A Young Choreographer Inspired by the Streets of LA

15/01/2017

Various composers, Jacob Jonas: Jacob Jonas The Company, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills, 13.1.2017. (JRo)

Jacob Jonas The Company__Photo credit_Courtesy of Jacob Jonas The Company_1

Jacob Jonas The Company (C) Jacob Jonas The Company

Dancers:

Kimberly Bridgewater, Lamonte “Tales” Goode, Jeremy Julian Grandberry, Jacob Jonas, Charissa Kroeger, Marissa Labog, Jacob “Kujo” Lyons, Brooklynn Reeves, Anibal Sandoval, Renee Stewart, Nic Walton, Jill Wilson

Production:

In a Room on Broad St.
Music – Eric Colvin and various composers
Lighting Design – William Adashek

f l y
Music – Bon Iver
Lighting Design – William Adashek

Grey
Cinematography – William Adashek
Music – Chris Westlake

Obstacles (Inspired by Mallory Smith)
Choreography – Jacob Jonas and Marissa Labog
Voice – Mallory Smith
Music – Philip Glass
Lighting Design – William Adashek

Jacob Jonas, a 24-year-old, Los Angeles-based choreographer, began his dancing life on the streets of LA, and it is the dance language of the streets – breakdancing, popping, and acrobatics – that is featured in much of his work. His self-proclaimed mission is to create a popular, more inclusive brand of choreography to encourage a wider audience to appreciate dance. It is ironic that his most successful pieces of the evening were the most abstract. Fly and the filmed dance, Grey, relied less on the sentimentality of obvious narrative and attempted to achieve a more distilled vision.

In a Room on Broad St., featuring ten dancers in jeans and sneakers, reflected the improvisational air of a street gathering. It opened with what has become the cliché of dancers repeatedly walking and running from one wing of the stage to the other. With chairs as anchors, dancers appeared to engage in conversations, confrontations, and interrogations. Grimacing and scowling at one another, they evinced less the joy of street dance and more the pseudo-anger of West Side Story gang rivalry. The strength of the piece resided in a section that focused on two male dancers (one of them Jonas) who, leaning against each other back to back, created a balancing act of child-like seesawing maneuvers. If there was any humor or personal engagement to be found it was here. In the play of weights and measures, leaning and resisting, falling and catching, Jonas’s strength as a choreographer appeared.

In its hypnotic repetitions, Fly reminded me of the minimalist choreography of Lucinda Childs. Fly revealed more maturity, foregoing the overly dramatic facial expressions and settling into the recurring pattern of four dancers, two at a time, bounding across stage on a sharp angle from back to front and left to right, tracing diagonal lines the breadth of the stage. The magic of turning four dancers, exiting and reappearing, into the illusion of multiple numbers of performers, was clever and engaging.

Grey, a dance film set at the Getty Center, succeeded on two counts. It showed off the dramatic angles of Richard Meier’s architecture and zeroed in on the strengths of Jonas’s choreography. Dancers became sculptural statements in black, set against the dizzying play of light and shadow created by the stark stones and blinding sun on the Getty mountaintop. With sensual cinematography by William Adashek, the dancers were filmed from above and below as they utilized the staircases, balconies, and platforms of the multi-level architecture. I only wished Jonas could have resisted the close-ups of three female dancers glaring at each other. There was no need to create a sub-text of hostility and one-upmanship. He should take a lesson from Balanchine dancers who are schooled to remain impassive yet engaged, strong yet benign.

The last piece of the evening, Obstacles, proved the most problematic. If there were clichés in the first piece that weakened it, this one was compromised by being too literal, derailing what could have been a more interesting work. As we listen to the tragic narration of Mallory Smith, living with the devastating trials of cystic fibrosis, Jonas and Marissa Labog enact a literal battle of life and death. Large and lumbering, Jonas embodies the disease; small and vulnerable, Labog dances the victim. Struggling to climb over him, push past him, or crawl around him, Labog is blocked at every step by Jonas’s hulking form. Labog, by far the most diminutive in stature of the company, is repeatedly used throughout In a Room on Broad St. and Obstacles as the victim – constantly lifted, hoisted, and thrown about. It plays with the audience’s sympathies and is obvious casting. Labog is a capable and charismatic performer – why not feature her against type? And why does Jonas choose to hit the nail on the head? Mallory’s narration alternates with Philip Glass’s music. The music would be enough, the choreography would be enough, and the rectangle of light on the floor, which holds and contains the two dancers, would be enough to convey the tragedy and trap of this crippling disease without further comment.

Jonas is at the beginning of his artistic career, on a multimedia path to use film, theatrical performance, and social media to reach out to the community. Time will hopefully deepen his trust in himself and his audience and perhaps enable him to move away from the literal and obvious towards the skills displayed in his more subtle pieces.

Jane Rosenberg

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