On Sept. 23 2011, a symmetric array of dancers were positioned on the dimly lit stage of the Redcat theater to begin the second performance of the New Original Works Festival. Victoria Marks, a UCLA professor and renowned Los Angeles choreographer startled her audience with a frantic sprint in a circle around the other dancers on stage. Other unorthodox movements accompanied this postmodern performance such as one dancer perched on his tailbone on the ground while Michel Kouakou (recipient of the 2007 NYFA Artist Fellowship) nudged him around in a circle using his shoulder. The dance as a whole consisted of movement that was unexpected, yet calculated.
The performers in Medium Big Inefficient Considerably Imbalanced Dance, Victoria Marks and Michel Kouakou among them, moved rigidly and animalistically across the stage to the soundtrack of what fluctuated between a rainforest, soft jazz, helicopter blades, and other miscellaneous noises. Much of the movement stemmed from the dancer’s cores; use of the spine and stomach muscles controlled the limbs. This was an eerie, stop and go performance that still managed to flow smoothly. I was able to categorize this dance as contemporary; it included elements of ballet and jazz and was made for the stage. The dancers vacillated between these powerful and controlled movements until they one by one staggered across the stage with arms outstretched like trees being uprooted and blown in different directions in a violent storm. Medium Big Inefficient Considerably Imbalanced Dance was confusion, postmodernism, and passion. Every movement held meaning and illicited a reaction from the audience.
How does one turn the sandy shores of the Pacific Palisades into ancient Greece? On Thursday September 29, 2011 the semi-circular stage of the Getty Villa in Malibu became the dusty, destroyed ruins of the Trojan War circa 1230 B.C. Anne Bogart’s production of Trojan Women swept over this quaint, Getty Villa outdoor theater with waves of despair, sorrow, and grief that left the audience with holes in their hearts. Overall, the production was successful, but issues with recreating a play thousands of years old within modern context arose. Although the production was heartfelt, well-cast and at a fitting location, the play fettered between unrealistic and chronically confused in a way that perturbed and failed to resonate with me. However this did not detract from the high quality of theater that was displayed on this crisp autumn California night.
Trojan Women, originally written by ancient Greek playwrite Euripides, exists in this production as an avant-garde adaption in which the actors and actresses reach into the depths of their instinctual emotions and produce psychotic, lovesick rants like Akiko Aizawa as Kassandra and guttural moans of despair and sorrow as does Ellen Lauren as the Hecuba, the mourning matriarch. The true accomplishment of Trojan Women is its encapsulation of everything tragic that could happen to a woman – the loss of sons daughters and husbands, coercion into prostitution and concubinary, and the heartbreak of having to say goodbye to the destroyed remains of one’s home. These universal themes of despair, loss and sorrow exemplified in this ancient context still stick with the audience. However, the logistics of the production do not translate to modern time in a sensible manner.
The costume choices were damaging to this play. The women were adorned in flowing white Greek gowns (with dark gray trim at the bottom, possibly to symbolize the carnage of war) that clung to their bodies and twirled with their drowsy, choreographed movements throughout the play. The aloof and haughty Helen wore sparkling high heels, diamonds and bright red lipstick. While the women were costumed somewhat authentically to the ancient Greek context, Poseidon, Menelaus and Odysseus moved stiffly and uncomfortably in suit jackets that were notably ill-fitted paired with mismatched ties. This costume choice quickly sent the production into an unrealistic and abstract realm that for me, failed to impress. What made up for this costume discrepancy was the high caliber of acting that all of the characters brought to the stage. Ellen Lauren – the discernable star of the show – portrayed all that is drama and darkness in her lengthy monologues and fervent impersonation of grief-stricken Hecuba.
There was a strong element of dance in this production. It was evident that the director’s effort had been invested in crafting the performance in a way that used elements of dance. Every movement was calculated and staged. The legato bows of a violin sounded from the back of the stage and the spotlight was conscientiously placed on the center character of each scene. Dramatic moments such as the sorrow of Andromache’s loss of her son were accompanied by low lighting. The careful placement of sideways chairs pushed the production into a realm of abstract drama that was not fully comprehensive, but still appreciated as a thorough production that captured the feminine side of war.