September’s dance reckoning in Los Angeles

Dance · featured

For kids, September means back to school; for Jews, it’s the High Holidays. For  dance lovers, an impossible surplus — even a Sophie’s Choice – of hot hot hot dance performances one September weekend. All certainly fun, and because we’re in southern California each option can combine nicely with an outdoor picnic. A particularly nettlesome choice falls on Sept 13, but I plan to jet-ski down to Laguna Beach and then catch a wagon train and trunde up the Cahuenga Pass.

Fri Sept 12: Chitresh Das & Jason Samuels Smith @ Grand Performances

We love it all – yes we do – but this is our top pick for an absolutely fantastic dance performance on a difficult-choice September weekend. The featured guest artist, Chitresh Das, is a showman, a maestro, an adventurer, even a scaliwag. Yes, a scaliwag of dance, and dance needs one. Here Das rekindles his epic encounter with foil Jason Samuels Smith for a blend of Indian kathak with American tap dance. The rhythmic mayhem this duo poured into the REDCAT floorboards in their surprise appearance at this year’s Dance Camera West festival caused paroxysms of joy (loudest bravos from yours truly).

Sat Sept 13: BODYTRAFFIC @ Laguna Dance Festival
Okay, BODYTRAFFIC, you’ve been performing hither and yon, in Boston, with upcoming dates in New Mexico, the Joyce Theater in New York, after that The Broad Stage. But Victor Quijada’s mawkish choreography in your last L.A. outing, Dance Camera West’s opening event, was a letdown … despite boffo placement of sculptor Gustavo Godoy’s yellow clatter of a structure astride the Music Center Plaza. Returning from the “site specific” realm to the concert stage-setting of the Laguna Playhouse, we look forward to the roll-out of new rep in Orange County.

Sat Sept 13: Danny Ezralow Dance @ Ford Amphitheatre
We’re dead curious to see what dance maker Danny Ezralow will bring to the Ford Amphitheatre’s rough-and-tumble yet uncannily intimate outdoor stage. Ezralow (lately of film, lately of Broadway, long of Momix, he is also a showman) will surely prove unfazed by the Ford’s formidable history of annual Easter Pilgrimage pageants. But he’d better scale it down after his last impressive gig, as overlord of opening-ceremony dance doings at the Sochi Olympics. Perhaps a parade down the 101 Freeway? Love the live music to be provided by WILD UP.

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Los Angeles commercial dance gains seriousness, talent 1

Dance · featured

nappytabsCommercial dancers have more fun. That was abundantly clear at last Sunday’s bang-up showcase/reception hosted by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in honor of the nominees for this year’s Emmy Award for Best Choreography.

[At the "Creative Arts Awards," given in advance of the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, August 24, the Emmy for Best Choreography 2014 went to Nappy Tabs, Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo (pictured at left), for contributions to "So You Think You Can Dance," the second such award for the duo.]

The Academy event opened with a celebratory performance, delightfully compact at one-hour long, and hosted by Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) doling out amusing dance jokes to a receptive audience.

The program had as its highlight a rambling work by dance maker Tony Testa, whose spidery group choreography tugged at the underbeat of George Harrison’s plaintive “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Testa’s willingness, and ability, to expand on hip-hop’s expressive capabilities was noteworthy, if only in his charming and unexpected music selection.

The Television Academy continues to win new dance friends, on this occasion by praising dance’s strong  presence on television. Most notable were remarks by Academy President Gail Mancuso, herself a director, who called choreographers a director’s valued partner.

ortegaDirector/choreographer Kenny Ortega, a much revered member of the community, spoke in turn, graciously acknowledging ATAS, and television in general, as a welcome home for dance and dancers. He encouraged choreographers to join ATAS as members for any number of reasons, but a primary perk: to influence voting for Best Choreographer Emmy.

Already high on good vibes, the entire audience then transferred to ATAS’s outdoor plaza for a raucous cocktail hour. If success is measured in decibel levels, ATAS’s midsummer night’s sip-and-schmooze party for dance was a huge win.

But something’s happening here beyond just fun.

There’s a sneaking suspicion that the commercial-dance realm is fostering some of the art form’s most groundbreaking creativity. Certainly it is high spirited, but there is a growing level of craft on view — and ideas as well And it’s happening in Los Angeles.

It could be the accrued impact of 11 broadcast seasons of the influential “So You Think You Can Dance.” (With genial producer Nigel Lythgoe in the house, comedian Ferguson tried to pronounce SYTYCD, the show’s impossible acronym.) It may be due to the uptick in interest in dance for the camera — both its history and its future. It’s may be the hordes of young people who are finding an expressive outlet in hip-hop—along with break dancing, now a thirty-year-old, codified dance form.

One week after the ATAS party, the action shifted to the city’s easternmost reaches, its burgeoning arts district, where “The Monsters Show,” a Baltimore-based semi-professional dance showcase, detonated in five performances more than exceeding its promissory title “Madness and Mayhem.” In a good way — especially if you dig high-octane nonstop athletic/acrobatic dancing coming at you for two hours.

“Monsters” producers Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo smartly exploited their unusual venue, a gritty industrial warehouse, to thrilling effect. (This type of off-the-beaten-track destination more typically claimed by only the most adventurous of contemporary modern dancers.) The show, a tour de force and a literal tour for spectators (there was no traditional seating as in a theater), was steeped in urban squalor, if not outright risk and danger. And out of the decay rose a lot of life.

Three highly creative, if underlit, one-act dances served as edgy appetizers in adjoining darkened chambers prior to the main show — a vast dance hoopla delivered by a core group of about fifteen really superb dancers in the warehouse’s biggest space.

31Monsters Show Chris Pow Photography
I was quite caught off guard by choreographer Tabitha Dumo’s marvelous wit in a work dedicated to time, set to the sound of a ticking clock … a quaint anachronism in our digital age. The work featured a kind of ‘Mat Hatter’ emcee (dancer Emilio Dosal dressed in authoritative striped trousers), who cajoled the audience first that time is running out and then to pay no heed to its passage. In the dance, as well, two children (a concern of the choreographer, as she is a new mom; however, performance by and about children is an art-world trend). A boy, donning an old-fashioned dunce cap, scribbled over and over, as if punished, on a chalkboard. Across the room, a girl romped on an enormous ceiling-swing, a bizarre and dislocating sight. In between these two prattled the Hatter.

There was barely time (or light) for the audience, meandering around trying to avoid getting goosed by darting performers, to process the meaning of this. We were soon ushered, in this dark House of Usher, to a over-sized warehouse-performance space, where rolling aluminum doors served as curtains, and modular 8-foot-high wheeled platforms were stages. There we were overfed a rich diet of killer acrobatic, hyper-charged, hip-hop dance numbers rather flawlessly executed by “Monster”‘s tireless young cast.

To thumping industrial house music, the dancers, kids most of them selected at various “Monster” dance conventions across the country, performed massive amounts of dance material — an unimaginable volume of choreography — with nary a discernible error or lapse. They did it not for the money (there was none, for them) but for the networking; for the connection to a wildly engaged audience of family, friends, agents and vips; for the camaraderie, and the love of dance. The madness and mayhem was infectious, it was crazy, fun and wearying — and incredibly well performed. Despite trepidations over unpaid performers, way-too-dark and certainly dirty performance conditions, and scary high platforms giving rise to dance injuries, I’m a reborn “Monsters” fan. For this dance critic, a welcome step through the looking glass.

photos courtesy ATAS, Chris Pow (“Monsters”)

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Welcome Beatles 1964 fifty years later @ Levitt Pavilion

Music · Visual arts

liquid_light_show_aCelebrate 50 years of the Beatles in the U.S. this weekend at Levitt Los Angeles with a unique Beatles retrospective featuring the Omega String Quartet, the same outstanding group that brought the largest show in the history of Levitt — the Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Retrospective last summer, 2013.

A psychedelic light show by ’60s visual artist/ filmmakers Single Wing Turquoise Bird – the same historic light show that illuminated performances of Pink Floyd, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and more — will highlight the performance. Bring your own marijuana.

Omega String Quartet with Single Wing Turquoise Bird lightshow | Beatles retrospective | Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park | Saturday Aug 16

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The jazz strata of Ave Pildas 1

featured · Music · Visual arts
If you receive photographer Ave Pildas’s weekly e-blasts, you know the prolific nature of his work. His street snaps can be quirky, straightforward, unpredictable, ironic, reverent, whimsical, iconic, or just plain fun. He has an eye for the beautiful and the surreal but the transmissions often time to current events or seasonal observances. They show ...

Review: Ate9 Dance & Fleck a pithy pairing @ REDCAT

Dance · featured · Reviews · Theater
“It’s the second night of the third week of the 11th year of the New Original Works festival,” announced Mark Murphy, executive director of REDCAT performance space Friday night in a pre-show greeting of his audience. Surveying the full house of folk who track with emerging performance art, Murphy’s flickering smile seemed to convey, “But ...

Lil Buck pays back James Brown

Dance · featured · Music
JB’s immensely funky riff from 1973, “The Payback” given exceptional dance interpretation today — first by the quicksilver Lil Buck, then by a less brilliant partner Jon Boogz. While Boogz dances, Lil Buck upstages him by leaning against a wall. Then he cycles through for a second round at video-end.

Nude ballet photos! Herman Cornejo, Ivan Vasiliev in near buff

Dance · Fashion · featured · Reviews
Herman Cornejo_Diana & Acteon_8.02.14-1
Yes, budgets are tight. So we’re seeing our biggest ballet stars come on stage wearing less and less clothes! In this case, it’s no huge punishment. We are talking about two of the loveliest, most talented — and beefiest — guys in ballet today. Pictured at left, Herman Cornejo, who commenced the “Diana & Acteon” ...

James Brown’s rhythm-ecstasy, Paris 1971

In the video: Fifteen minutes of free-form, ecstatic rhythm-rumination from the great James Brown performing at the Olympia auditorium in Paris in 1971. A re-creation of this amazing historic concert forms the high point of “Get On Up,” the touching James Brown bio-pic we saw tonight.

Pardon our French, but we’re loving “Hollywood Exiles in Europe” @ UCLA Film & Television Archive

Whose good idea was this film series? One person, Rebecca Prime, author of the recent Hollywood Exiles in Europe: The Blacklist and Cold War Film Culture, certainly inspired it.  Working with UCLA Film & Television Archive, Prime has co-curated a line-up of works by Jules Dassin, Joseph Losey, Cy Endfield, Ben and Norma Barzman, and ...

Live it at the Levitt! Boco do Rio @ MacArthur Park Saturday

Okay, guys we’re in it, it’s official, it’s on. It’s August!  Summer 2014 is a happening thing; you could call it a “fait accompli”! Or, of greater concern, soon to wane! So the time is right for the swinging samba rhythms that always sound good, but somehow better on a sultry summer evening. Which brings ...