BODYTRAFFIC Redefines L.A. Dance
Yusha-Marie Sorzano (left), Tina Finkelman Berkett and Guzman Rosado (right) rehearse Kyle Abraham’s Kollide
BODYTRAFFIC isn’t the kind of company you expect to find in Los Angeles. Sure, the city has long been a major dance hub, employing hundreds of dancers for work in film and TV. But palm trees and ocean breezes have rarely been associated with gritty contemporary choreography.
Yet in just seven years, BODYTRAFFIC has emerged as a force on the concert dance scene. Even without a name director like Benjamin Millepied, it’s become a talk-about for its fierce performances in original repertoire by today’s top contemporary choreographers: Hofesh Shechter, Kyle Abraham, Barak Marshall, Stijn Celis, Zoe Scofield and Andrea Miller, among others. This month, the company is creating a premiere with Victor Quijada, and a new project with 2013 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship winner Loni Landon is in the works.
The troupe is the brainchild of Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, who met in an L.A. ballet class in 2005 and, as Barbeito puts it, “hit on each other in a dancer way.” Barbeito had already relocated to L.A. to join her filmmaker husband, and Berkett, whose husband is from L.A., would follow in 2007. They each had impressive resumés, boasting such gigs as Aszure Barton & Artists and Baryshnikov’s Hell’s Kitchen Dance (Berkett), and the Grammys, music videos and a feature film by Spike Lee (Barbeito). Motivated by the desire to perform strong contemporary choreography, the pair soon dreamed up a project called BODYTRAFFIC. “We wanted an unforgettable name that was specific to dance and to Los Angeles,” explains Barbeito. “Anyone who has ever driven on the 405 Freeway understands immediately.”
Clockwise from top left: Sorzano embraces Rosado; co-director Lillian Barbeito leads the Kollide rehearsal; dancers run through a section; Perez partners Bourkas’ développé.
Today, BODYTRAFFIC’s 10 stylistically elastic dancers go from the raw intensity of Shechter’s Dust to the hyper-gestural dance theater antics of Marshall’s Monger to the classic contemporary ballet lines of Celis’ Fragile Dwellings. Unsurprisingly, they come from a variety of backgrounds: Some trained classically at major academies like the School of American Ballet, while others only began formally dancing in college. And because the company’s contracts only cover 25 to 30 weeks, a few do commercial work on the side. But Berkett (who still dances with the company herself) says, “They all must be fearless.”
“These dancers are facile movers with powerful attack. The physical conversation we had was so exciting. I went in a slightly different direction for me: Kollide has a contemporary ballet flavor. It’s funny, now my own company wants to do the piece!”—Kyle Abraham
So how has such a young company managed to line up such high-profile choreographers? By playing the patience card. For example, the directors first approached Shechter in 2007. It took until 2014—and many follow-ups (“We are known for being relentlessly charming,” says Barbeito)—for the companyto premiere his Dust. “I love BODYTRAFFIC to bits,” says Shechter today. “Not only do they have this wonderful family feel, they perform with such raw intensity.”
Above: A softer moment with Berkett and Rosado and Melissa Bourkas and Miguel Perez
Barbeito and Berkett also have a good eye for emerging talent: “We tend to get them right before they blow up,” says Barbeito. The pair knew they wanted to work with Abraham after seeing The Radio Show in 2011. “His voice was so distinct,” says Berkett. “It had all the right elements:He used exquisite technique across different genres, but it was also theatrical with both hilarious and heartrending moments.” BODYTRAFFIC premiered Abraham’s Kollide, the first piece he created after becoming a MacArthur Fellow, in October 2013.
However, the pair has also figured out how to use their location to their advantage. “Okay, so we have aimed our MacBooks out the window while Skyping,” confesses Barbeito. “The lure of palm trees and curiosity about the L.A. scene can be pretty persuasive.”
Above: The dancers leap into the air. Here: Berkett, foreground, works through a phrase.
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.