Evening length performances have been a regular feature of many small dance companies. They are an easy route to unifying thematically an evening of dance. With sprawling themes and ambitious contexts that reach beyond the usual boundaries of dance they also tend to promise more than they deliver. Such was the case with SZALT (DANCE CO.)’s latest evening length work, “Moon&” at the Ford Theatre. The program limned elements of the feminine psyche, with “themes of arrival, communication, and self-observation”. With sound and music by master audio manipulators Louis Lopez and Jonathan Snipes, Stephanie Zaletel’s latest piece for her all female company abandoned their previous scaled down museum venues like the Brand Library Dance Series and the Hammer Museum, art house theaters, and underground galleries in a show that never seemed to successfully adapt to the Ford’s formal concert setting and suburban garden environment.

3 dancers center stage leaning over to the right, 2 dancers upstage left jumping with knees bent
Photo: Timothy Norris, courtesy of Ford Theatres

Zaletel and company are hard core experimenters. Each of her works has fallen into this category, each with a different angle, but maintaining the same choreographic process of discovery via collaboration, and slow accretion. Loosely organized around the names for the phases of the moon, the work falls into eight sections. Much of it seems weighted with emotional and physical anxiety. The journey can feel desperate. Aggressive, often grating sounds from Snipes and Lopez’s live-performed score reinforced an overall, edgy grimness. But there were moments which cut loose with movement that was buoyant. They seem particularly welcome as reservoirs of dance that stand apart from other action that invested with the theatrical values of performance art. One long duo with Zaletel and Lindsey Lollie, a founding SZALT company dancer, evidenced the kind of connection that two dancers with long-established collaborative connection can achieve. Another trio showed off unison dancing to good effect. But the sections themselves didn’t seem to grow out of the demands of the music or feel tethered to what preceded or followed them. Throughout, the company leaned on some of its trademark obsessions: authentic movement, extended slow motion, thematic repetition, lunging poses, and hyper-articulated movement that at times makes bodies look broken.

dancers Stephanie Zaletel and Lindsey Lollie on the floor, with one leg bent behind
Stephanie Zaletel and Lindsey Lollie − Photo: Timothy Norris, courtesy of Ford Theatres

In an attempt to capture the atmosphere of the company’s earlier performance venues mentioned above, much of the Ford audience was seated on stage. In a sense, that arrangement recreates the atmosphere of earlier performances in which audience members were packed in, often only feet away from the performers. It’s a strategy that lent excitement and intimacy to their museum and gallery appearances but felt unnecessary and contrived here.

Zaletel and company are hard core experimenters.

The Ford is not a friendly theater for dance, even with its new design and configuration. The audience was ushered into the first 20 or so rows for the performance. These are poorly positioned seats that obscure dancers through a forest of heads and leave you with an eye-level view of feet. In a number of sections in which the action took place on the upper terrace those dancers were blocked from view by dancers on the main stage level. Better staging may have delivered more visible outcomes.

dancer with one leg hig in center stage, dancers sat around, and audience on side of the stage
Photo: Timothy Norris, courtesy of Ford Theatres

Other collaborators in the evening’s work include lighting designer, Pablo Santiago. His designs in some instances produced a celestial glow of reflected light but also lit the on stage audience in ways that were distracting and shifted focus unnecessarily from the cast’s six accomplished dancers. Los Angeles Performance Practice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting innovative contemporary, multi-disciplinary artists was a cosponsor along with Ignite the Ford.

(The reviewed performance took place on Sunday August 26, 2018 at the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles.)

All photos © Timothy Norris, courtesy of Ford Theatres

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