BWW Review: BODYTRAFFIC Merging the Past and Future of Great American Dance at The Joyce Theater
Imagine dance with twerking, technically proficient pirouettes, storytelling, and a sprinkle of theatrical gestures all on the same stage. Seems like a stomach ache from too much candy, right? Not when done well and that's exactly what the LA-based Dance Company BODYTRAFFIC displayed at The Joyce Theatre on January 20, 2017.
Private Games: Chapter One made it's world premiere with choreography by Anton Lachky that indulges in the provocative nature of relationships between human beings. The performance opened with a clump of three male and two female dancers standing on a white lit, black stage. It was bare and drums accompanied dancer, Lindsey Matheis, as she stroked many dancer's hair as well as her own.
That perpetuating pelvic gyrating drove the more technical choreography to momentum that accumulates only from the spirit. I expected nothing less of the gorgeous dancing from dancer, Matthew Rich, who never ceases in his seamless athleticism and supple in's and out's of the floor. If you haven't seen Rich dance, find out where he's dancing and watch him. Matthew Rich will easily become one of the very few dancers to become a legend to future generations.
Guzmán Rosado danced a memorable solo in a loin cloth throwing himself around in similar ways to Donald O'Conner's "Make 'Em Laugh" in the movie musical, Singin in the Rain. Almost possessed by his "orders" from his "wife," he throws himself around with comedic grace.
His "wife," performed by Lillian Barbeito says to him, "Let's play that one game," that transitions into a new section by the company of various emotive screaming, vomiting sounds, and other emotive vocal efforts we as human beings exert, as to comment on ourselves through an objective lens.
The female duet danced by Lindsey Matheis and Tina Finkelman Berkett seemed disjointed in the piece overall and looked like a modern dance class. They were sitting in straddle splits and moving through dance phrases that looked like exercises.
After a long blackout that seemed like a mistake, and back into red lighting, the ensemble of dancers applauded the audience. The dancers addressed us then quickly went back into "a game" where at the snap of a finger they turned in to oinking piglets.
This "mysterious and explosive world" where they shared their games was revealed in a subconsciously relatable fashion. "Have a beautiful night!" Lillian Barbeito said to the audience followed by a black out and bows.
3 Preludes choreographed by Richard Siegal paid homage to George Gershwin's piano classics, and was well-received and appreciated. Real movie musicals like An American in Paris seeped through the choreography and Tina Finkelman Berkett could be transcendent of Leslie Caron. These LA-based dancers should've been hired for lead roles in the Oscar-buzzing movie, La La Land, instead of actors who clearly don't dance.
Tina and the three men glided through seamless partnering. There was a clear, energetic transfer between the dancers that comes with tight, brilliant choreography merging classic themes with a new athleticism. The traditionalist in me, would've liked to have seen the dancers in classic shoes, not socks, to complete the rest of their costume.
Overall, 3 Preludes was a gorgeous homage of a classical piece dedicated to MGM choreographic themes but lacked the essence of true joy in the performance. The dancing was beautiful but what else? I didn't see the dancers having the time of their lives as their performance quality seemed distracted and the flame of passion to dance was dwindling. They're in New York City, dancing on a famous stage with a packed house. It's a dream and yet I wish they would've shared the thrill to be dancing.
BODYTRAFFIC certainly saved the best for last as you can't beat comedic dance during a confusing socio-political time in our country. Within every comedy lies a tragedy or two or three. Set to the Beatnik Queen's, Judy Henske, live album including satirical murder ballads, this could arguably be deemed a modern day comedic folk ballet.
The psychedelic set with colorful plastic forest animals mating at the four corners of the stage was perfectly absurd and the dancing was absorbed through the set and song lyrics. A large yellow tapestry attached to various colorful ropes evolved in the choreography to magnify and assist each new folk song's story.
Choreographically, it's the best work I've seen in years at the Joyce. Bright 1960's colors coupled with an innovative kiss fall theme was easy to get visually attached to.
With mascara-stained tears, edgy costume changes, the words LOVE SUCKS in bright orange tape on the black Marley stage, it was the perfect setting to embody the "Empty Bed Blues," with other "special murder ballads." The gender play by dancer, Matthew Rich, dressed in a pink dress and tiara during "Love Henry" was sheer hysterics. And we even saw the portrayal of death in a headstand.
This work was like going to the candy store and being able to try every piece. Speaking of candy for the eyes, Joseph Kudra danced the most mesmerizing, guttural, and sexy solo in this work. Thank you Arthur Pita for bringing masculinity back to dance!
BODYTRAFFIC found a new and soulful way to dance "Wade in the Water," that's totally working. Pregnant postures in an old/new folk ballet with forest props and fantastic set and costuming by Yann Searba, enhanced the dancers like colorful highlighter markers; coloring in what needed to be emphasized. In a trio that stayed connected the entire piece, I have no words because I was watching so intently. This was a phenomenal progression from one section to the next.
With the provocative and brilliant guidance of choreographer, Arthur Pita, the subculture of Chicago in the 1960s was reborn. "Hooka Tooka Soda Cracker" with painting turtles and paint brushes in the mouth in place of cigarettes created an essence of sexual symbolism and a starburst for the soul.
A real treat to feast your eyes on, Arthur Pita created a stellar dance work in Death Defying Dances which was worth the whole evening.