Review: ‘BodyTraffic’ at ODC Dance Theater

(Martin A. David)

(Rating: *****)

BodyTraffic, a Los Angeles dance company, has been named by Dance Magazine as one of “25 To Watch” in 2013. This reviewer is in whole hearted agreement. The company is a team of amazing dance theatre performers that grows by opening its doors—and obviously its heart—to selected choreographers. Since the group’s founding in 2007, they’ve been refocusing a faded spotlight on the once vigorous Los Angeles dance scene. In doing so they’ve also garnered much well-deserved attention.

bodytrafficBodyTraffic’s ODC presentation opened with an abridged version of choreographer Barak Marshall’s “And at Midnight, the Green Bride Floated Through the Village Square.” The work, a dance-theatre tour de force with elements of the visions of painter Marc Chagall and film genius Federico Fellini, is a story ballet in which the themes of seduction, domination, and survival all swirl together—blended by choreographer Marshall’s masterful hand.

The work’s folksy eroticism is delivered with no hint of self-consciousness or unnecessary complication. Conversations about food punctuate the piece. These scarcely disguised descriptions of and invitations to sexual acts serve to emphasize the sensual themes of the rest of the choreography.

“And at midnight…” uses Yiddish songs and dialogue as part of its folk motif, but it is a work of art that transcends specific cultures and speaks of more universal themes. The dancers enact the cooperation and the conflicts that are the ingredients of life in a small community. Gender inequality—and equality—is a repeating theme.

The company shows itself to be capable of delivering every nuance the choreographer has requested of them. The richness of their ensemble work is supported by their wide range of individual skills. They tell the story with precise unison movements, with hands, faces, voices, and with complex movement patterns that they make look as easy as walking down a street in a small, European village.

“Kollide,” by Kyle Abraham, is a tantalizing work-in-progress that will have its actual premiere a month from now in Santa Monica. The hauntingly expressionist choreography begins on a somber note. Its shadowy, forlorn look, emphasized by the mourning sound of techno music, gives rise to the feeling of a post-apocalyptic romance. The choreographer uses stillness as well as movement to create his landscape. A simple gesture with a shoulder tells a whole page of the story. Again BodyTraffic’s proficiency and fluency in a true language of dance shines through.

Abraham’s choreography has minor flaws in staging and focus, and it could use some tightening. However, it is still on the drawing board and one has little doubt that these issues will be addressed in due time.

“o2joy,” choreographed by Richard Siegal, is a frothy bit of dessert to finish off the evening. The work seemed like a session of choreographic déjà vu, not quite a collection of cliches, but also not memorable. It is a joyous, jazzy collection of good dancing, mime, and comic gesture—pushed almost over the line into the territory of mugging. It has a Twyla Tharp feeling, but with a much more limited vocabulary. If the choreographer set out to create a self-satirical comment on movie musical dancing of the Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor era, he has succeeded. The work may not be memorable, but it is certainly fun.

Alas, BodyTraffic appeared for only a few nights in San Francisco. We recommend you keep your eyes peeled for their inevitable return.

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“BodyTraffic” presented at ODC.  Co-Artistic Directors: Lillian Rose Barbelito and Tina Finkelman Berkett. Choreographers: Barak Marshall (“And at Mindnight, the Green Bride Floated Through the Village Square), Kyle Abraham (“Kollide”), and Richard Siegal (“o2Joy”). Costumes: Raquel Barreto. Lighting: Kindred Gottleib and Dan Scully. Set: Dan Scully. Production Managers: Michael Michaelske and Dan Scully.

Dancers

Lillian Rose Barbeito, Tina Finkelman Berkett, Christopher Bordenave, Melissa Bourkas, Kalin Morrow, Cooper Neely, Miquel Perez, Guzman Rosado, Greg Sample, Yusha-Marie Sorzano

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