Classically trained dancers. Klezmer, Ladino, and jazz music. A man lip-syncing to an Ella Fitzgerald song. High school students from all over Los Angeles. This amazing mix came together on Wednesday, October 29, during a performance at the Skirball by local dance company BODYTRAFFIC.
BODYTRAFFIC was founded in Los Angeles in 2007 by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett. It was recently named the “Best up-and-coming dance company” by LA Weekly, “the company of the future” by The Joyce Theater Foundation, one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch in 2013,” and “Best of Culture” by the Los Angeles Times.
This performance was typical of our school performance series in which we offer music, theater, dance performances, and film screenings that bring diverse groups of students together to explore culture, history, and identity with world-class performing artists.
In order to whet their appetite for the performance, we asked students to respond to some questions about dance. These questions got them thinking about dance as a mode of expression and how it factors into their own lives. Here is a sampling of the students’ responses:
|What does dance mean to you?||When was the last time you danced?||What types of dance do you know?|
|Dance is a way to express yourself||In the morning||Tango|
|Feelings||When I was little||Ballroom|
|Everything||I twerk when I can||Cumbia|
The first piece, an excerpt from and at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square… choreographed by Barak Marshall, explored gender roles and the push-and-pull dynamics of romantic relationships.
In the second piece, dancers wowed the audience with a mash-up of disparate dance styles—breakdancing, ballet, and contemporary—in a selection from their newest work: once more before you go by choreographer Victor Quijada.
The final dance included selections from a suite of dances called o2Joy, an exuberant homage to American jazz standards, by choreographer Richard Siegal. In it, the dancers spun, swayed in pairs, and proved that it is possible to fly in our Ahmanson ballroom! To see excerpts of several BODYTRAFFIC pieces, click here.
Artistic director Lillian Barbeito told me that the company sets out to create work that causes the audience “to laugh out loud or sniffle at something that tugged at their heart strings.” From the looks of the audience and their follow-up questions to the company, this performance did just that! Students were curious about the life of a dancer—how each of the performers got into dance in the first place, when they knew they wanted to dance professionally, and what it’s like to be a dancer in BODYTRAFFIC.
Company member Melissa Bourkas (pictured below) shared the company’s typical rehearsal routine with the students: “[We] go to the company’s dance studio and take a ballet class for an hour and a half. Then we have a short break. After that we rehearse for two hours before lunch. If the dancers need a little pick-me-up, sometimes we’ll have a dance party during lunch with 90s hip-hop. After lunch, we rehearse for another three hours.” The students were fascinated by the dedication and hard work these performers put in as members of a touring company.
Other students were interested in the meaning of the dances they saw performed—what the movements were meant to express and the stories these pieces told. This typifies what we try to do with performances at the Skirball: namely, to facilitate the students’ appreciation of great art and encourage them to think about how these different modes of expression and creativity relate to their own lives.
Often with our school performances one school gets an up-close-and-personal workshop with the performers. This time around members of BODYTRAFFIC worked with students from CHAMPS Charter High School. During an hour-long workshop, BODYTRAFFIC performers taught the CHAMPS students moves from one of the pieces they performed that day.
It was the culmination of a wonderful day of mixing and musing for high school students at the Skirball, where sometimes exploring the things that connect us requires getting out of your seat and moving to the beat.
All photos by Timothy Norris.