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New works are the engine for BodyTraffic dance company

BodyTraffic dancers performing Barak Marshall’s “And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square. . .”

Christopher Duggan

BodyTraffic dancers performing Barak Marshall’s “And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square. . .”

BodyTraffic. You’ve got to love this dance troupe for the name, if nothing else. It suggests invention, attitude, and urban edge. And the 10-member Los Angeles-based company, which makes its Boston debut through World Music/CRASHarts this weekend, has that and more.

Dubbed one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” last year, the repertory company is known for its versatility, bringing vivid theatricality to a range of provocative works commissioned from some of today’s most dynamic choreographers. On Friday and Saturday at the Institute of Contemporary Art, the company will perform three area premieres: Kyle Abraham’s new “Kollide,” “o2Joy” by Richard Siegal, and Barak Marshall’s “And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square. . .”

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BodyTraffic was founded in 2007, after co-artistic directors Tina Finkelman Berkett and Lillian Barbeito met in a Los Angeles ballet class. The two New York-trained dancers had followed their romantic partners to California, but found the landscape for dance in Los Angeles at the time very unsatisfying.

“Lillian and I were at the height of our dance careers, trying to figure out how to grow. We had a desire to continue to dance and work with high-class, high-quality choreographers, and found that there was support for that,” Berkett recalls. So the two gathered together several other dancers and formed a company.

Unlike modern dance companies that present the work of a single founding choreographer, BodyTraffic has been devoted to commissioning all new dances, bringing in a variety of top choreographers to create pieces specifically tailored to the dancers’ talents and versatility.

“BodyTraffic is built from the dancers’ perspective, which sets us apart from other companies around the country,” says Berkett, who still dances with the company. (Barbeito retired from performing in October). “We are curating dance pieces that we want to dance and commissioning works that are enjoyable in the creation process as well as to perform. We’re pushing and challenging dancers to be exposed to new styles and movement vocabulary, and those feed into the versatility of our company.”

Berkett says the work choreographers create for them is often driven by the dancers themselves, including their individual characters: “It really gives a glimpse into the personalities of the dancers, their quickness, their refinement, the ways we are different from one another and the ways we complement each other. And we feel it’s our job to uphold the integrity of each work.”

All BodyTraffic’s dancers have classical ballet training, but Berkett adds, “It’s equally important to be lovely, nice people. You can find incredible dancers anywhere, but we look for dancers who love being in the studio and upholding the vision of the choreographer. We love so much to be together, and that shows onstage. It takes a particular kind of person that has a pleasant personality and is very versatile, whether the work is fast-paced and gestural like Barak Marshall’s or very physically demanding like Kyle Abraham’s. And ‘o2Joy’ by Richard Siegal demands musicality and precision. Dancers are asked to switch gears very quickly.”

BodyTraffic’s creative idealism isn’t cheap. Each commission comes at a substantial cost, as guest choreographers spend up to a month creating a new work for the company. But Berkett says that process is vital. “It’s so exciting to be in the studio with a choreographer who’s pushing us and using our dancers to make something special and specific, because it’s so important to who we are and what we offer. We want our dancers to explore something they’ve never explored before, so each piece in the rep is different from other works that exist. We are looking for a new voice with something to say that’s different.”

For audiences, that company model affords a glimpse of what is happening in modern dance from around the world. “In Boston, they’re offering an evening of dance that’s diverse with three distinct voices, performed with technical virtuosity,” says WorldMusic/CRASHarts director Maure Aronson. The company premiered Abraham’s highly physical and emotional “Kollide” in October, just after the choreographer was named a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow.

Siegal’s “o2Joy” is the company’s homage to American jazz music. “It’s a mix of ballet precision with jazz and some syncopated hip-hop steps. It’s all about musicality and love of dance. It really showcases the camaraderie in the company,” says Berkett.

She calls the 2012 piece by Marshall, a Los Angeles-born Israeli choreographer, highly gestural and theatrical, unfolding as vignettes, some with spoken lines. “It’s born of styles learned from his performance-artist mother, Margalit Oved, who is Yemenite, so a lot of movement comes from that tradition. You see the company in full effect, each personality standing out. It’s really dance theater that takes you on a journey.”

For Aronson, the engagement marks a surprisingly rare opportunity for Boston audiences to check out what’s going on with modern dance on the West Coast. He is impressed not just by the company’s repertoire and skill, but by its upbeat spirit. “There’s something really optimistic about this company. The work that I have seen from them has a lot of fluid movement and exuberance.” He laughs, then adds, “Maybe because the weather’s better.”

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.
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