Review: LA Dance Project presents Roberts’ LINEAGE & Smith/Schraiber’s QUARTET FOR FIVE 2.23-25 DTLA
Updated: Feb 26
LADP's cast of Jamar Roberts's Lineage bow at end of world premiere show Feb 23, 2023 in DTLA; Photo J. Norris
The lobby of L.A. Dance Project’s (LADP) theater/studio in DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles) is abuzz with fashion conscious, attentively-coifed young people. It is opening night of LADP’s three-night sold-out run of their “Night of Dance” program. It features two twenty-five-minute works: the world premiere of Lineage by choreographer Jamar Roberts, and the L.A. premiere of Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber’s 2022 work, Quartet for Five, choreographed in collaboration with LADP company dancers.
Program notes tell us that Lineage “explores the concept of intergenerational trauma, when the effects of oppressive or traumatic historical events are passed down between generations.” Roberts’s choreography marries contemporary ballet with jazz dance. The dancers are humans, confronting themselves, their ghosts, their partners, and society, as represented by a large ensemble cast. The forces of generational suffering lurk throughout, in intense and emotional vignettes. The music is the edgy, sometimes chaotic, always compelling, free-jazz of next generation saxophonist Zoh Amba, from her album O, Sun.
As Lineage opens a dozen figures stand in rowed formation. Like scarecrows, their upper arms jut out, while their lower arms hang at right angles, hands vibrating at their ends, fingers splayed. In unison they strike powerful poses, before breaking into disorderly duos. The stage is so full of flying arms and rippling torsos it is difficult to choose a focus.
Nayomi Van Brunt is separated from the group. One at a time, others approach her. Manipulating her limbs, they shadow her from behind making her a puppet controlled by unseen forces. When finally alone, Van Brunt dances with urgent desperation. She backs up jerkily, as if being pushed, still responding to invisible forces.
The statuesque duo of Courtney Conovan and David Adrian Freeland, Jr. prance and pose in each other’s orbit. Though initially they disregard each other, we watch as a trusting relationship develops. As Conovan dances a seductive solo, Freeland stands hauntingly transfixed. She gently touches his cheek calling him back from his dreamlike state. Liquidity enters their limbs as they unite with twirling, buttery soft, arabesques.
The third section of Lineage features Daphne Fernberger and Lorrin Brubaker in a passionate pairing that will leave Brubaker curled in the fetal position by its conclusion. The ensemble is present throughout their physical relationship, sometimes observing, and other times interceding. Ten dancers move like a herd skittering across the floor in linear formations. They lift Brubaker off his feet, using his body as a battering ram, compelling him to act against his will. I interpreted Roberts’ use of lines of people throughout as one of the ways he communicates how difficult it is to escape the patterns formed by intergenerational trauma.
L.A. Dance Project Feb 23 cast of Bobbi Jene Smith & Or Schraiber's Quartet for Five; photo J Norris
After intermission, Quartet for Five is stunning from start to finish. One wants nothing more than to see it again, perhaps with the second cast, because it is difficult to imagine other movers performing this fully embodied work as well. It is performed to Philip Glass’s expressive, emotionally rich String Quartet No. 5.
Against a white backdrop, in a brightly lit room, three men and two women walk into the space from disparate corners, converging in the center to regard each other. The men are in black suits, the women in high-necked grey long-sleeved dresses, almost Amish in spirit. Black low-heeled brogues complete their prosaic clothing, designed by Victoria Bek.
Courtney Conovan, suddenly alone, hurls her long limbs through space. Dropping to her knees she circles on her shin bones, her torso hinged backward, her extended arms continuing the diagonal line of her back. Suddenly back up she takes a running stance balancing on her toes, defying gravity, before thumping her chest with a quick smack.
Lorrin Brubaker and Jeremy Coachman enter facing each other, gesticulating wildly at the other as they pace left and right across the stage, focused entirely on each other. Stomping their feet at emphatic moments, they end in a clench. Each on bended knee, chest to chest, they bend rapidly back and forth their torsos taking turns on top. The audience giggles at the absurdity. Next, Brubaker and Coachman perform a musical theater dance number worthy of Gene Kelly. We feel their camaraderie and joy as their complicated steps increase in speed and height.
Daisy Jacobson finds her match in David Adrian Freeland, Jr. Sweeping her off her feet, he waltzes with her pressed against his chest her feet dangling. She squirms away, their ill-fated match leading to many near collisions as they try to figure out how to support each other. He lifts her high above his head before allowing her to skim down his chest. He leaves her lying face down on the floor, her arms extended toward him.
The movement throughout is dynamic and fascinating and oddly pedestrian. The dancers move onto their toes and then back to flat anchored feet but always reaching, flinging limbs with abandon, then melting sideways, clutching one and another. The women rub their hands along their bodies often feeling themselves in unconventional ways. As the music intensifies, facing each other, the five perform a fast-paced intricate series of shared motions. They clutch their arms and clap their hands, before unleashing one magnificent, bounding stag leap together.
How lucky we are to have Smith and Schraiber making new work for LADP. I have seen Smith perform her own choreography in solo work previously both on stage and on film and wasn’t sure what an ensemble piece would look like. Quartet for Five is so very human, full of humor, and joy, as well as heartache. It leaves the viewer wanting to move themselves alone or with others, just what we need in these hoping-to-be-post-pandemic times. Review by Jen Norris, published February 24, 2023
Presented by L.A. Dance Project
LINEAGE (world-premiere February 23, 2023)
Choreography | Jamar Roberts
Music | Zoh Amba Album: O, Sun / Hymn to the Divine Mother / Gardener / Satya
Lighting Design | Caleb Wildman
Costumes | Janie Taylor. Constructed by Christina Olson.
Length | 25 minutes
Cast | Daisy Jacobson, Daphne Fernberger, Nayomi Van Brunt, Courtney Conovan, David Adrian Freeland Jr., Mario Gonzalez, Lorrin Brubaker, Vinicius Silva, Shu Kinouchi, Jeremy Coachman, Peter Mazurowski, Oliver Greene-Cramer
QUARTET FOR FIVE (2022)
Choreography | Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber
Music | String Quartet No. 5 by Philip Glass
Lighting Design | Clifton Taylor adapted for the stage at 2245 by Caleb Wildman
Costumes | Victoria Bek
Length | 25 minutes
Cast | 2.23 + 2.25 Daisy Jacobson, Courtney Conovan, David Adrian Freeland Jr., Lorrin Brubaker, Jeremy Coachman