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 but also personal connection. This weekend marks the company’s fourth Global Arts Live-sponsored visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Three of the four pieces on the bill are Boston premieres; three are set to pop songs, which makes for an entertaining if not always edifying evening.
First up is “The One to Stay With” (2022), by the choreographing team of Baye & Asa (Amadi Washington and Sam Pratt). The focal points here are (1) a bowl downstage left into which water drips from the ceiling and (2) Tiare Keeno, who directs the other seven dancers. The movement is frenetic, acrobatic, collegial, hinting at martial arts and ballet and children’s games. Three dancers have gathered round the bowl to begin, and, throughout, it’s a source of wonder and yearning. The music, when it starts up, is a pair of obscure 20th-century Russian waltzes. Now and then Keeno hooks up with Whitney Schmanski, who like her wears a light-colored outfit, but nothing develops. To a snippet from Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” Keeno does a robotic solo, perhaps by way of instruction. Schmanski lines up the other six downstage as if she were a drill sergeant. Toward the end, the dancers make abortive runs at the now glowing bowl, whereupon Keeno shows them how it’s done. The dancer who copies her best is rewarded with a shower of what looks like gold.
The work’s program note offers a diatribe against “The Company,” as in “The Company’s profit margins are built on theft: of natural resources, human labor, and life.” That might clarify what happens onstage, but it doesn’t explain the title or the mystifying choice of music. What stays with you is Keeno’s juggernaut performance, not the politics.
Micaela Taylor’s “Snap” (2019) was on the bill when Bodytraffic was last here, in 2019. The piece draws on James Brown, though the three selections are cut up and spliced with an original score by just shockey. 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 didn’t detect much of that in 2019, and I didn’t have any better luck on Friday. Ty Morrison starts it off with a strutting, rubber-legged solo; when he does a sudden split, there’s no question he’s “Got the Feelin’.” But the next 15 minutes don’t seem to address conforming. A reporter (Keeno) interviews Brown (Joan Rodriguez) and they dance together. To “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” three men try to convince themselves it truly is; Pedro Garcia’s impressive double tours make the best case. Three women respond in a silent ritual that suggests maybe it’s a woman’s world. A group section in which Rodriguez and Garcia briefly face off is resolved through dance therapy, and then everyone gets funky and groovy to “Super Bad.”
Trey McIntyre’s “Blue Until June” (2000) is set to Etta James. Katie Garcia opens it with a whirling, agitated solo to “St. Louis Blues” while the other five dancers emerge from a dark tarp. Rodriguez and Jordyn Santiago have a clingy duet to “My Dearest Darling” until Morrison intervenes. To “One for My Baby,” Pedro Garcia nails tipsy pirouettes and barrel turns (it’s quarter to three in the morning, after all); then Morrison and Keeno tango to “Seven Day Fool.” “I’d Rather Go Blind” brings some partner switching, at the end of which the other five dancers huddle and Katie Garcia leaps on top of them. There’s no “At Last” for her, as she’s left to do a few wistful jetés on her own; it’s a rapt Keeno and Pedro Garcia whose lonely days are over. The other four wind up back under the tarp, though the affectionate lyricism of McIntyre’s choreography suggests they won’t be blue for long.
The dessert on the program is Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Pacopepepluto” (2021), a trio of male solos to songs Dean Martin made famous. The men, it turns out, are wearing just dance belts, though Friday, at least, the lighting was so subdued, you could hardly tell. Rodriguez (“Memories Are Made of This,” sung by Martin impersonator Joe Scalissi) and Morrison (“In the Chapel in the Moonlight”) don’t get much to work with; the choreography matches the blandness of the selections. Guzmán Rosado has an easier assignment with “That’s Amore”; he’s able to waggle his butt to “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie” and work the comedy of rhymes like “drool” with “pasta e fasule.” Still, if Bodytraffic wants to let the guys strut their stuff, it might at least turn the lights on. And if you’re wondering what the curtain call looks like, the lights go down for a second, and when they come back up, all three men are wearing black tights. Better luck next time?
Presented by Global Arts Live. At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, Friday, Nov. 17.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.