Countertechnique and catharsis rule at BODYTRAFFIC's summer intensive.

Guest teacher Chris Evans has danced with Hofesh Shechter. Photo by Guzman Rosado, courtesy BODYTRAFFIC.

As choreographer Rosie Herrera shepherds 25 students through her own brand of warm-up, the campus dance studio at Loyola Marymount University is charged with emotion. Sitting in a circle, the dancers must share three things about themselves: “Where you’re from, if you’ve been in love and if you believe in God.” Things get real quickly, and when the tears start flowing, an animated Herrera quickly puts the dancer at ease: “We love the first person who cries,” she says, prompting a round of applause. “Dance is the language we speak, but I’m most interested in people having experiences. Things are gonna get deep.”

That might well be the mantra for the BODY­TRAFFIC intensive. Run by the Los Angeles company’s co-directors Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, the program spans three weeks and boasts an impressive lineup of guest choreographers like Herrera. The goal? Not merely achieving technical improvement or expanding a dancer’s repertoire, but sparking artistic transformation. 

“In my early training, I was a bunhead, so I did a lot of ballet intensives,” says Barbeito. “I wanted to veer in the opposite direction. We want to cause breakthroughs for the participants—mental, physical and emotional.”

A Different Dynamic

The approach appears to be working. The number of applicants tripled last year (the program’s third) to 250. About 10 percent are accepted. The increased interest can be traced to BODYTRAFFIC’s mounting success as a repertory company since its founding in 2007 by Barbeito and Berkett. The intensive attracts dance majors and professionals who range in age from 18 to mid-50s, though the majority are 20 to 25.

Countertechnique teaches mindfulness and body awareness. Photo by Guzman Rosado, courtesy BODYTRAFFIC.

Barbeito has made Countertechnique a major component of the intensive. She studied the approach, which uses counter-directions in all movements, at choreographer Anouk Van Dijk’s intensive in Amsterdam and came away enthralled by its focus on shifting dynamics, mindfulness and body awareness. “I started the intensive partly because I really wanted to introduce Countertechnique to the Los Angeles community,” says Barbeito, one of only 20 certified Countertechnique instructors in the world. “That also carries over into how I curate the guest artists—we want to bring in artists who are at the forefront of what’s happening now in dance.” To date, those guest artists have included Peter Chu and Adam Barruch, as well as choreographers who’ve created work for BODYTRAFFIC, like Kyle Abraham and Sidra Bell. Last year’s slate included Herrera, of Miami-based Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre; Ayman Harper, a Berlin-based choreographer and former Forsythe Company member; and Chris Evans, who’s danced with Hofesh Shechter Company and is his assistant choreographer for Fiddler on the Roof.

Building, Exploring, Creating

The intensive is broken down into three separate weeks—last summer, the first was led by Evans, the second by Barbeito and Berkett, and the third by Harper and Herrera. Though each week has a different schedule, common threads include technique and improvisation (about one and a half hours per day), repertory sessions (anywhere from two to four and a half hours per day) and time for exploration and creation (up to four hours per day). “We want to give them space to create their own solos, duos and trios,” says Herrera. “It’s all about helping the dancers have a profound experience in a short amount of time.”

Participants get a chance to learn not only pieces of BODYTRAFFIC repertory, but also repertory from the guest artists’ companies. For instance, Harper taught William Forsythe repertory with a focus on structured improvisation, while Herrera workshopped excerpts from Make Believe, a soon-to-premiere work.

“I was really attracted to the variety,” says 22-year-old Alexandra Lockhart, a recent SUNY Purchase graduate and repeat participant. “These aren’t opportunities you get on a daily basis.” Adds fellow student Amanda Sachs, “It feels like three mini-intensives inside the bigger BODYTRAFFIC bubble.”

There’s also a fair share of interpersonal activities, such as a “Lunch on the Lawn” question-and-answer session with BODYTRAFFIC members and a sit-down dinner with the guest artists. At the end of each week, dancers get to share what they’ve learned with an intimate studio showing. For many participants, the opportunities to interact with the visiting choreographers provide a great foundation for building relationships that last far beyond the intensive.

And for those who excel, their efforts can pay off with a job. Last summer, Barbeito and Berkett invited two participants to come back for extended auditions. “We look for people who are fearless and open-minded, superb technicians with an engaging presence,” says Barbeito. “It’s also about personality—who do we want to be in the room with for six days a week from 9:30 to 5:30?”

For Sachs, who currently dances with New York City–based Francesca Harper Project, the professional connections have been as important as the opportunity to expand her range as a dancer. “These are the people,” she says, “who are leading us where we’re going next in the dance world.”