I knew this would be a stunning piece of dance theatre.
I’d seen Invertigo before.
Their Feste’s Dream, created as a prelude to Twelfth Night, was a highly athletic — and gracefully aesthetic — creature of whimsy.
In it, choreographer Laura Karlin and five of her dancers captured the comedy’s heart (the way Mendelssohn did with his overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream).
I also guessed this could be an important piece of dance theatre.
For one thing, it’s one of the first full-length dance narratives to be given a full theatrical run in LA in this century. For another, its topic is perhaps the most timely one we humans face: How do we recover from natural disasters?
After It Happened is stunning. It is important. And it is more.
Dance can tell a story without named characters, without dialog.
The Invertigo ensemble — all nine dancers and both musicians — move and act as a whole. They embody a human community, as it’s overwhelmed by a devastating “act of God,” and as the shocked survivors struggle to respond.
At the same time, we experience the performers as individuals — though we don’t know their names and seldom hear them speak. We come to recognize each one, learning to read this body, that face, sharing their private emotions as well as the communal experience.
There are solo pieces — a man who’s lost his memory, a girl who’s recovering hers — you will not soon forget. There are pas de deux — some lyrical, some brutal — that will tear your heart out. And there are moments so small you almost miss them, because Karlin lets so much of the community’s life happen at once, the way it really does (as in Breughel’s paintings).
There is comedy, always part of Invertigo’s world, from a clueless backpacker’s misadventure to the weak jokes of a man trying to cheer his shattered family. And tragedy — loss and suffering, with no hope of explanation — abounds, the way it really does.
There’s no preaching here. The Invertigo artists let things happen. But of course, disaster’s aftermath may bring an invasive TV news crew, or a politician hoping to wrest power from the wreckage. Just as it can include a funeral or a soccer game, a tender reunion or a rape attempt.
After It Happened is an artistic triumph. It takes us into a realm we have hardly acknowledged, much less explored. And it does so with shocking, moving artistry. Indeed, Invertigo’s dance narrative enters this world with a subtle complexity that character-based spoken drama would be hard-pressed to equal.
It’s hard to single out achievements in an ensemble piece developed so collaboratively. (The musicians — who play live — and the dancers created score and choreography together, improvising and adjusting to each other at every rehearsal.) But here goes.
The spare set by John Burton suggests a shattered village with utter simplicity — broken doors, windows and grates along the walls and a disconnected bathtub marooned onstage. R. Christopher Stokes’ lighting fulfils the story’s sometimes fierce demands, moving us about rapidly and accurately, shifting moods smoothly — and (as public services do) abandoning us at critical moments.
The performers are clothed (by Kate Bishop and Rosalida Medina) in just what you’d find after a cataclysm — including a wonder of a dress improvised from trash bags. And the whole is coordinated ably by technical director (and associate producer) Dan McNamara.
Musicians Toby John Hugh Karlin (keyboards, guitar) and Diana Barber Wallace (percussion) — aided by dancer Hyosun Choi (cello), and Jon Lall — provide a steadily flowing, shifting ground under the dancers. Karlin also leaps into the soccer game, and Wallace struts in as the sly politician — as well as contributing her rangy, moving blues vocals throughout.
As for the dancers … citing individuals is impossible. And it’s the wrong thing to do. Far more than most companies, Invertigo’s artists share an intense commitment to one another and their work, and an unusual level of input in the creative process. Together, they have forged an approach to storytelling that is distinctive, dramatic, delightful — and deep.
The dancers are (in alphabetical order): Hyosun Choi, Louie Cornejo, Jessica Dunn, Sadie Jane, Sofia Klass, Irene Kleinbauer, Ryan Ruiz, Chris Smith, and Cody Ranger Wilbourn.
And then there’s Laura Karlin, the visionary founder who nurtures them as an artistic family, not just a group of performers. It’s also her dream that led to the several years’ work of unfolding After It Happened.
Forty years ago, I worked with a Midwestern ballet company.
It was the dance critic’s job (and everyone else’s) to identify stars, and rate the other dancers and their skills. The company staged classic works, using choreography charts as old and fixed as the musical scores.
We’re not in Kansas anymore. But we can expect tornadoes, as the debate on climate change gets drowned out by more and more frequent, more and more severe natural disasters. And if we make it through, we will owe much to emergency services — but more to artists like Invertigo.
After It Happened is probably the most important dance work you will see this year. It is also surely one of the most adventurous, surprising and moving. Do not miss it.
After It Happened, by Laura Karlin and the Invertigo Dance Theatre.
Presented by Invertigo at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 6:00 pm, through October 19th.
(1) I had the chance to watch Invertigo develop After It Happens in several recent rehearsals, and offered coaching help on delivering spoken lines. I am also proud to count Laura Karlin a friend. But as always, knowing what gifted artists are capable of raises the bar of my expectations.
(2) In August, another LA company portrayed a community enduring a natural disaster, in Ibrahim Chávez’ Rain Maryam. Interestingly, the hereandnow troupe also found it necessary to move beyond traditional theatre and into the language of dance in order to tell the multidimensional story. My review of their production is below, on this site.