It’s hard to avoid politics these days. We tweet about it, march about it, get outraged about it. It’s in your face in every medium. Including dance. Jacob Jonas The Company’s (JJTC) brilliantly danced mixed bill at The Wallis on Friday included two politically-charged works: “To The Dollar” set to Elizabeth Warren’s 2016 speech advocating equal pay for women, and “There’s Been a Study,” a new piece about the failings of the education system. One worked, the other didn’t.
Let’s first state the obvious. These dancers are phenomenal. They are as strong and technically fabulous when flowing like water – those fluid, boneless torsos! – as they are when slicing the air in acrobatic flips, tossing off multiple pirouettes, or coming together in forceful, pounding unison. Jonas’ movement vocabulary is not just diverse – who knew forward rolls could be so magical, so moving? — it’s a shout out to what superbly-trained bodies and unfettered creativity can accomplish together.
And unfettered creativity in education – or lack thereof — is the subject of Jonas’ “There’s Been A Study.” The piece opens with eight dancers sitting at shiny new school desks, left arms held high, waiting for teacher to call on them. The raised arm gesture becomes a theme throughout. Georgia Bryan breaks from the group to narrate a script written by Jonas and inspired by, among others, Sir Ken Robinson, the popular ‘TED Talks’ speaker and international advisor who believes we’re educating our kids like robots — all wrong, in other words. Bryan, 15, is an intern with JJTC and a high school freshman at Crossroads School; Jonas wanted a student involved in the work. She is the narrator throughout and also performs an eye-popping contortion solo.
It’s unusual in contemporary dance for a work to rely on so much unison movement but it makes sense here. It demonstrates in physical form what Jonas clearly considers to be the stifling uniformity of our education system. The movement vocabulary is robotic, fierce and mechanical, accentuated by the loud, driving, electronic score created and played live by Nicole Miglis. Eventually, however, bodies soften, surrender to one another; individuals emerge; books and backpacks disappear and the dancers rest their chins on an empty bookshelf.
Jonas started his career on the Venice boardwalk – as far from uniformity and dance rules as you can get. So it’s no surprise that this topic has captured his imagination. But “There’s Been A Study” is relentlessly didactic. The idea is made physical, yes. But the work’s in-your-face finger-wagging is its undoing. Enough already.
“To The Dollar,” by contrast, is sparse, straight forward and short. It opens with two dancers, dressed in black, in a rectangle of white light. Six dancers in total come to occupy the space; their movement – clean, uncluttered, unforced — helps us hear Warren’s words, while her words help us to both see the choreography and understand the message. “To The Dollar” invites us to participate; “There’s Been A Study” bludgeons us.
The program’s most moving work was the new duet “viceversa,” created by Daniel Ezralow and Jacob Jonas for themselves. It was both an emotional expression of two men whose love of dance transcends time and generation – Ezralow, is 62, Jonas turned 28 last month — and a celebration of how contemporary dance in Los Angeles has evolved. Ezralow had to make his name internationally to be taken seriously here although concert dance is not his forte. Jonas launched his company here five years ago to almost instant acclaim. In “viceversa” the two men stood locked in bear hugs, competed, fought, played, and relied upon one another as in that beautiful gesture when each in turn rested his cheek on the other’s chest. Jonas jumped and ran and twitched while Ezralow was stillness in motion. I don’t need to run and jump, he seemed to say, I can move one arm, like this, and still be dancing. Gorgeous. “viceversa” is likely too self-referential to be a JJTC repertory staple, but on Friday it created a perfect L.A. moment.
Rounding out the program was “Crash,” Jonas’ much-heralded beauty that turns bodies into waves, the stage into an ocean. Okaidja Afroso’s original score and live performance were as evocative as the gorgeously fluid torsos that moved seamlessly together; the dancers stayed connected in spirit even when moving into solos and duets.
Standouts of the evening were Mike Tyus in “Crash,” Emma Rosenzweig-Bock and Lorrin Brubaker.
JJTC’s creativity, bravado, slick confidence and technical expertise are uniquely L.A. The company’s concerts this weekend at The Wallis mark the end of its residency there, but the ensemble is clearly just at the beginning of its tenure on the dance scene and in social media (see #CamerasandDancers on Instagram). Stay tuned.
photo credit: Matthew Brush, for the Wallis
Gillian Renault has written about dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Herald Examiner and artsATL in Atlanta.