Flight Night: L.A. So-Cal Dance Invitational

How do you lift 800 people into the air?  Gather them under the stars in the Ford Amphitheatre and dance.

Five innovative Southland companies did that recently, setting forth an astonishing array of talent, displaying the range and power of the vast, rich language that modern dance has become.

Invertigo's Cody Wilbourn

Invertigo’s Cody Wilbourn

Lula Washington Dance Theatre
This Watts-based ensemble, soul child of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, has itself become an established engine of LA (and American) culture.

Their Desperate — part of Tamika Washington-Miller’s Message to My Peeps — urgently embodies the need to focus, overcome fear, encourage one another and rise up to speak truth to power.  Don’t doubt it: Dance can be as  potently political as it is poetic.  You can dance and shame the devil.

On a far corner of the aesthetic court is the company’s Beautiful  Venus and Serena.  Skirt-clad and carrying racquets, six dancers interweave the gestural words of dance and tennis with wit and grace, to a lush original jazz score.  A final pas de deux pays loving tribute to the goddess-like sisters who forever changed the game.

Nanette Brodie Dance Theatre
The evening’s host company continues the evolution of what was called “modern dance” last century, when it broke from ballet in the artistry of Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille et al.

Their Heartland – The Immigrant Song (from Beyond the River) paints with a pastel palette, pairing and re-pairing four dancers in a lyrical flow to the familiar hymn, Praise to the Man.  The gently paced, quiet piece recalls us to the simplicity from which elegance arises.

In Fuerza, four male dancers turn the tropes of mating display, competition and combat, to a jarring percussive score.  It ends with discovery of the loss hidden in the winner’s prize.

In Body of Water, 15 dancers build a slow crescendo of ceaselessly cross-folding rhythms, widening and deepening in complex currents and tides.  Some enact shapes that the seas and rivers work their creatures into, while others — when an A-frame invades the stage’s upper level — rush and fall in the surging, ebbing shapes water takes around a static form.  We recall that we, too, are water.

Invertigo Dance Theatre
The evening’ youngest company, Invertigo (led by founder Laura Karlin), focuses on character, story, and playful — often striking — uses of the body human.

In Waiting at Home for the Witches, three male dancers loaf and lounge, waiting for their wives to return from meeting Macbeth.  Their aimless “boys in the rec room” posturing yields swiftly to revelation and intimacy, rich with surprise combination moves.  Each unfolds his private experience, yet all three tend and support one another.  The climax comes in a peerless, poignantly comic “Dance of the Roses” (was that Nijinsky’s ghost?).

LA Contemporary Dance Company
The concert openers, this youthful downtown troupe led by Kate Hutter deploys its forces with almost reckless , versatile abandon.

The Better to See You With plays with themes of predation and passion, hangin’ out and hookin’ up, longing and leaving, and claiming power.  The 10 dancers fill and re-fill the stage, at times telling stories in overlap, shifting styles and stories to an eclectic musical menu.  Holly Rothschild’s choreography is inventive and demanding, but the troupe rings the changes as if it were easy.

Jazzworks – Long Beach
These alums of the CSU Long Beach dance program paint with the mass and spectacle of stadium dance.  Founder Andrew Vaca is a leading sports and event choreographer.

Their General Education, a four-part primer, the dozen dancers  wheel with exciting energy through an increasingly complex array of constellations, ranging across moods and musical styles.  True to the spirit of ensemble, they constantly share turns in the spotlight, yet maintain the effect of close, synchronized unity.

*****

One LA summer 50 years ago, I saw the Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake (with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn)  — and the brash young Alvin Ailey’s radical new work Labyrinth.  Between them lay all of what it was then possible to say in the wordless language of dance.

That language has exploded.

We need to talk about it.  Though newspaper-based criticism has evaporated, we need to review and explore LA’s thriving, vibrant dance world.  The art is boiling here, and its bubbling heat lifts people lucky enough to experience it into another realm.

“People lucky enough to experience it.”  They’re far too few.  We need to start booking dance shows for longer runs — 2-4 weekends at least — so the word can spread, and new audiences can be lifted up and blown away by what our dancers are doing.

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2nd Annual LA So-Cal Invitational Dance Concert, presented by the South Coast Dance Arts Alliance.
At the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd.

June 20 only.