BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallis

BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The WallisBODY TRAFFIC is a well-established multi-themed contemporary dance company, made up of eight incredibly strong, amazingly agile dancers. They are known world-wide, but call Los Angeles their home. Their 3-night appearance at The Wallis Annenberg marks the conclusion of their 10th successful international tour, as well as the debut of a new work, entitled "A Million Voices," which is being world-premiered at their first-ever appearance at The Wallis.

Artistic Directors Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett present a well-tuned, versatile program. Five very different subjects are explored.BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallis

The opening piece, entitled "Beyond the Edge of the Frame," is quite unique, with Dancers Tina Finkelman Berkett, Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, Guzman Rosado and Jamal White; choreographed by Sidra Bell. Their movements and patterns, to the sound of pounding drums, are sometimes angular, sometimes flowing, sometimes sinewy, sometimes purposely spasmic, sometimes mirroring each other, sometimes working off of each other, answering each other with their bodies, with ever-changing positions and partners. Each dancer shows their strength in balance, floorwork, extensions, ballon, pirouettes and leaps, all in very unusual positions, giving the sense of interactions between people and showing the complexities of the human condition. A very impressive style emerges by the end of the piece, one which seems uniquely their own, and one not widely seen.

BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallis"Fragile Dwellings," a work dedicated to homeless Los Angelinos, choreographed by Stijn Celis, has a very interesting, yet simple set design, opening up with an-all dark stage, except for neon ropes hanging from above along the back drop, as a male dancer (Joseph Davis) enters, walking in circles, aimlessly at first, then beginning to mime different movements, giving the impression of trying to keep warm, uncertainly, and reaching up as if to ask for guidance. There are ethereal choral sounds accompanying their modern movements, ranging from legato, fluid balletic-type turns and steps when the second dancer BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallisenters (Jessica Liu); to a section where there is no sound at all and the dancer (Natalie Leibert) is what I would call winding herself up, then unwinding, contorting, slowly, to a stop; then on the floor moving along the ground in deep grand plie lunges with much control, then changing direction as if something is pulling her slowly toward it. As the dancing progresses, more neon ropes appear, scattered on stage, dangling loosely from above but never reaching the ground. The next dancer enters (Jamal White) and seems drawn toward something that keeps pulling him forward, but he finally resists and works his way back to center stage. At this point the neon ropes turn red and begin to wiggle more and more, and the choral sounds become louder with more vocal harmonies added, as the four dancers intertwine with one another, as a group and then in couples, with some glorious lifts, slow and fluid, and a lovely rond de jambe en l'air turn performed by Joseph Davis. More movement begins where it BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallisseems each dancer is accenting steps to their own inner rhythm, and by now there are many more neon ropes, now pink and blue, all over the stage, wildly wiggling, as the curtain slowly descends leaving a couple, just left there with each other.

The World Premiere of "A Million Voices," performed by Tina Finkelman Berkett, Lorrin Brubaker, Joseph Davis, Haley Heckethorn, Natalie Leibert, Jessica Liu, Guzman Rosado and Jamal White, and choreographed by Matthew Neenan was inspired by the music of Peggy Lee, and what a treat! BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The WallisJazzy and upbeat, it showcased all of the dancers' extensive technique, flexibility and control as well as their personalities and showmanship. It is a medley of the greatest music of Peggy's Era, composed by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman and Stoller & Leiber, among others; including "My Momma Done Told Me," "Let's Say a Prayer," "Freedom Train," and "Is That All There Is." Between Big-Band Jazz, Slow Ballads and Honky-Tonk, the dancing included everything from group unison steps with fancy footwork to flamboyant, splashy solos, with gorgeous extensions, brilliant adagios and lifts, barrel roll turns, pas de chats, and one amusing number done almost entirely on the floor. BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallis

My favorite section was to the last song, "Is That All There Is," where in each verse, they depict the characters being sung about, ending with someone pouring something on someone else, as if to physicalize "Yes, that's all there is," BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallisleading up to a lone girl in a black gown holding a champagne glass, while Peggy is singing about falling in love and how it fades and life goes on, just walking in plie' across the stage, all the way upstage, until the same point in the vocal where she tips the glass over and lets the champagne pour out ~ the others all come back, all with champagne glasses in hand, and on the very last note of the song, tip those glasses over en masse.

The next piece, "George & Zalman," choreographed by Ohad Nanarin, and danced by BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The WallisTina Finkelman Berkett, was a solo performed to a spoken recitation. She starts standing in 3rd position, center stage, while a piano plays an intro. It begins with a single phrase spoken that she does specific movements to, then returns to her opening position. It begins again with the same phrase, same movement, adding another 2-word phrase and movement to match, stopping again. Each time, another word or words are added, with matching movements, it stops, going back to the beginning once again. It is a very avant-garde piece, with difficult body positions and strenuous contortions and BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallisvery demanding physically, needing a lot of stamina to make it to the end, which she pulls off magnificently. I found this piece, besides the obvious repetitiveness, a bit uncomfortable to watch, and the narration a bit out there; not so much for the strong language used, but just the awkwardness it imparted.

The final piece, "o2Joy," choreographed by Richard Siegal, was absolutely joyous and BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallisoh-so-entertaining! Set to a medley of music by Clark Terry, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, and other jazz greats, danced uninhibitedly and enthusiastically by Tina Finkelman Berkett, Joseph Davis, Natalie Leibert, Guzman Rosado and Jamal White, it is a fabulous homage to American Jazz standards. Dancing in socks, no less, Guzman Rosado danced brilliantly to aBWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallis honky-tonk piano, bluesy-scatting number, sliding across the floor, executing great leaps, not missing a beat while the music improvised in and around the melody, ending with some powerful grand jete' turns in a circle that could have made Nureyev sit up and take notice. Tina Finkelman Berkett followed with an upbeat and fun boogie-woogie rendition of "On The Sunny Side of the Street," adding Jamal White and Natalie Leibert to the mix during the vocal section with fervent, snappy choreography, kicking up their heels and having a blast.

The crowd-pleaser of the evening came when the two ladies, posing as back-up dancers, started on stage to the instrumental intro of Ella Fitzgerald's "All of Me," and BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The WallisJoseph Davis literally pops out on stage, lip-syncing to Ella as if he were Gypsy Rose Lee performing her 11-o'clock number. He is comically dramatic, overly emoting, gesturing grandly and shooing the two ladies off-stage whenever they start pulling focus, and milks his ending and bows by going off stage and re-entering again, shamelessly reveling in the applause, begging for more.

Next was a rousing, jazzy Big-Band number, with all five dancers nimbly jitterbugging, with heads bopping, boogie-woogie stepping to lots of horns, switching from partners, to trios, to a men's floor section during a trombone solo, to tipping upstage, still quick-stepping while Natalie Leibert steps out and counters their movements with ballet steps.

The last section, staged beautifully, began with "Someone to Watch Over Me," with one couple slow-dancing upstage to the piano melody. Jamal White then takes over with Natalie Leibert dancing to tasteful piano licks, including a nice section together done in plie', then a solo turn for Jamal, lightly and airily leaping to a tinkly piano melody, ending with the two of them on stage, as he catches her one last time, with her sinking to the floor, and, curtain. BWW Review: BODY TRAFFIC - an Arresting, Full-Speed Ahead Performance at The Wallis

This eclectic, hard-working and thought-provoking company also gives workshops for dancers and non-dancers, including traveling to Israel and Jordan at the request of President Obama to be cultural ambassadors, where they held many workshops, some with muslim women that had never danced before, which gave them a wonderful new freedom and confidence; as well as in Korea and Algeria. They have also been awarded other recognitions, such as Dance Magazine's 25 To Watch, named "the company of the future" by The Joyce Theater Foundation in N. Y. C., and "Best of Culture" by the Los Angeles Times,

Photos by Rob LaTour

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