Last month, I attended the second of Laura Karlin’s three-show 100% Free Range Local Dance Series in Culver City, Los Angeles. Karlin created the series, which presented seven local artists over three Sunday evenings, hoping to “crack open the artistic process” for audiences. As she explained before the show, she had overheard dance patrons complain of “not getting it” too many times upon leaving performances, which finally begged the question: what is it? Commiserating, I settled in, eager to see how Karlin and the evening’s two other choreographers would let us into their abstracted worlds.
Kate Hutter, Artistic Director of L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, presented excerpts of a dance-theater piece called “Cave…A Dance For Lilith,” a work-in-progress and collaboration with theatre dybbuk. I appreciated the opening section, which featured two men dodging and encircling each other with accumulative arm movements and revolving lifts. Meanwhile, one male actor followed their movements closely as he recited text, forming a triad which traveled across the stage the way a Ouija board’s indicator might. Throughout the showing, there were stops and starts; Hutter and Aaron Henne, choreographer and writer, respectively, conducted what was more or less an open rehearsal. They were smart to perform the dialogue of one section before layering movement on top of it. In that orchestration, five dancers and two actors constructed a temple of red fabric as they weaved dramatically through its labyrinthine entrails. The advantage of showing works-in-progress is that it does reveal some inner workings of an artist’s (or collaboration’s) creative process. The disadvantage is that it remains impossible for the viewer to tell what the finished piece will look like–in other words, a tease.
Up next was Nate Hodges’s Rhetoracle Dance Company. The piece he presented, “Shrouded,” was an excerpt of his full length work, “Fortune Telling,”choreographed by Jia Huang. Huang drew her inspiration from the 7 of Cups tarot card, and each dancer represented a different temptation. The contemporary jazz choreography was sharp and musical, and it filled the stage with movement. The piece followed the trope of the lone male dancer, “The Wanderer,” partnering each veiled female character in succession; after each duet, he’d throw back his partner’s veil to reveal her identity (or, at least, ornamented leotard). The costumes were distracting, and I found the work as a whole somewhat clichéd, but I still enjoyed it. It was a jazz piece, after all, aiming to entertain, not necessarily reinvent the wheel–to use a cliché, myself. One clever detail of Hodges’s work was that his program was printed on the back of an actual tarot card; in “Fortune Telling,” apparently, audience members received whole envelopes of cards. This sort of attention paid by the choreographer to the whole experience of show-going is gratifying to see.
Lastly, Karlin presented her own Invertigo Dance Theatre in “Descent of the Docent.” The premise of this work was an art gallery tour, conducted by a single actress for six dancers. The piece confronted the fourth wall from the outset, with one dancer studying the audience as if we were a painting. Later, the tour guide began pedantically describing the dance itself, but then got into a tiff with one of the dancers, who apparently didn’t feel like having her performance analyzed. I felt sure the piece would conclude with the parroting guide–who was now repeating the line, “did you get it?,” over and over–tied and bound at the back of the stage. Instead, the dancers responded to her by playing catch with “it,” losing “it,” breaking “it,” and fixing “it.” Imaginative and nicely developed, Karlin’s piece addressed the point of the series verbatim.
This tour also portrayed the dancers as human beings who risk vulnerability when they perform. One solo was accompanied by a speech that revealed not only the dancer’s body weight and other vital stats, but also intimate details ranging from a rumored crush to certain difficulties of a performing artist’s lifestyle. Our guide then scrutinized another soloist, pointing out the many “apparent” flaws in his work. I found that particular dancer to be the most fluid and enjoyable to watch of the bunch. “Descent of the Docent” displayed compositional clarity and utilized choreographic tactics well; in this aspect, and in Laura’s use of text and a strong narrative, I detected what may have been “training wheels” for the audience.
Indeed, my only disappointment was that each of the works–with two out of three incorporating text–left little not to get. I am unsure that attendees of the 100% Free Range Local Dance Series will identify with abstract dance works in the future as a result of the series. Its success, though, can be measured by the 100+ audience members who attended on the night I went, and by the evident passion of all the artists to share what they do with their community. Even in explicit detail, if it helps.