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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: L.A. Contemporary Dance Company “Dancing in Snow” December 1-4, 2022 ODC Theater, SF

An early tableau in Roderick George’s Dancing in Snow (2022) is memorable. Nine dancers stand, faces angle toward the sky. Their gloved fingers spread, extending the reach of their splayed arms. Every inch of skin is covered in form-fitting white over which mid-century clothing is worn. The men wear trousers with suspenders and boater hats. The women have snowy wigs styled in fifties up-dos, atop skirts, and accessories such as corsets or aprons.

Photo Credit: LACDC in “Dancing In Snow” by Roderick George – Photo by @TasoPapadakis for L.A. Contemporary Dance Company.

L.A. Contemporary Dance Company commissioned this work in 2022 and performed it flawlessly Friday evening in a touring presentation at San Francisco’s ODC Theater. Miraculously, the dancers perform with their faces fully covered for the first half of this hour-long piece. The choreography is complicated without much repetition. The dancers deliver lengthy syncopated unison sections with accuracy that is all the more amazing considering they cannot see well out of their face coverings. George uses a collage of dance styles including jazz, ballet, modern and club. The transitions from one form to another are fast and furious so that one never settles before another intercedes.

The soundscore is similarly eclectic, a pastiche of fifties ballads which become increasingly distorted; a version of The Chordettes “Mr. Sandman” was barely recognizable. The original music is by slowdanger, with additional music credited to The Andrews Sisters, Doris Day, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and others. One minute we are hearing the romantic lyric “we are meant for each other,” and the next, someone sings “get out of here before I call the cops.” It all happens so quickly and without a discernable movement cue that one isn’t quite sure what just happened. Perhaps this evokes the experience of a Black artist in a predominantly white world, subject to aggressions and transgressions, both micro and macro, often leaving one unsure how to react when everyone else seems oblivious. Over the arc of the evening, pulsing electronic music overtakes the nostalgic riffs from the opening scenes.

The piece moves fluidly from full-stage group sections to trios and duets. Over time, the blank faces create a disturbing lack of humanity, so it is a relief when two dancers, one in pants and one in a skirt, enter and slowly disrobe. They stand face-to-face in a pool of light removing first their gloves and then item after item of clothing. After the pants are removed, the tights come off. It takes work to get down to the scanty dancewear underneath, in colors generally consistent with the dancers’ skin tones. The head and face coverings are the last to come off, and when they do we discover that our clothing-based gender assumptions are wrong. Two women are revealed, rather than a man and a woman. They lean in to kiss each other before turning away just before their lips touch.

Out of nowhere a flesh-leotard-clad Kate Coleman enters chattering away on her cell phone about a twerking class she just took in which she was the only White person. Shaking her booty, she prattles on dissing street dance styles and those that excel at them, while also imagining herself as the envy of all once she masters the style and becomes a Tik-Tok sensation. The co-opting of a Black dance form by a classically trained ballerina is a trite reality of our social-media driven world.

Abruptly Coleman is erased by the sudden intrusion of sirens and red lights. The second half has officially begun. A Black man lays facedown on the floor. A Black woman comes to investigate. Cupping his chin to lift his head and chest she finds him lifeless and allows him to flop back to the ground.

Lighting designer Claire Chrzan is masterful at creating otherworldly environments, choosing a spooky grey-green for the athletic section which follows. Dancers crash into each other, they handstand and backbend over one another. Some kick outwards, while others draw them back. The lifeless man from earlier rises and joins the fray. The random light pools both amplify and obscure the chaotic movement patterns. Chrzan uses strobe and searchlights as things disintegrate, the dancers quivering their feet seemingly anchored in place.

Dancer Colleen Hendricks is magnetic. Her shoulders pulse, and her torso ripples in muscular isolations, as her body waves embody the music. Jamila Glass, the Black performer upon whose experience, as a Black woman in White spaces, inspired the creation of Snow, is surrounded by dancers. They crowd and trap her, eclipsing her as she struggles to be free. Later she delivers a fierce audience appraisal, stalking archly amid the shadowy others.

Snow concludes with the whole company onstage, dancing as an ensemble as the statuesque White dancer Nicole Hagen pulls focus center stage. She smiles and fawns at the audience, upstaging all. One barely notices the latest Black casualty, a new man lying face down on the floor as the lights fade.

Dancing with Snow offers a rich experience, with strong production values and marvelous dancing. Robert Huerta & Ashley Kayombo’s costumes are unforgettable. L.A. Contemporary Dance Company is racially diverse, performing a work that wishes to be “a sophisticated and thoughtful statement about Black and Queer experiences and how cultural appropriation and tokenism separate Black dancing and culture from Black bodies.” With this in mind, I found myself distracted as I searched for ways the choreography addressed the topics of cultural appropriation and tokensim. Beyond the twerking solo, which arrives with the subtly of a sledgehammer, the contemporary choreography before and after it is perhaps too nuanced to effectively deliver the message.

Photo Credit: LACDC in “Dancing In Snow” by Roderick George – Photo by @TasoPapadakis for L.A. Contemporary Dance Company.

Review by Jen Norris, published December 3, 2022 _____________________________________ Digital Program Here:

Production Credits

L.A. Contemporary Dance Company presents

Dancing in Snow

December 1-4, 2022 ODC Theater

San Francisco Premiere

CHOREOGRAPHY: Roderick George

PERFORMERS: Kate Coleman, Jamila Glass, Nicole Hagen, Colleen Hendricks, JM. Rodriguez, Ryan Ruiz, with Guest Artists Edgar Aguirre, Sam McReynolds, and Dave x

Lighting Designer: Claire Chrzan Stage Manager: Christina Otarola Production Manager: Napoleon Gladney

ORIGINAL MUSIC: slowdanger ADDITIONAL MUSIC: The Andrews Sisters, Phil Harris, Anton Karas, The Crew Cuts, Doris Day, Bill Haley and His Comets, The Ames Brothers, Vera Lynn, Elvis Presley, The Chordettes, Frank Sinatra, Blaze, Jay Wood REHEARSAL DIRECTOR: Natasha Poon Woo REHEARSAL ASSISTANTS: Kate Coleman & Nicole Hagen COSTUME CO-DESIGNERS: Robert Huerta & Ashley Kayombo COSTUME CONSULTANT: Kelsey Vidic WIG STYLIST: Kate Coleman

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1 Comment

Dec 10, 2022

Very odd how you so carefully and articulately and positively describe the many ways the choreographer, who you barely mention, has elucidated your understanding and how you received this obviously, thoughtful, multi-layered and complex work but choose to dismantle it all as invalid in your closing sentences. It’s a disservice to the field, to the choreographer, to the company and to journalistic critique. I am so tired of people naming themselves as responsible and expert enough to speak about dance in meaningful and productive ways.

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