Stacey Tookey could be one of the best known contemporary choreographers of the moment. Her work on So You Think You Can Dance and numerous television shows has received acclaim from critics, dancers and viewers alike, but this past Friday night she broke new ground with the premiere performance of her new contemporary company, Still Motion. The company consists of 24 dancers, roughly half LA based and half guest artists, with a diverse mix of backgrounds and performance experience. Many dancers are veterans of both the American and Canadian versions of SYTYCD, and have worked with Tookey to some capacity in the past. But together they assembled into an impressive core of strength, skill and artistry, bringing to life Tookey’s personally inspired production Moments Defined.
I had the privilege of covering the red carpet before the event and got to hear about the show first hand from dancers, patrons, celebs and Tookey herself, all before the curtain rose. There was a definite sense of excitement and anticipation from the red carpet goers, but also a clear feeling of confidence from the dancers and Tookey. “I’m excited to share the stage with this immensely talented group of artists,” dancer Francisco Aviña exclaimed. Fellow dancer Heather Lang agreed that she was there for Stacey, “I’m thrilled to be supporting one of our dearest friends in this huge endeavor.”
Stacey excitedly explained that “after just 7 short weeks of rehearsal we’ve pulled together an hour and a half show that I think is really special.” And her dancers were clearly on her side, expressing anticipation for their favorite pieces, such as Kettering for Will Johnston and Here I Really Am for Patrick Cook.
But there were a few patrons who came simply because they heard the dancing was not to be missed. Director/Producer Eric Bross confessed that he secretly” always wanted to dance like Russ Tamblin, but was a closer match to Danny Kaye.” He even busted out a few changements on the red carpet to prove his dedication! And actor Daniel Nguyen admitted he basically “heard there’s some really great dancing that’s supposed to be happening” and he didn’t want to miss it.
The show began with a girl in a cream colored dress walking through a sea of gyrating bodies covered by a black sheet. This was our first characterization of Tookey, and throughout the show multiple versions of this character emerged, at different stages of her life. The overarching concept was a melange of defining moments in Tookey’s life, which culminated in a finale of all the characters coming together and seemingly finding peace with each other. Given the theme, the show was excessively personal at times, with perhaps a bit more repetition than really needed to emphasize certain points. But the structure and fluidity of each piece made for an enjoyable and seamless production. The dancers were extraordinary – each very strong and secure, and all bringing the emotion required to carry the personal subject matter. What Tookey has assembled here is a wonderful troupe of performers, who can act as well as they can dance.
While the bulk of the dances were very lyrical contemporary pieces – padded with plenty of languid partnering, titled a la secondes and off-centered attitude turns – there were a couple pieces that changed up the pace in the first act, both of which featured guest performer Anthony Morigerato. Tookey hinted on the red carpet that “they have the best tap dancer in the world right now in the show” and she wasn’t kidding. Morigerato is tapper extraordinaire, who currently holds the world record for most taps made in a minute (1,163 in case you were curious.) Tookey found extremely clever and frankly charming ways to incorporate his immense talent and distinctive style into the show. In The Way I feel Inside, Morigerato tapped behind fellow guest artist Kevin Tookey (Stacey’s brother) as he worked up the nerve to go up and talk to Tookey’s female protagonist. The tapping was simply amazing and had the whole audience cheering.
The second crowd-pleasing, upbeat piece featured Anthony Morigerato as a busker on the streets of New York as our protagonist finds herself swept up in the hustle and bustle of the whole company clad in business attire, pacing, spinning and even flipping across the stage. The immense energy of this dance, entitled In Your Hands, had all the earmarks of a perfectly composed musical theater number. It was bright, entertaining, and a perfect first act closer. Company member Jeff Mortensen, who confessed to having “gone to school to become optometrist, before going into the arts” out on the red carpet, stood out in this piece with his impressive acrobatics and stand out enthusiasm. It was apparent that all the dancers were having fun, and it really highlighted Tookey’s choreographic aptitude for more jazzy numbers.
Frankly, the show could have benefited from a couple more charming pieces like those. While there were several gorgeously danced pas de deux pieces such as Red Arrow, and a very memorable male ensemble piece called Here I Really Am, there were still parts of the program that fell a little flat. Specifically the dance film Bang Bang, which featured a lovely and emotional pas de deux, danced by Jessica Lee Keller and Peter Chu, but was shrouded in a rather contrived and necessary little acting sequence. And When She Came Back was a tad too literal in it’s depiction of 911. “This piece is dedicated to being in New York and seeing an image after 911 – I saw all these people coming from ground zero crossing in front of my apartment and that resonated with me,” Tookey explained, and while clearly a difficult subject to tackle, the piece just didn’t do much to convey more than a stereotypical view of the tragedy.
Overall, the complete production was well danced, well composed and undeniably entertaining. Tookey managed to create a fully realized show that resonated with the audience – it’s certainly a production that could impress the masses which is handy since they have already been invited to take it on tour. She combined just the right amount of theatrics, artistry and story telling to keep the audience engaged.
While I did overhear fellow audience members declaring that the show was “Miraculous,” and “As good as it possibly gets in dance,” I have to disagree. However, I think Tookey does have the vision, the skills and the business savvy to continue to improve and grow this delightful company. She and company manager Chad Azadan, both confirmed that “Still Motion will stay based in LA,” and judging from this first performance, it has the capability to really flourish here.
“No matter what happens tonight I feel I’ve given these dancers a new experience,” Tookey said, beaming. “Many of them didn’t know how to act in a company situation, they get these great little commercial gigs that last for a week then are over. So it’s been about teaching them that, and from that they’ve grown so much. There’s something really beautiful about being in the studio with the same people for 8 hours a day – sweating, crying, and laughing together. We’ve created that relationship, and it’s so beautiful to see that journey for them. Concert dance is very needed in Los Angeles, but it’s been an uphill journey, and I have expensive taste and high standards, so I didn’t want to bend there.”
She definitely didn’t. I am already looking forward to seeing their next production and furthermore, I’m interested to see what Tookey can do when she turns her attention to subjects other than herself. There is no doubt in my mind that Tookey is a true gift to the LA Dance scene and Still Motion is a company to watch as it’s sure to move up fast.