In last Saturday’s concert Celebrate Dance drew from its long, varied history in a retrospective program featuring nine Los Angeles dance companies. The evening began with a tongue in cheek social media interlude and a celebratory opening served up by the students of Hollywood’s Bancroft Middle School who filled the aisles with fifty dancers in a flash mob inspired performance accompanied by the pop anthem “Celebrate”. They set the tone for an evening that was both a nostalgic homecoming and a dedicated testimony to Executive Producer Jamie Nichols’ vision of connecting audiences and school children with performance opportunities for local companies beyond black box venues.

The performance marked a return of folkloric inspired dance with Viver Brasil Dance Company, and ballet with performances by Motion/Tribe and Monat Dance. Anchoring the remainder of the program were six modern and contemporary companies capped off by BPM beatsperminute in an urban tap jam backed by a rock 'n roll band and vocalist. The two and a half hour program surveyed a long arc from the serene drifting beauty of Pennington Dance’s shifting set of ensembles “Out Of!” for six dancers who float among a suspended gallery of five large landscape panels designed by Susan Rankaitis to the raucous closing energy of BPM who were joined in a brief a cappella opening improvisation by four of Bancroft School’s advanced tappers. A moving video tribute to Marie de la Palme by David Sukonick celebrated her career as an often edgy theater dance modernist. It was followed by her “Le Coeur Illuminé” danced by Jean Sayeg partnered by a vibrant red silk. Set to the slow movement of Ravel’s G Major Concerto for piano, Ms Sayeg made a deep connection with the piece’s searching emotional quality and at the same time made a strong statement blending pointe work and aerial finesse. At first tethered to the floor and finally suspended from the silk, Le Coeur Illuminé soared literally and figuratively.

In Act I, Viver Brasil Dance Company’s “In Motion” backed by an on stage ensemble of percussion and vocals, started small with a capoeira duo led by musician Luiz Badaró and guest capoeirista Nes Morales before launching into two full throttle improvs in which seven female dancers traded solo and ensemble roles. They were matched by a rising tide of music anchored by percussion. Completing Act I was Backhausdance in “Push”, choreographed by company Artistic Director Jenny Backhaus. With darkly themed ambient music (Zoe Keating) and darkened lighting the piece brings together two dancers, Tawny Chapman and Joshua King, in a fluid counterweighted duo in which the two move in tandem, pressure fitted, and rarely out of reach of one another.

Larger ensembles with narratives dominated Act II. “Dancing Man, a fairy tale” (RhetOracle Dance Company with choreography by Artistic Director Nate Hodges) riffed on the Irish crossroads dancing tradition in a tale that begins benignly before turning dark as the Dancing Man, the menacing Adam Ziv, bewitches his followers. Infused with a macabre humor, the contemporary dance piece was backed with a score of traditional music played by The Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band. Hodges’ story, stretching over fourteen minutes, played like an illustrated fable fashioned in movement.

Male dancer in a split jump on a blue lit background
Sole Vita Dance Company "The Walk West"

“The Walk West” (Sole Vita Dance Company with choreography by Joelle Martinec) was a slice of Americana in a contemporary dance idiom. Drawn with a cast of thirteen dancers in four sections, it made a buoyant, hopeful statement about the bonds of community. The athletic concluding section, with music by Mumford and Sons and danced by Jake Bevens, Isaac Huerta, Zareh Markarian, and Mickey Pasamonte, featured them as a unified band of brothers. The tireless high-flying Zareh Markarian was exceptional in his virtuosic solo turn in the third section titled “Revealed”. Costumes by Martinec reprised some of the look of the pioneer men and women in the familiar Martha Graham classic.

Duet performers: female dancer in a penché, male dancer in a crossed leg position
BARE Dance Company in "Drift"

Opening Act II, BARE Dance Company directed by Mike Esperanza offered a redesigned “Drift” (originally for four dancers) as a live on stage reunion of former and current company dancers. Taking turns dancing briefly on large platform in a pool of white light, they pair off in a steady procession that finally involves all twenty seven dancers. Costumed in shades of white and set to the elegiac second movement of the Beethoven Bb Major Piano Concerto, “Drift”---the title characterizes the dominant aspect of Esperanza’s movement choices---concludes with all the dancers weaving hand in hand in a final acknowledgement of a dance family that has performed for ten years on both coasts. Monat Dance returned with a spare but bustling “Beyond the Edge”, a tightly designed neo classical work for six dancers set to concerto movements by Handel and Bach. Choreographed by Sophie Monat, the work focuses on a central couple (danced by State Street Ballet principals Leila Drake and Ryan Camou) who duck in and out of ensemble sections with the remaining four dancers. The company made a refined statement with classical technique and clean lines.

BPM Beatsperminute performers on stage, music band in the back and 3 tap dancers in the front
BPM beatsperminute closes the night − Photo: Tim Agler

BPM concluded the program with their guided improvisation, this time around titled “A 7 Piece Band With a Twist”. Lead dancer and choreographer Glyn Gray is a tapping force to be reckoned with. He has a knack for prowling the stage, lighting fires under his dance and musician colleagues along with a visible generosity that extended to the Bancroft School tappers.  Beginning with a raised curtain revealing only legs the company began with an introductory call and response section before ratcheting up the action with the vocalist and band that traded off on both tap and instrumental solos. Suited up in more dapper stylish attire than in their 2014 performance, the 2015 incarnation felt juiced, celebratory, and confidently remade.

Speaking from the stage Jamie Nichols acknowledged the student and the school programs, Elissa Glickman and The Alex Theatre, support from the Flourish Foundation and Diane Hula for the last six Celebrate Dance programs, and finally the immense contributions of Celebrate Dance’s technical and lighting designer Eileen Cooley. Forty companies, ten years, and still getting better---that’s something to celebrate!

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