By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
There‘s a story I heard once about Lester Horton, the granddaddy of Los Angeles modern dance. One day, tired and cranky, he came into a rehearsal, brought all of his dancers onto the stage and commanded them: ”One, two, three, KVETCH!“
Taking Horton’s cue, I‘ve got a kvetch of my own: Why this proclivity to overhype young choreographers? Given the wealth of local dance artists producing a range of fascinating work, why do we fetishize new talent? The problem, of course, with this vampiric cult of the new is that we’re fickle; publicity mills will always be in need of fresh blood, the next big thing. And so we create a system that doesn‘t provide much aesthetic elbow room to experiment -- fail, if need be -- and that overlooks those doing the spade work year in and year out, somewhere between ”emerging“ and ”masterful.“
With that in mind, I approach Ilaan Egeland, a performer who’s been transiting into the role of choreographer over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the hype was securely in place for Egeland‘s appearance at Highways Performance Space late last month with a relentlessly cheery evening-length piece, . . . in one day, that also introduced her dance company (Egeland, Susan Goldberg, Erin Carper and the musical duo Bright Blue Gorilla). The attention Egeland has received is due in part to a much-quoted resume that includes a lengthy New York stint and, most recently and notably, touring with David RousseveREALITY. Indeed, during . . . in one day Egeland demonstrated some of the gifts that may have led to this association: a long line, quick dynamic responsiveness, and an engaging stage presence that outstripped her other dancers. It’s the kind of beguilement that could sell you snake oil, which pretty much sums up the piece, condensing as it does the Southern California experience into bite-size, easily digestible pronouncements about -- what else? -- Disneyland, Hollywood, traffic, greed and the like. This is a work that not only wears its belief system on its sleeve, but unabashedly reiterates it through song lyrics (sung, spoken and projected onto the back wall), interweaving storytelling and philosophical musings, and movement segments which, like yet another rousing chorus, obediently follow wherever the music leads. (A singer touts a line like ”Lay me down“ and -- voila! -- a dancer does.)
The collagist approach is fairly common these days among dance, performance and theater artists, so I‘ll forego comparing Egeland’s foray to Rousseve‘s. The key to this approach is to be strategic in one’s choices. It‘s like building a house of cards, a delicate structure balanced upright from the tension among its composite parts, and it is here that Egeland’s inexperience becomes most apparent. The elements are cut from the same feel-good cloth, and in the absence of any juxtaposition, it all becomes formulaic: First we talk about it, then we sing about it, then we dance about it. The movement itself -- breezy combinations featuring lots of unfurling limbs -- never takes off, or takes us farther or deeper, subsumed as it is within the limitations of Egeland‘s overarching intention to make a statement about our humanity. I kept wishing that Egeland would forget the point she wanted to make and focus, instead, on the movement.
How different the expansive silences of Neil Greenberg, whose one-night gig at the Skirball Cultural Center June 22 proved how incredibly sublime textural and communicative movement, all by itself, can be. Despite unforeseen technical difficulties (i.e., bad weather) that prevented his New York--based company from performing at full tilt (at the risk of falling on a sopping wet stage), it was a delight to spend an evening with the finely honed wit and movement sensibility of Greenberg, whose trio What Happened and quartet Sequel employed, parodied and subverted the suspenseful and melodramatic trappings of Hitchcock movies. Greenberg finely hones his material, shaving off anything and everything extraneous until we’re left with spare, tightly organized phrases that at first have the rhythmic evenness of a declarative sentence (one can almost hear the dancers trying to explain and defend themselves).
Although Greenberg skillfully uses a range of cinematic strategies (flashback, freeze-frame, stop action, slow pan) as well as two well-placed convex mirrors at the rear corners of the stage to play with our perceptions, his goal seems not to simply mimic filmic POV, but to embody the atmosphere of intrigue at the heart of any great mystery. He slowly builds narrative and character at the same time that he questions it, creating ambiguity with an added gesture, a costume change (Do we believe him, more or less, now that he‘s wearing that shirt?), a look askance, the interjection of a jagged, hair-raising violin chord, or the projection of text which, acting as another character, provides humorous asides such as ”Don’t listen to her. She‘s lying.“ The movement winds around and doubles back upon itself (it is a mystery after all), allowing us the space to marvel at its imagistic power, and the dancers’ ability to imbue even the vaguest gesture with multiple textures and meanings.