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The Plain Dealer  |  November 14, 2016

BodyTraffic exudes vibrant Los Angeles spirit on theatrical DanceCleveland debut (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Rarely does a dance company's hometown matter that much, or shine through in concert. BodyTraffic, however, made sure all could sense its roots are in Los Angeles.

Good thing, too. On the DanceCleveland series Saturday night at Playhouse Square, the small troupe led by Lillian Rose Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett put on the dance equivalent of a Hollywood show, a dramatic presentation overflowing with energy, theatricality, and physical prowess.

Not that the night was flawless. To this viewer, the entire first work was a bit of an enigma. Still, its dancing and music were beguiling, enough to allow one to count the evening as a whole a success.

The program began making sense after the break, with Victor Quijada's "Once Again, Before You Go." Here, a quartet of men and a lone woman acted out a dizzying night on the town, beginning with a voluptuous male solo and ending with a couple's bittersweet adieu.

More than any story, however, it was the dancing that captivated. In a cloud of sheer water vapor and light beams, the company crafted one stunning night-club tableau after another, writhing and interlocking bodies with flexibility and athleticism almost beyond belief. As hard as it was on the characters, the final farewell may have been toughest on the audience.

In "o2Joy," meanwhile, the dancers only exhibited greater physical freedom and bolder flair. If any one work betrayed the company's Los Angeles origins, in fact, it was this one by Richard Siegal, a lighthearted tribute to American jazz.

Solo and ensemble passages flowed together smoothly, with the elegance of a high-class lounge act. Humor, too, permeated the proceedings, as dancers broke the fourth wall mouthing lyrics, smiling for the audience, and playing air instruments, all while remaining perfectly footloose and fancy-free.

One particular scene will not soon be forgotten: the glorious, over-the-top rendition of Ella Fitzgerald's "All of Me," performed to the hilt by Matthew Rich.

If only the opening work had been so accessible. As it was, Barak Marshall's "And at Midnight, the Green Bride Floated Through the Village Square" left at least one member of the audience scratching his head, despite a detailed program note outlining its tale of a large, hot-tempered Yemeni family.

Humorous spoken-word segments outlining meat recipes alternated with dark, confusing sequences of female dancers bickering and being carted away one by one. The bleakest and oddest moment came when the honoree of an apparent wedding party pulled a gun and blew away her guests.

Still, there was much to savor. Even as it lost its dramatic thread, "And at Midnight" held onto its appeal with a haunting suite of Jewish love songs and complicated, largely gestural choreography wherein the dancers made intricate and compelling use of their arms, individually and in unison. Like the company itself, it was an exotic work, and a sight to behold.
DANCECleveland

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