Jacob Jonas The Company

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Zoellner Arts Center

by Samantha Burns

Performing artists fresh out of Los Angeles, Jacob Jonas The Company took the stage at the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania this past Saturday, January 27th. Originating in 2014 under founder and artistic director, Jacob Jonas, the company is renown for their fusion of ballet, modern dance, breakdancing, and acrobatics. Not only have they taken the concert dance world by storm, receiving national acclaim for their work that has been described by the LA Dance Review as “fresh, contemporary, and socially driven”; they have also broken into the commercial world, working with companies such as Puma, Nike, and Spotify.

The program opened with In A Room on Broad St., a piece that Jonas describes as “inspired by my ideas about how society views competition”.  It opens with a collage of bodies, walking and remaining still. Shortly thereafter, chairs are introduced and are passed around from dancer to dancer. Immediately, viewers can see the influence of many genres of dance: modern, ballet, and hip hop, infused into the most pedestrian of movements. As more chairs are brought onstage, relationships between the cast members begin to shift.  Feet wide apart, arms crossed, steely gazes forward - confrontation and intimidation become tangible as individuals sit in chairs that are facing one another. 

There is a push-and-pull feeling throughout the work, from how the dancers interact with one another, to the chain reaction of cause and effect within the execution of movement. For example, the male duet relied on weight sharing; pushing away, then pulling back into one another. Another instance: the amorphous mob moving across the stage, weaving in and out of one another, eventually leaving one man alone to begin a solo. A spotlighted dancer fell and was then recovered by his or her fellow cast mates. Like a well oiled machine, the action and reaction between the dancers propelled the piece forward, all while thrilling the audience with the seamless transition from each breathtaking moment to the next. 

As the piece progresses, the cast’s phenomenal athletic ability and versatility are on display. Jonas did a wonderful job crafting this piece so it caters to the strengths of his dancers. Acrobatics and breakdancing are the through line that brings Jonas’s vision to life. Characterized by the same crisp execution that is often present in dance styles originating on the West Coast of the United States, the amalgamation of dance genres within this evening length work pushes the boundaries of conventional concert dance. 

The dance film, Grey, symbolically explores the clean cut line between cut-and-dry differences. It is a site-specific film shot at The Getty Center, a pristine all-white building. The performers, all dressed in black, moved with precision, complimenting the grace of the architecture, yet juxtaposing the starkness of the white background and black costuming. As the color grey can be deconstructed into black and white parts, the film seemed to visually explore the meaning of a “grey area”. A fading effect was used in editing, where the dancers disappeared gradually into the white brick, passing through shades of translucent grey before vanishing all together. The metaphoric approach to this idea of differentiation read well through a dance film, and took advantage of the benefits of site-specific work and film editing to emphasize the abstract concepts present in the choreography.

The final piece shown was Obstacles, inspired by Jonas’s friend Mallory Smith and her struggle with cystic fibrosis. Jonas and company member Marissa Labog co-choreographed and performed in this piece; it began with the two encapsulated in a long diagonal of light. There were a series of passes from one end of the diagonal to the other, with Labog climbing onto Jonas in order to pass him. He continuously immobilized her, so she had to work harder each time to move forward. When she would reach the end of the rectangle, he would pick her up with ease, and walk her to the starting point. This continued throughout the entire piece, with slight variations as Labog consistently tried to outsmart Jonas. Regardless of what Labog did, Jonas would return her to the beginning again, forcing her to keep working to the point of exhaustion. 

The performance in Obstacles was simple yet genuine; the rawness of each movement, each vocalization, was palpable. Both Labog and Jonas would grunt, yell, or exclaim audibly, showing the work and the fight that was occurring. As Labog began to tire, she would rally her strength and give what was often thought to be the final push. Viewers were drawn in by her perseverance and doggedness, and longed for her to continue to get up and keep going. Set to a recorded segment of Smith discussing her fight against cystic fibrosis, the movement accompanying her words only made the audience push for her to overcome this obstacle. Jonas and Labog did an excellent job crafting this piece, for in the moments that it was being performed, viewers were rooting for Smith, and empathically cheering for her to win the fight. Every moment that Labog found the strength to defeat Jonas momentarily, it was a small victory. It was an accurate representation of the battle that those with terminal illnesses face every day; a poignant and emotional end to a program filled with brilliance.

Acrobatics and breakdancing are often used in dance as “tricks” - the bombastic language used by those who try to elevate their speech, yet fail to sound eloquent. Jonas’s approach was different, and thus successful; he speaks fluently with vocabulary that relies on these elements; it is interwoven into his language’s syntax. The result is an authentic representation of these two genres of movement; a well executed exploration of compiled dance styles into one exquisite result that has come to fruition as none other than Jacob Jonas The Company.