Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Dance to Remember

August 06, 2012

Jinku Kim's Untitled Photo: Steven Gunther/REDCAT 2012
The second week of REDCAT’s New Original Works Festival arrived last weekend with a lot of dance on its mind. Of course given the venue and the opportunity invited artists get to present works in progress, to call the two larger pieces on that bill “dance” understates the level of complexity and vision on offer. Ironically, both the dance works - Prumsodun Ok’s Of Land and Sky, and Nick+James’ Lake alluded to the power of myth in a contemporary social and political context. Of Land and Sky is a crafty adaptation of an adaptation. The original Cambodian myth at the core of the performance concerns the love between a peasant farmer and a goddess. This original is further filtered through a 1968 Cambodian film version of the story, Tep Sodachan directed by Lay Nguon Heng. Excerpts from the film relevant to the legend were projected on a screen behind the performers of Of Land and Sky and elements of the movie’s musical score were re-enacted by the cast on stage. In the film, the goddess and her fellow deities look down from above as a young farmer burdened with a baby looks on desperately from below appearing in a state of crisis. Prumsodun Ok further abstracts this story in live performance where the romance is now portrayed as being between two men as a group of bare-breasted goddess dancers surround the pair on stage. The movement favors the mythological and archetypal overall, but the gender and political implications of the piece are clear despite the multiple layers of slightly altered versions of similar story elements. There is particular unity here of the traditional with the more contemporary media environment, both in the movement as well as visual content of the piece. But the work at this early stage still feels short and a bit underdeveloped with narrative elements being hinted at more than explained. There are some lovely images including the live action peasant famer character discovering it is not a baby that he is holding wrapped in a blanket by a megaphone. But a certain lack of coordination in the overall corps of dancers and some allusions that are hard to decipher in the context of both the film and the stage presentation weigh the piece down at times.

From Promsodun Ok's Of Land and Sky Photo: Steven Gunther/REDCAT 2012
What followed and closed the evening, Nick+James’ Lake has no smaller set of ambitions. The choreographers and performers Nick Duran and Jmy James Kidd have worked extensively with the biggest names in contemporary dance. But their own work seen in development here seemed to distill many of those influences into something unexpected and new. The reference here is Narcissus and from the minute the audience entered the theater the Dionysian feeling prevailed with a small group of friends and audience members seated on colorful pillows and blankets around the dance space alongside a lotus-seated percussionist. Again bare-breasted women, this time draped in peach togas, strutted around before the primary dancers arrived. When Nick+James did, it couldn’t have been in starker contrast with both dressed in matching grey floor-length skirts and sweaters. There is a particular freedom in this paired movement filled as it was with allusions to any number of other choreographers. The two performers were less enraptured by their partnered “reflection” as Narcissus was with his own image. Instead the Narcissus myth is recast as about love or at least the way in which couples enter parallel existances to one another over time with their own set of flaws and imperfections.

From Nick+James' Lake Photo: Steven Gunther/REDCAT 2012
But oddly though, perhaps the piece I was most taken with on Thursday was the most out of place and arguably the one most devoid of actual performance. Jiku Kim’s Untitled exists on the border between performance and video art instillation. The work begins with three inverted pyramids of white boxes each of a different size suspended from above. The complete darkness of the performance space somewhat masks the inevitable fact of the matter: they are getting closer slowly but surely to the audience almost to the point of being directly above them. Soon the black and white lines, squares and squiggles of a video feed begin to fill the projection spaces of these large structures in rhythmic and rapidly synchronized patterns. It was like a video art version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind played out live with electric noise and music to set the tone. The images could be dizzying in their repetitiveness and brashness. But there was something overwhelming about the experience at once immediate and inviting and alienating, strange and threatening. The simple beauty of frantic energy of the work outshone its overall immediate lack of physical human involvement. It was hypnotic and all to brief of an experience and one that deserves further exploration.

The third and final week of the NOW Festival will kick on this coming Thursday August 9. But before then, it’s worth noting in perhaps the biggest news for REDCAT this year, the Elevator Repair Service company will return from Nov 29 thru Dec 9 for a limited run of their masterpiece, GATZ. I’ve written about the show as performed in New York two years back and can tell you from two separate viewings that this may be the most important single American theater event so far this century. The fact that the production and large cast that manages to reconstruct a dramatic, acted out reading of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is coming to L.A. is a major coup for the venue. The show has been wildly praised everywhere its gone including a recent West End run in London. It’s a stunner so don’t hesitate to buy a ticket for this daylong event when you have a chance. It may sound arduous at eight hours with three intermissions including one dinner break, but you’re unlikely to ever experience anything else like it.


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