For the past 9 years, producer, teacher and choreographer Jamie Nichols has been calling on the LA community to celebrate dance, with her expertly executed production held each year at the historic Alex Theater. This year was no different. Concert dance in Los Angeles has always been something of a conundrum. From being poorly funded, under appreciated and just plain unrecognized, this city is home to a myriad of professional companies who lack the funds and exposure to truly build an audience. Celebrate Dance aims to conquer this issue and each year, 8 or 9 Southern Californian dance companies are given the opportunity to showcase their work in a professional setting.
Nichols is a seasoned producer, having been the artistic director of her own LA-based contemporary company (Fast Feet) for over two decades and functioning as the one-woman tour-de-force behind Celebrate Dance (she handles everything from selecting the companies to marketing, press, fundraising and production). But even accounting for her vast production experience, this year’s Celebrate Dance was a remarkable show, perfectly balanced, amazingly well managed and happily enjoyed by a full house.
It’s a wonderfully supportive atmosphere for both budding and accomplished companies to share their work in a safe, collaborative space. It also serves as a great place to uncover new talent, both in choreography and dance, as well as find some new artists to champion. This year’s show had a little something for everyone – a mixed bag of dance.
The show opened with premiere of Human Flotation Devices from the Lux Aeterna Dance Company, choreographed and performed by Jacob “Kujo” Lyons and Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo. This unfriendly pas de deux was a hybrid of hip hop, breakdancing and athleticism. While quite clever and humorous, the piece lacked a certain artistry, relying on a series of tricks which, though impressive, were not particularly interesting. The piece concluded with the theme music from the film Amelie – a stunning work by Yann Tiersen, though frankly not appropriate for the piece and far too associated with the cult french film.
This was followed by JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble’s Ooh Child – a perfectly composed piece that seemed to effortlessly convey story, feeling and emotion, all through seamless movements and the classic jazz vocabulary. This piece fit the music – brought the song into life even – and was such a delight to watch. JazzAntiqua is definitely a company to take note of as is artistic director / choreographer Pat Taylor. Just watching this piece made me yearn to take a Dunham class…Or go dancing at the Savoy.
Next the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company gave the most abstract and artistically unique performance of the night with Identity Theft. Inspired by her trip to the Middle East and the seeming animosity of the women wearing Burkas, artistic director and choreographer Kate Hutter composed a memorable depiction of oppression, connection, love and hate all in under 15 minutes. The dancers, clad with towels covering their faces, had to rely solely on their movements to express themselves. The piece concluded with a pas between two faceless dancers that emphasized the notion that, even with hidden features, a connection can be made. This was made all the more relevant by a single dancer repeatedly shouting out orders in a drill sergeant manner to “Fall!” then a few seconds later, “Get up!” The thought of this piece still gives me chills.
SoleVita Dance Company followed this up with The Walk West, choreographed by Artisitc Director Joelle Martinec. This large company gave a valiant performance in a piece that seemed to harken to classic western works like Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. Though the overall choreographic composition paled in comparison to those epic works, often far too gesticulatory literal, it was brimming with lovely sweeping movements, brightness, and energy. It made for a upbeat and whimsical close to the first act.
Act two began with Nickerson-Rossi Dance, who served up their world premiere of Enkindled choreographed by Michael Nickerson-Rossi. The piece, set to the gorgeous music of Einaudi Ludovico, had some beautifully composed lines and movements, brimming with emotion, but the lack of synchronicity within the company was distracting and undercut the gravity of the piece. While lovely, this piece lacked a certain polish.
This was followed by a very unique piece that may be classified better as theater or performance art. Invertigo Dance Theater performed their premiere of After it Happened – a work that explores a natural disaster and the aftermath that follows. While the choreography, from artistic director Laura Karlin, was fairly unremarkable, the concept and execution of this piece was engaging, original and thought-provoking. It was comical in moments, such as when news reporters attempt to interview a local affected by the unspecified disaster who doesn’t speak english, and the translater clearly adjusts his translation to appease the American reporter. But the stand out moment of the piece was when dancer Carole Biers dons a dress made from trash bags and dances with the joyful abandon of a child to Brightest Diamond’s version of “Feeling Good.”
The most technically proficient piece followed – Lydia Zimmer and Dancers were otherworldly in Lithium. With lines and precision to envy, dancers Sara Silken, Lindsay Lollie and Lydia Zimmer played with shadow, fluidity and grace that lingers in my memory. Set to the ambienty music of Marsen Jules, this piece was made all the more stunning by Eileen Cooley‘s lighting design. Zimmer is another choreographer Los Angeles should keep on their radar.
Finally the performance concluded with the first debut performance of Colabo Youth Dance Collective, Concentric Harmonies, choreographed by Artistic Director Francisco Gella. The piece was full on – technique, emotion and intensity, further exemplified by the removal of the wings and drop. This was perhaps the perfect ending to the evening, as the dancers in Colabo are all still teenagers, and it closed the curtain with a resounding sense of potential in future generations of Los Angeles dancers. Gauging from these young dancers’ performance, I think we have plenty to celebrate when it comes to dance in Southern California.
The curtain fell and the lights went up, with no curtain call or thank you speech from Nichols. She didn’t need to draw attention to herself, the production said enough. I left with the overwhelming feeling that there was plenty of dance in Los Angeles to appreciate and that there’s a distinct pleasure which comes from taking one evening to stop and celebrate it.