What can dance do?
Spend an hour or so with LA’s Invertigo Dance Company as they whirl you through their latest work, Reeling — and you’re more likely to ask, “Is there anything dance can’t do?” This is a raucous evening, sizzling with surprises, bursting with energy, flowering into every color of beauty (including the dark ones).
It begins so simply. Set in a bar, where so many of our stage plays (but few dance theatre works) have taken place.
Reeling at once nudges the familiar off-balance, into surrealism — while the bartender washes glasses, a man sits at the end of the bar with a fishing pole, dangling it before a live goldfish in a bowl. Then a tall, elegant dancer emerges with a goldfish in a giant brandy snifter and begins a slow, impossible dance with it. At the end, she cups it in one foot while she flows from pose to pose, blithely ignoring it.
Then, suddenly, this gentle parody of “serious art” we’ve been watching (and perhaps taking at face value) begins to crumble. The bar fills with people on cell phones, rushing into, through, under, and over one another without noticing, like Angelenos on a freeway.
And the touch of choreographer Laura Karlin is already evident. There’s seldom just one thing happening onstage — dancers move more often in canon or counterpoint than unison — human bodies meet and morph into moving creatures we’ve never imagined — and the stage is filled with surprise, humor and, yes, deep feeling. For all the wild flash of the dancing, Karlin’s always making story; and her dancers are always showing us characters we connect to, care for.
Much as I want to, it would be wrong for me to describe each of the show’s 18 numbers, which flow into one another seamlessly as the evening at the bar progresses (or declines). Everything we know of modern club life is here, always seasoned with wit and invention.
The comic fishing lines, for example, turn into a stunning physical meditation on how we connect, and the webs of relationship we make and unmake. A playful drunken game slides into abuse; a shy young woman breaks our heart with the torch she carries for a golden girl.
And there’s the dancing. Invertigo is known for challenging artists to go beyond what they’ve learned; the results display themselves breathtakingly in every number. These dancers do unexpected things with their bodies, and with one another. Hyosun Choi becomes a daredevil of partner work; and in their climactic duet, Jessica Dunn and Alex Middleton show us things we have only dreamed of. Again and again, the Invertigo troupe pushes the boundaries of what we think humans can achieve.
But for Invertigo, the dancing isn’t the whole story. The story is.
And these artists are storytellers, every one. In Reeling, there’s never a dancer onstage — each one is always a person, in the middle of a private arc through an evening of drinking and flirting and, more often than not, loneliness.
Really, it’s not fair to call what Invertigo does dance. It’s true dance theatre — bringing all the resources of centuries of dance into the service of telling human stories, awakening in us the complexities of our own hearts. When we leave the theatre, it does not leave us;
and we cannot be who we were when we entered.
Reeling, choreographed and directed by Laura Karlin.Presented by Invertigo Dance Theatre.
At the Moss Theatre, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica 90404.
Saturday Oct. 10 at 8:00, Sunday Oct. 11 at 6:00.
At the White Box in the San Diego Dance Palace,
2590 Truxton Rd., San Diego 92106.
Friday Oct. 16 and Saturday Oct. 17 at 8:00.
At the New Vic Theatre, 33 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara 93101.
Saturday Nov. 7 at 7:00, Sunday Nov. 8 at 6:00.