An intertwined collaboration of classic styles and modern ideas drives compelling stories, as told by the dancers of the Los Angeles contemporary dance company, BODYTRAFFIC. The four-part program, presented at Edmonds Center for the Arts on October 26, uses aspects of mid-20th century music and dance to display BODYTRAFFIC’s style and technique while combining modern acting with inventive ideas. In this show of immensely imaginative pieces, the dancers use their bodies to tell emotional and innovative stories of human experiences. Although the impact of the storytelling fades as the final piece is performed, the company’s breath-taking technique is never absent.
Eight pairs of feet peek out from under the rising grand curtain, posed and placed evenly across the stage. Soon, the dancers turn into a gallery of silhouettes as the curtain disappears and the stage fills with light. The music of the famous 1940s jazz singer, Peggy Lee, opens the show’s first piece, A Million Voices. The dancers’ intricate and playful movements aptly convey the rhythmic quirkiness of jazz dance. Quick head turns, subtle heel raises and small articulations of their hands, paired with exaggerated facial expressions, give the piece a cheeky attitude. The upbeat music of Peggy Lee added excitement and peppiness to the dancers, with joyful sounds of a saxophone animating their high-energy motion. The dancers interact with each other in brief moments of tender romance with intimate lifts or quick swing duets. Comedic stories grasp my attention throughout, with water-filled wine glasses being dumped on the dancers by their fellow performers, avant-garde costumes inspired by ‘40s fashion, and theatrical expressions that create a lighthearted scene. The charming comedy soon shifts when the extravagantly dressed dancers clear the stage and one dancer remains. He repeats a locomotive action, moving his limbs in circles like wheels of a train but staying in one place onstage, as if he is stuck in the same movement. His repetitive actions soon turn harsh and rigid as he unexpectedly starts losing his balance and falling to the floor, the soulful lyrics of “The Freedom Train” by Peggy Lee amplifying throughout the theater. He personifies the train in the song, being held back by the obstacle of his own body. After the music ends, he continues this battle with himself in silence. Without the distraction of any music, the audience is pulled into his emotional battle, hearing every breath, fall, and footstep on the stage. It’s an almost uncomfortable experience—the audience has no choice but to endure his painful conflict with him. With the silence and the vulnerability of the solo dancer, I started questioning why the last ten minutes of cheeky jazz was paired with this distressing ending phase. The audience witnesses a moment of solitude where personal struggle and hardship is brought to the surface, directly after seeing a social scene where joy and love thrive. The piece captured how easily personal struggles can be hidden in the chaos of a community, compared to how someone can really struggle on their own.
BODYTRAFFIC in A Million Voices choreographed by Matthew Neenan, performed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in LA. Photo by Rob Latour