BWW Reviews: Clairobscur's BULLY Dominates at Diavolo Performance Space, 1/27
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by Craig Fleming
With her company, Clairobscur, choreographer Laurie Sefton hopes to present work that is "morally-charged and socially significant." On Sunday, January 27, she brought to the Diavolo Performance Space in Los Angeles some highlights from her repertory, and a new work examining the struggle to balance our herding instinct with the need to individuate, and how sometimes that clash leads to damaged souls and tormented lives.
Bully, a suite of five pieces, begins with a playful playground romp featuring the entire company (Damien Diaz, Jacqueline Hinton, Alyson Mattoon, Allynne Noelle, Evan Swenson, Aleksandra Wojda), all spring stepping, clasping hands and partner swirls, that inexorably leads to a single dancer separated from the crowd. She doesn't fit in, but it's unclear: is she self-removed? a victim of unmotivated bias? In the second movement, our group, minus the one, is reformed as a gang, but its former insouciance is replaced with something a little more serious. Muscles are more taut, expressions are more set, . Inevitably another dancer is declared apart, and in his third movement solo, he establishes his physical credentials. Evan Swenson is our bully. He leaps and throws himself about the stage, but is most effective when he makes his mark with a full stop, a crouching pose, legs held open, eyes challenging the audience to deny his dominance. Following his exit the group returns, no longer a gang but now his henchmen, sinister in black hoodies, from time to time swinging an arm in rehearsal for a roundhouse punch, all the while gearing up to collaborate on some senseless act, the effect of which we'll see in Bully's final movement. Allyne Noelle, the victim, returns in a vivid solo, synthesizing the lyrical and the agonized, her trauma crystallized in juxtaposition of gesture: one arm extends vertically, hand languidly twirling in an erotic figure, while the other hand violently tremors an inch from her face. It's a stunning image, as is the final moment, a self-imposed end to the pain, her body rigid, inert, suspended from an unseen tether.
Preceding Bully were two works from 2009. This Facility is Being Monitored for Your Protection and Security was a two-part riff on ubiquitous video cameras and their effect on our psychological and emotional well-being. Surveillance slowly reveals a tightly-posed quartet (Jacqueline Hinton, Alyson Mattoon, Allynne Noelle, Aleksandra Wojda) clothed in variations of business grey flannel, quivering to machine-like chirping (bugs?!) They quickly shift into their workday routine, a rush hour accompanied by drums and metal and clockwork chimes ("Monkey Chant" by Glenn Kotche). Sharp turns and frenetic gestures mix with the quotidian; it's just another trek to the office under the watchful eye of Big Brother. Mattoon occasionally breaks into exhibitionistic solos (perhaps not everyone is oppressed by constant scrutiny.) The second section, PanOp, considers the incarcerated, with their unabating lack of privacy. Damien Diaz and Evan Swenson, grim yet quick, strong yet constrained, pepper their constant movement with jabs of finger pointing, at us, at each other, at the watchers who never rest. Again, the details are the substance.
Second on the program was Out of Life, a triptych of solos exploring terminal illness and death. The first and last were expansive, with balletic flourishes. Jacqueline Hinton and Allynne Noelle each brought deep focus to the physical expression of loss and acceptance, with gestures to the heart, at once giving and guarded. In between the two sections, Damien Diaz explored the anguish of mental disintegration, punctuating his frenzy with two-fingered vein taps to the inner arm, a nervous tic that evoked a desperate but doomed attempt at relief.
Following Bully and closing the program was Crawl Xipe Totec II, a strenuous duet featuring Jacqueline Hinton and Alyson Mattoon. Dressed in bright-green unitards, stretching and gripping low to the floor, the dancers were impressive in their physicality but the net effect unfortunately evoked a rain forest milieu. As described in the press materials (there were no program notes) the piece was a meant as correlative of primal violence, which is why it was chosen to follow Bully. But the link was tenuous. While the previous dances were human and social in their questions, this final piece, while admirable for its choreography and execution, was an incongruous closer.
Jen Goldstein's lighting for the full program was valid and restrained. Costumes by Ruth Fentroy and Laurie Sefton smartly supported the action. (Their colorful briefs and tees provided deft misdirection at the start of Bully.) Of special note was the original music for the title piece. Mark Hadley, a Los Angeles-based composer, set a tone of anxiety and violence with his guitar-dominated operatic grunge. It was a fitting soundtrack to an ugly and all-too familiar story.
Photo Credit: Denise Leitner