flood over me instead of trying to understand the objectives.


The clearest piece involved both devotion and joy. Puppeteer Lisa McNeely, wearing a perky-red, turn-of-the-century inspired beach outfit, cavorted with a small dog puppet, appearing to be made up of haphazard balls of multicolored yarns. She then jumped into a canvas bathtub, drinking a martini, as the dancers in loose white skivvies prepared for a date, maybe; all of them were adorned in whimsical wigs that looked like soap bubbles. (The music in this vignette was “Rapture” by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein.)


I loved how the artists were allowed to show off so many different styles because of the individual chapters. Blumenthal’s score consists of an aching, mournful, electronic string quartet; leisurely, playful Ragtime; funky disco; techno; a sort of medieval harp, or even no music at all. Given the theme, Bordenave came up with floor writhing, sharp angles, rambunctious bumping, runway modeling, jumping, and more. Costume Designer Stephanie Petagno had a blast creating a gallimaufry of styles, some appearing almost unfinished and others like futuristic lounge wear (the soap-bubble wigs were a truly ingenious touch).


Lisa D. Lechuga, collaborating with production designer Evan A. Bartoletti, designed and choreographed the puppets, offering extraordinarily original creations. Especially effective was large shimmering fabric (one peach-colored, one rose-) that would descend from the ceiling like slow-moving jellyfish.


The final piece, which had Dezaki in a 70s’ lime-green jump suit interacting with a mother of pearl fabric puppet, was beautiful to watch but the abstraction became a bit lulling, so Strings Attached ended just in time (when Dezaki danced shirtless earlier in the evening, it really was quite breathtaking).


photos by Silva Spross


strings-attached-8Strings Attached
Voices Carry, Inc.
in collaboration with No)one. Art House
The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles
1238 West First Street, Downtown
ends on October 16, 2016
for tickets, call 310.710.7613
or visit Brown Paper Tickets
for more info, visit Voices Carry

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