For a few moments before the beginning of Solo at Dusk, Bobbi Jene Smith’s new, commissioned work for Los Angeles Dance Project, the blue sky above the improvised outdoor theater and the purple floor covering for the stage area glowed with a vivid wash of color. With the company’s down town studio parking lot transformed it was clear this drive-in style performance was not going to be a make do substitute for the pandemic era but a bit of magic that would have been hard to come by or reproduce in any actual theater. Twilight, the golden hour (call it what you will), all of it enhanced Smith’s nostalgia driven dances. Coupled with Alex Somers’ fragile music, the themes of memory and loss hung over Smith’s suite of dances with a ritual quality.
They said: There used to be a town.
The most striking element of Solo at Dusk were the seven masked dancers dressed in flowered head pieces designed by company dancer, Janie Taylor. Taylor presides over most of the work seated at a small table and a record player. The remaining six dancers take turns engaged in a series of solos, a duo, and distanced ensemble sections. Who is she? Who are they? We’re not sure. We are not distracted by knowing their faces but come to know them in other ways. One, for an undulating arm in an opening solo, another, for his classical abandon, another for arched feet, a couple for their blue, flowered faces and a central duo that becomes an unrestrained focal point of the forty minute work. You learn to expect the unexpected : an Israeli folk dance erupting in an upstage corner with extended arms hovering over imaginary shoulders, a street dance style cypher, the dancers facing off in a frantic round of dance and verbal challenges, a voice and a song bringing us back to someplace familiar.
They said: People used to talk with their bodies. Sounds made you remember.
Both Smith and Somers have personal histories imprinted on Solo at Dusk. Smith a former Batsheva dancer has absorbed the talismans of the Batsheva/NDT franchise and Euro Zone dance theatre with opaque narratives and authentic movement that has been processed through dance bodies. Somers who lived for more than a decade in Iceland, shares a connection with the musical world of contemporary Icelandic composers and musicians. His music for Solo at Duskhas commonality with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s compositions. We hear spacious, slow lines of repeated melodic fragments or repeated bass or harmonic progressions that unfold over manipulated sampling. The mix of ambient sound (the work opens with a long section of an audible ocean) and recorded performance on acoustic instruments (cello, piano, and percussion) plays out seamlessly with the evolving chapters of Smith’s dances. Well into the work a cover of La Solitude, the French chanteuse Barbara’s song poem on the permanence of isolation, brings us back to the opening metaphor of Taylor seated, then dancing by the record player. The suggestion is the dancers encompass both a past, and an uncertain future with isolation as a constant companion.
They said: Practice to feel.
It almost seems contrary to the design of “Solo at Dusk” to acknowledge individual performances. The dancers come to reflect the enforced anonymity we all feel: distant, masked but moving. However Lorrin Brubaker and Daisy Jacobson as the blue masked dancers made deep work out of their partnering. They are sheltering together and so as part of the guidelines for producing the work they alone were permitted close contact partnering. Jacobson especially seemed as if this movement had opened an express lane just for her.
They said: The ground was soft. And so were they.
Flowers grew over their faces.
Solo at Dusk closes with the dancers standing, facing the audience, in these performances, an arc of parked cars. It was a final statement of where we are now with our enforced spacing. But even so they evoked what I have come to see as the company’s brand, building a creative permanence with an ephemeral art form. In this moment, the adventure proved both resilient and a unique expression of collaborative dance in Los Angeles. Solo at Duskwill air on December 12th in a one day only pay per view event on the LADP Digital app. Access for this special prerecorded full length performance and trailer are available through the Los Angeles Dance Project website.
The Solo at Dusk poem–highlighted text– and other collaborations are by Or Schraiber. Performances for this piece took place in September and October. Safety protocol for the dancers and performances were managed under the guidance of the LA County Board of Public Health. The cellist for the score was Gyða Valtýsdóttir with additional mixing contributed by Ben Babbitt.