Here's what I learned from last night's performance of the LA-based dance company BODYTRAFFIC at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, as part of this year's Chutzpah! Festival:
1. I'm definitely not a fan of the choreography and dramaturgy of Barak Marshall (see my take on his Harry, as danced last year by BJM). His brand of dance-theatre--which for some reason seems to have legions of devotees--is too insistently vertical and repetitively gestural in its movement style and too normatively patriarchal in its narrative ideology for my tastes. Both elements were fully on display in And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square..., which was given pride of place on last night's program; five or six very similar-looking unison sequences are punctuated by a few pantomimed or spoken word scenes between the men and women, all of which culminates in a wedding and a most abrupt ending.
2. The work of Hofesh Shechter, however, I could watch all day. His Dust, atmospherically lit and beautifully choreographed, sends six dancers (three men and three women) skittering across the stage like insects, or else masses their shaking, twitching bodies together like groupies at a rock concert. The piece's sensual suggestiveness is the opposite of Marshall's literalism, as much about the spaces between the movement as the movement itself. Having just written elsewhere about the non-representational uses of text in dance, I also appreciate the way that Shechter combines projected and voice-over text with his own original musical score and of course his distinctive choreography to create a total immersive environment, in which feelings of kinesthesia are complemented and even enhanced by the acoustic and the visual and even the haptic. At one point, early on in the piece, the stage remains dark for at least a full two minutes, with only driving music playing. And yet I sensed that more was going on in that time than during all of the fully illuminated scenes in Marshall's work. (Shechter was actually at the theatre last night to acknowledge the audience's applause--quite a coup for Chutzpah! AD Marie-Louise Albert.)
3. The dancers of BODYTRAFFIC are superb. Not only are they able to deal with the wildly disparate styles of Marshall and Shechter, but they can also pull off the exuberant, deliberately showy, and borderline kitschy jazz homage crafted by Richard Siegal in his o2Joy. An unabashed crowd pleaser, the work highlights what was abundantly evident throughout the evening: this is a technically accomplished company with lots of personality to boot.