Founded in 2007 by Lillian Rose Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett and based in Los Angeles, BodyTraffic is a contemporary dance ensemble whose name suggests freeway gridlock and moving in tight quarters. The movement is in fact nonstop in the four pieces the company has brought to the Institute of Contemporary Art this weekend, under the auspices of Global Arts Live, but at times Friday it did seem that a gridlock pause for thought wouldn’t be a bad thing.
This isn’t BodyTraffic’s first visit: Global Arts Live presented the company at the ICA in 2014 and 2017. But the current program offers four Boston-area premieres: “(d)elusive minds” (2014), by Nederlands Dans Theater 2 director Fernando Hernando Magadan; “Snap” (2019), by former BodyTraffic dancer Micaela Taylor; “Resolve” (2019), by the LA-based duo Wewolf; and “A Million Voices” (2018), which BalletX co-founder Matthew Neenan set to recordings by Peggy Lee.
Magadan’s scenario for “(d)elusive minds” is the “true story” of a schizophrenic man who kills his wife because he thinks she’s been replaced by an identical impostor. Convinced the real wife is still alive, he spends the next 15 years writing her every day from prison.
The set features a hanging mullioned window with frosted panes midstage and, at the back, an armchair surrounded by discarded and crumpled sheets of paper. A voice-over narrator offers cameos like “A woman and the corpse of her husband who run a motel” and “Two people suffering from memory loss fall in love again and again and again” while Berkett and Guzmán Rosado strike goofy poses. The first measure from the slow movement of Franz Schubert’s E-flat Piano Trio plays over and over before finally breaking free. Berkett and Rosado, meanwhile, break into a frenzied, jittery duet full of angular robotics, as if both were fighting demons. In the end, he strangles her, looks remorseful for a second, then starts to grin.
“Snap” takes its musical cue from James Brown, though the three selections — “I Got the Feelin’,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” and “Super Bad” — are cut up and spliced with an original score by David Schocke. BodyTraffic describes Taylor’s work as “inspired by the ethnically diverse, yet isolating crowds of Los Angeles. It urges audiences to ‘snap out of’ social pressures to conform, and to connect with their individuality as well as with people around them.”
I couldn’t detect much of that in “Snap.” Taylor herself, in a guest appearance, starts the piece off with a powerful, expressive solo. A woman reporter tries to interview a man playing Brown; two women vocalize; two men struggle with each other then reconcile; a trio of women move in silent unison. There are hints of what it means to be an individual as opposed to part of the group of eight, and hints during “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” that it’s really a woman’s world. Taylor seems to be hooking up with Ethan Colangelo before he disappears on her. She and the group carry on.
“Resolve,” to a percussive score by DJ Tennis, finds Rosado and Joseph Davis mirroring and shadowing each other in a rectangle of light. Their show-off moves include a hip-hop floor exercise that incorporates yoga; they solo for each other, challenge each other, manipulate each other’s bodies, but somehow never seem to be dancing together.
Neenan set “A Million Voices” to a quintet of Peggy Lee songs, four of them from her time in the 1940s with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. The eight dancers strut their individual stuff to “I See a Million People (But All I Can See Is You)” before Rachel Secrest and Jamal White, simultaneously hip and elegant, engage in a sultry duet to “Blues in the Night” (a.k.a. “My Momma Done Told Me”). The patriotic “Let’s Say a Prayer” and “The Freedom Train” feature some spoofy saluting and other mime, and then to Lee’s 1960s hit “Is That All There Is?,” Berkett and Rosado duet while an umbrella comes out and a woman in a hoop skirt carrying what looks like a martini glass pours its contents over them. The piece is lighthearted fun, but the final song’s title question occurred to me more than once.
Presented by Global Arts Live. At Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, Nov. 15. Repeats Nov. 16-17. Tickets $54-$58. 617-876-4275, www.globalartslive.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.