BWW Review: BON IVER & TU ~ MUSIC AND THE MOVES ~ ENTERTAINING AND EVOLVING ~ COME THROUGH at The Hollywood Bowl
During the summer months at the Hollywood Bowl, it is still light out when the evening's program begins, which afforded me the chance to take a look around and peruse the patrons. It seemed a bit atypical as far as age range of most Bowl goers; a rather young and hip group. It was a very packed crowd that assembled, hosted by KCRW's Musical Director Jason Bentley, to first hear William Brittelle 's Spiritual America featuring Wye Oak and the Metropolis Ensemble and then to experience the sensation of Tu Dance Company, accompanied by Bon Iver, in "Come Through."
Opening while the late afternoon turned twilight, the musical combination of William Brittelle 's Spiritual America featuring Wye Oak and the Metropolis Ensemble played a very non-traditional set, with Jenn Wasner on vocals, in the Post Genre electro-acoustic style of music which it has been dubbed. They have a very celestial sound, intercrossing melodies, tempos, pitch, and volume, really breaking all normal barriers in musical composition. This is a true collaboration of Mr. Britelle, Andy Stack & Jenn Wasner, (Wye Oak) and the Metropolis Ensemble: Andrew Cyr, Ben Cassoria, Erika Dohi, Michael Katz, Guy Mintus, Evan Runyon and Michi Wiancko. A "secular spirituality," breaks forth using echo/reverb and a searing bass undertone felt through your whole body. It is made up of nostalgia, deep feelings, knowledge... a collaboration into a very evolved musical form of expression.
Bon Iver is the four-musician group that play the interesting and intricate music the dancers of Tu perform to. They are, Justin Vernon, BJ Burton, Michael Lewis, and JT Bates. It is more than just music and dance; the huge screen all the way upstage as the backdrop and other angles shown on the jumbo-trons of a light-show mixed with graphics and videos adds to the overall experience.
The West Coast premiere and only the third time being performed, Tu Company presents "Come Through." The company has been in existence for 14 years, based in St. Paul, Minnesota. There are nine company members that are either soloists, partners or ensemble, all taking turns in those formations and groupings. They are all of equal ability, top-notch contemporary, on-the-edge performers combining classical ballet, modern, afro, and current moves, while communicating a dynamic truth through the music and movement. Uri and Toni-Pierce Sands are the Choreographer and Artistic Directors, and the outstanding dancers are Kaitlin Bell, Taylor Collier, Jacob Lewis, Adam McGaw, Randall Riley, Amanda Sachs, Alexis Staley, Christian Warner and Elayna Waxse. Other perfectly tuned-in credits are to Aaron Anderson and Eric Carlson for Visual Artistry, Carolyn Wong for Excellent Lighting Design and Zinda Williams for Costuming.
They open, while musicians begin, perched above on an elevated landing, center stage, with pounding drums carving out an African beat as the dancers enter, strong and powerful, a light show happening on the upstage screen/scrim behind them. There is a tribal feel to the choreography and music, and a conglomeration of quick pictures and words flash on the screen, mixed with the dancers doing interesting arm positions in unison that create an energy that is rhythmic, yet techno savvy; making you compelled to watch to see what comes next. There are words preceding each new dance section that are flashed upon the upstage screen: "POWER" ~ "sand and smoke"... "What you've wanted your whole life"... "Come Through"... "Free Spirit"... "Elevate"... "Automation"... "Earth"... "Heaven"... "Visuals"...
The next section has an R&B feel, while everyone but one dancer is bent over to begin with, arising to perform a very expressive dance. There are knee spins, double axles, moves with flexed-feet, plie'd passes with scooping arms, slides across the floor, acrobatic and clever in sequence. This music and vocals sounded much like a fabulous EW&F hit. The dancers switch between formations and duos, continually moving, double-pirouetting and with, again, very unique arm movements that enhance what the rest of their bodies are doing to embody the music.
A bass rhythm starts, slowing tempo as the dancers drop to the floor. As a vocal begins, they begin standing up, one or two at a time, but upon hearing a chugging train sound, are back on the floor, writhing, down low, slowly rising and parting to the sides as a soloist dances a very fluid, but strong section, requiring balance and a dynamic interpretation.
There are many sections that follow, each beginning with different words and images being shown on screen, with the dancers positioned in different areas on stage, and usually a musical intro followed by vocals. In and out of the musical compositions there are keyboard, guitar and sax solos by the musicians who are each highlighted in pools of light as they play. A lot of odd techno sounds interspersed add to the mix.
The adjectives to describe the different dance numbers range from athletic, funky, smooth, intense, playful, jazzy, flowing, primal, light-hearted, joyful, vibrant, purposeful; with intricate floor work, unique port de bras, wonderful technique, visually appealing, strong partner work and lifts, with the music sometimes techno-electronic, sometimes rhythm and blues, rock, african-influenced, bluesy, dramatic, ever-melding tempos into the next rhythm. The dancers are quite versatile and work off of each other extremely well, making the movement flow from one dancer to the next, as the music transitions seamlessly along with them. Each section has it's own feel and style, both musically and choreographically.
One section is danced to while one of the dancers is also laughing loud and uncontrollably, falling to her knees, crawling along while the others dance around her, following up with a nice dance combination of controlled fan kicks around to an arabesque, dancing low to the ground in deep plie' and slow motion, being lifted, partnering, ending up standing on another dancer's back, on his hands and knees, while she stares out vacantly...
Another section has a lot of partner work, with very innovative positions and poses, ending with them rolling over one another. There is a wild cry, and a soulful blues song begins a fabulous section of flying leaps, the male dancers leaping up to each others shoulders, rolling off each others backs and using each others bodies to move across the floor.
Next, a dancer is standing wearing a veil, starting to move, as we realize there is someone behind her using their arms and hands as hers, and as they move along, gesturing, the strains of "A Song For You," begin. With snaky, sinewy arm movements they dance, stuck together, back to back, legs moving independently, her on his back, then sliding down, pushing off of him, him lifting her above him, her feet flexed with bent knees, him carrying her as they switch back and forth their positions with each other, the saxophone playing them off, wiggling off stage together.
Next are very agile solos by two of the male dancers; a handstand gracefully crumbling down into the floor, spinning, sliding into a split; then double and quadruple pirouettes, contracted turns with a bent knee, the other leg in front attitude. His arms go up with a strong fist, the tempo racing, an afro drum beat taking over as he sits on the floor in a spotlight, taking it all in. He slowly starts to feel the beat sinking into his body, rising up, when a techno-ized vocal comes in. This leads into another section where the dancers are stepping and pulsing, bouncing in plie' across the stage, with more double inside attitude pirouettes, and a nice combination with the entire troupe.
The last piece begins with a voice-over announcement speaking to the America of 1877, with Jim Crow laws, the inequality even on the heels of the 13th Ammendment, as the dancers enter to the heavy music, using very modern movements to express their feelings; then, the mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. and more hopeful and celebratory music and movements evolves. There are images flashed on the upstage screen to match the dialogue, which eventually focuses in on a red rose slowly blooming, over and over again. The volume, tempo and tone of the music changes as the dance movements become larger and more joyous. The dancers really outdo themselves during this last section, dancing their hearts out, giving the audience everything, full-out to the max.
By this time the entire Bowl audience was on their feet, clapping, yelling and whistling with excitement and appreciation. I'd say this program satisfied and uplifted everyone there!
Photos Courtesy of Craig T. Mathew of Mathew Imaging