BODYTRAFFIC | Rachel Halkias (Feb. 2016)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Williams Center for the Arts

By Rachel Halkias

The theatricality, versatility and accessibility of Los Angeles-based contemporary company BODYTRAFFIC create a unique and engaging performance experience. A sensitivity to musicality, story, humor and universal truth is woven through its diverse choreographic repertoire. The group presented three pieces Wednesday, February 24 at the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College in Easton.

The first piece, titled And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square…, includes a program note explaining that its origins lie with the choreographer’s mother, performance artist Margalit Oved. Former Batsheva Dance Company house choreographer Barak Marshall creates a world guided by a soundtrack comprised primarily of Jewish love songs and hymns from the Yiddish, Ladino and Yemenite traditions, setting the tone for the story as it unfolds. The piece begins with a single dancer standing center stage under a spotlight holding a bouquet of flowers. The silence is broken by the ominous tolling of a bell. The audience is then swept forward by fast-paced guitar into a complex, specific and articulate movement phrase reminiscent of sign language, which becomes the core movement for the entire piece. The energy shifts when a man and woman discuss a recipe for fish into a microphone. This type of transition occurs twice more in the piece - a man describes a very detailed preparation for “a stupid animal,” staring at the woman intently. In these recipes for suppression, a woman is considered a piece of meat to be stuffed, dressed and made palatable for consumption.

There are more instances of overt misogyny throughout the piece, and while its blatancy is never outright malicious or violent, it is certainly pervasive. At one point, the men drag the women, hands bound in rope, onto the stage to the sounds of farm animals. This visual seems barbaric, but the action is not aggressive, rather, pragmatic. The core phrase is repeated throughout the piece in different contexts and to different music, taking on new meaning with each shift. Mixed-gender interactions exude moments of passion, complacency, exasperation, flirtation, rejection - every split second seems to embody a different emotion, illustrating the traditionally complex, frustrating - and sometimes ridiculous - relationship between men and women. The piece concludes with a Tarantino-esque wedding scene during which the bride removes a black veil her friend has placed on her head, pulls it taught to mimic a machine gun and takes out the guests in a flurry of blood-red rose petals.

The structure of the program created a chance to experience choreographic variance as well as performer versatility. Once again, before you go is a dark, deep, shadowy landscape set to soft glitchy, synth-y sounds layered over broad, longing strings. The dancers seem to be exploring the space around each other - manipulating, merging, separating. The hip-hop-infused movement is fluid, continuous and seemingly effortless. At times, something appears to ripple through the dancers’ bodies, affecting them just for a moment before diffusing and moving on. One dancer is emphasized every so often, and the piece ends with her being held up by two dark figures under a tight spotlight. Perhaps this world is her own mental or emotional creation to take part in, just for a little while, before leaving it behind.

The closing piece, aptly titled o2Joy, delightfully showcases the dancers’ classical ballet and jazz abilities without trying to cram in any over-the-top, difficult-for-the-sake-of-being-difficult movement. The dancers are charming, sassy and playful. During one section, a male dancer lip-syncs, in entirety, Ella Fitzgerald’s “All of Me” - extensive syncopated scatting and all. The piece concludes with a man and woman each doing their own solos with a sense of romance and nuance before finally meeting up at the end of the song. There is something thoroughly enjoyable about watching solid, imaginative, musically-driven choreography executed with an easy, experienced performance quality.

In 2013, Dance Magazine named BODYTRAFFIC one of 25 companies to watch. With scheduled performances all over the country and multiple works slated to be commissioned this year, there will undoubtedly be reasons to continue following this company’s evolution.