Category Archives: Dance

Culture Shock L.A. offers own take on life challenges with ‘BEauty’

Krystle Bueno, center, and other cast members rehearse “BEauty.” (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times / June 21, 2012)

Many of the images in last year’s “Beauty CULTure” exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography provoked discussion: the blank stare of a child beauty contestant, a pair of taut lips being poked with a surgeon’s needle. The exhibition touched on issues of vanity, acceptance and self-worth. After catching the show, a handful of dancers from the urban dance collective Culture Shock L.A. were inspired to put their own spin on the concept. This Friday at the Ford Amphitheatre, they will premiere “BEauty,” featuring their own work alongside contributions from contestants of “America’s Best Dance Crew,” guest MCs, and actress and Culture Shock L.A .board member Tamlyn Tomita.

For 19 years, Culture Shock L.A.’s main focus has been on outreach and education. The nonprofit community dance organization offers in-school, after-school and public classes in urban dance styles, mostly in neighborhoods lacking arts education programs. Armed with music and dance, they aim to cultivate dignity and combat stereotypes. In 2005, the collective decided to produce benefit shows. “BEauty” will be its eighth, and its third big production this year.

Allison Tanaka is one of Culture Shock L.A.’s co-executive directors. She is slight, almost fragile. One week before “BEauty” premieres, she is gliding graceful as a feather …

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Sarah Reich: Tapping for a Living

Jessica Koslow listens as Sarah Reich talks about the trouble tap dancers have earning a living and achieving fame. But the 22-year-old Los Angeles native is not stepping away from her big tap family.

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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet at UCLA Live

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs Alexander Ekman’s “Tuplet” at UCLA Live on April 28. / Photo courtesy of UCLA Live

Several times on April 28, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, the French-born artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, walked through the lobby of Royce Hall looking like he was nervous. He made eye contact with passersby, stopped to chat with other young, stylishly dressed people, but mostly, he looked as if he couldn’t sit still. That evening’s performance was his company’s second of a two-night engagement at UCLA Live. It’s surprising to think Pouffer would be worried, considering he’s incredibly gifted at spotlighting beatific dancers, with just enough impeccable training mixed with the gift of free flow. Cedar Lake’s versatile movers wrap their bodies around choreography like Silly Putty. Toned, flexible and funky, this performance was a prime example of how they ease from one choreographer’s work to the next, shifting effortlessly from one particular style to another.  If my attention ever wandered throughout the night’s three sets, it was no fault of the dancers.

Especially not Jon Bond, who makes 28-year-old Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s “Tuplet” piece his own. The scene opens with a white screen, Bond standing as a black silhouette. Every time he moves, a sound escapes. An arm causes a whirring, a foot evokes a beep, and a shoulder lets out a hum. Simple, but evocative. By replacing counts of eight with noises, the body becomes a toy and the movements more relatable. The rhythmic exercise roots dance firmly in everyday life. But there’s nothing ordinary about Bond’s graceful execution. He plays his body like a virtuoso. Or, more likely, Bond acts as DJ, his body acts as turntables that blend and create sounds with every revolution.

“Nothing isn’t a rhythm,” a voice blares out…

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Krump Pt. 2 on KCET

Photo by Dan Carino

Though all dance styles are welcome at the 818 Session, the spotlight is on krump, a dance form created circa 2002 in South Central Los Angeles. Dave LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary “Rize” introduced mainstream audiences to krump and clown dancing — the latter adds face paint and costumes and has since subsided in popularity. Krump, however, has managed to gain momentum worldwide.

The economic and social conditions of South Central Los Angeles at the turn of the 21st century contributed to the brewing of repressed emotions and explosive atmosphere that birthed the essence of krump: a defiant attitude, extreme movement, and intense release.

Moving locations from its origins in South Central L.A., the 818 calls North Hollywood home (the session is named after its area code). As B-boy, a former breaker and one of the founders of the 818, explains, a dance community already existed in and near NoHo, which supports the circle: Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios, Millennium Dance Complex, and Evolution Dance Studios are all located in the area. The existence of these studios as well as the relative niceness of the neighborhood makes NoHo a present-day mecca of krump.

“There are no gang bangers out here,” assures Krucial. …

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Savion Glover’s “Bare Soundz”

Photo by Nina Glover

Savion Glover is the best tap dancer alive. His mentor Gregory Hines thought so. On Saturday night, Glover, Marshall Davis and Robyn Watson performed “Bare Soundz” on three mini, square platforms in the form of a triangle on the stage at the Valley Performing Arts Center on the campus of California State University, Northridge. It was as if each audience member had received a golden ticket to attend the greatest tap jam on Earth — 80 minutes of nonstop tapping, including improvised solos, group choreography and trading bars.

Glover champions a new school of tap thought: all tap, all the time. Unlike Hines and another mentor, Sammy Davis, Jr., Glover focuses solely on tap. His feet are his instrument. In fact, his whole body is his instrument. Sometimes he smiles; other times he contorts his face to reflect another emotion or impulse. His hands act as balancers, either swinging by his side or hovering loosely in the air, palms up or down, depending on what he’s trying to say.

Which leads me to two of Glover’s greatest contributions to the art of tap. He wants us to hear the music in tap, but also be aware of the conversation. At times, his tap sequences sound like the heaviest rainstorm. And yet, what we hear is probably different than what he hears, or what he’s telling us. The rhythms he performs differ so subtly, it’s difficult for the average listener to comprehend just how sophisticated his sense of timing is and how complicated his thoughts are. His tapping has reached a level beyond entertainment. In Glover’s capable hands, and those of his partners on stage, tap becomes a form of communication, an outlet for expression, which is best demonstrated when the three dancers trade bars on the same small platform. They appear to be having a ball, sharing jokes, posing challenges and experimenting with new steps.

After a night of taps pounding and sweat pouring, I couldn’t help but think I had witnessed a cool, new millennium version of the bionic man.

Article on Culture Spot LA

Ronald K. Brown’s “Evidence, A Dance Compay”

Photo by Kurt Leggard

I often wonder, which is harder: exhibiting refined technique accrued from years of study, or grooving effortlessly to a beat with natural grace and impeccable rhythm? The answer depends on whom you ask. As I watched Ronald K. Brown’s “Evidence, A Dance Company” on March 9 at the Ahmanson Theatre, this question popped into my head. The 10 dancers on stage demonstrated hard-earned, well-polished talent. Leading the charge, however, was their mastery of establishing a visible connection with the music, of riding the tempos with soulful impact.

This seems to be part of the choreographer’s mission, and kudos to Brooklyn-based Brown for combining vernacular with modern, African, Latin American and Caribbean dance. Brown’s work has one foot firmly rooted in the past, while the other is in step with the present. Proving himself a risk taker, he chooses to elevate everyday movement to the professional stage.

A dance instructor recently informed me his own teaching process relies on his students’ intelligence upon arrival in his classroom, intelligence they have gathered by experiencing life. People see their parents or family members dance, attend religious services, boogie at barbeques or Bar Mitzvahs. Everyday movement can inspire dance — even be dance. The show’s first act, “Ebony Magazine: To a Village” (1996) is a perfect illustration. The audience feels as if it is observing an intimate conversation the dancers are conducting with themselves and each other using body motion in lieu of words.

Stevie Wonder’s classic catalog powers the second act: every song in “On Earth Together” (2011). Spectators bob their heads to “Living for the City” and romantically reflect on “You and I.” Brown and his nine counterparts flirt with interpreting Wonder’s music, grounding their movement in real-world reflections. Brown’s work is refreshingly accessible.

Some people attend dance to be wowed by physical feats only a select few can do. “Evidence’s” performance offers a more humanistic element. Nothing expresses this more than Brown’s own smile, a wide grin that beams infectious joy and sweet satisfaction. He’s not as young as the rest of his crew (he’s 46), but he exudes a command of his own action and choreography that is unmatched on stage. He owns his work.

In “Grace” (1999), the third set, Brown touches on the sacred. Yet I couldn’t help recall how the first act also has a spiritual tone, or that Wonder imbues “On Earth Together” with ethereal vibes. With dance, it can be hard to decipher the line between the secular and the sacred. The celestial feeling of performing or watching dance can make you forget your feet are on the ground. Perhaps Brown was too ambitious in taking on Stevie. Besides a few missteps, Broadway’s “Porgy and Bess” choreographer brings dance down to Earth.

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Krump on KCET

Photo by Dan Carino

Around 2:15 a.m. a police car rolls up flashing its siren in a strip mall parking lot in the San Fernando Valley. The stores are closed. Few restaurants are open. The lot is empty, except for silhouettes gathered in a circle under a bright lamp. A parked car blasts hip-hop music through an open door. Some nod their heads to the beat, chest popping and foot stomping, waiting for a turn in the center. Others watch, chat, joke.

The car slowly approaches, then stops. It beams a spotlight in the group’s direction. Catching sight of the cops, a young man pushes the circle open into a half moon, giving them an unobstructed view.

“Let them see we’re just dancing,” he says. As the people part, a lone male krumper pops into view. Ignoring the cops, the dancer throws his arms to the sky, hops on one knee and bounces up again.

“Show them how you roll, Lil’ C,” someone yells from the circle.

If they recognize the soloist, the cops don’t show it. Lil’ C was one of the stars of Dave LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary Rize, and is seen on TV as a guest judge on FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” Just following orders, the cops are determined to shut down the 818 Session, named after its area code. An officer shouts to the crowd through his megaphone that he has received noise complaints.

Lil’ C still doesn’t stop.

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