Jonas flying during "In a Room on Broad St." Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Jonas flying during “In a Room on Broad St.” Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

The Friday night debut of Jacob Jonas The Company at Wallis Annenberg Center  was a big deal for choreographer and artistic director Jonas.

The Beverly Hills High School alum is only 24 and started his concert-contemporary-street-dance group a mere two years ago. And there he was, with his 11 dancers being presented by this small but new and mighty (as in influential) theater, in his hometown.

But it was another milestone, too, in a string of them, for the dance community in the Los Angeles metro area, where theaters rarely take risks by presenting young local companies. There has been a steady and  exciting expansion, in quantity and quality, of dancing and dancers (and most of Jonas’ group are from Southern California). Jonas adds another dimension to the scene.

Jonas was a young teen when he hooked up with the Calypso Tumblers, a street performance group in Venice with whom he ended up touring worldwide. Jonas has hand-picked dancers with diverse backgrounds and dance skills, from ballet to jazz to parkour to breaking. Jonas takes all of that material and thoughtfully utilizes it to present a message, sometimes a story, a metaphor, and, if Friday night was any indication, it’s material that always has heart.

The opening piece, “In a Room on Broad St.,” gives us 10 seemingly lonely individuals, clearly cut off from one another, but who, by my interpretation, appeared to want human connection. (In the post-performance discussion, Jonas said that competition was a main theme of the piece.) Jonas and Anibal Sandoval had a remarkable duet, pushing and overpowering one another with their backs pressed together. In a solo of amazing physical feats, Lamonte “Tales” Goode twisted his body into pretzel poses, balancing one-handed.

Dancer Lamonte "Tales" Goode. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Dancer Lamonte “Tales” Goode. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

In the premiere of “fly,” Jeremy Julian Grandberry, Charissa Kroger, Brooklynn Reeves and Jill Wilson repeatedly traced a zigzag pattern from left to right across the stage. A virtuoso step or two was added during each crossing, creating variations to an ever-developing theme. As the piece progressed, the backstage curtain very slowly rose, so by the end, the audience could see the dancers running back to the left side, where they’d start their zigzaging journey again. Jonas later revealed that this linear route was inspired by a heart monitor machine and a recent death in the family. I’m not sure I would have intuited his meaning. But it didn’t matter because the moving picture Jonas has choreographed has enough complexity and suggestions of narrative possibilities that it succeeds even without Jonas’ back story.

In “Obstacles,” on the other hand, Jonas was intent on  sharing with us his inspiration and source material. “Obstacles” is about a friend, Mallory Smith, who has cystic fibrosis, which is a life-threatening disease. Audio of Smith talking about her struggles punctuate the dance. Her stories are honest; the emotion in her voice suggesting stoicism. Meanwhile, petite Marissa Labong (a powerhouse artist and veteran of the L.A. dance scene) and Jonas stand in a long diagonal spotlight. Labong attempts throughout the piece to get ahead of Jonas—climbing over him, sneaking around him, running in front.

Jonas and Marissa Labog. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Jonas and Marissa Labog. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

But each time, Jonas firmly, forcefully, picks her up and places her back at the start, upstage left, and then places himself ahead of her, his back to her, his feet dug into the ground, as he waits for her next escape attempt. He’s her obstacle; he’s her disease. She has to live with him, whether she likes it or not. We watch her pass through various emotional states until she sits down cross-legged, giving up her battle. But he comes to her and they end up walking hand-in-hand to the starting point; it’s as if he’s encouraging her to keep trying, even though there’s nothing particularly kind about it.

Smith’s narrative was well-told and well-spoken, but it was superfluous; Jonas can trust his movement…although, I recognize that telling Smith’s story was a significant part of his intention. Still, he has created a universal piece about life. And he and Labog gave physically committed, emotionally memorable portrayals.

The program’s other premiere was a dance film called “Grey,” shot at the Getty Center. Jonas and cinematographer William Adashek captured the gorgeous contrasts of light and dark, curve and straight line in the iconic buildings, and beautifully matched dance to it.

The one stumble of the night was when the Wallis staff failed to alert the audience that the pause between the first two pieces was not an intermission. Nearly half the crowd left their seats–and no announcement was made to stay seated. As a result, “fly” was nearly half over before the streams of people returning to their chairs stopped. I’d like to see that piece again in better circumstances.


Kingsley Irons in performance. Photo by Jorge Vismara

It’s not unusual for me to do long interviews for a story, and then not have enough space for all the great material from the conversation.

That’s where “interview leftovers” comes in. The blog is a good place to run, in a fuller form, excerpts from past interviews.  Today, I’m posting parts from an interview I did with Los Angeles choreographer and filmmaker Kingsley Irons, the co-founder of Dances Made to Order, which is a subscriber-based, online dance-film festival. (My stories about Dances Made to Order ran in the LA Weekly and the Boston Globe.) This season, Kingsley is featuring 33 films from teams of choreographers and filmmakers in 11 different cities. Three movies go up on the site each month. It’s interactive, too. Subscribers to Dances Made to Order get to vote each month on the subjects and themes for the films.

It’s a good time to revisit my conversation with Kingsley because one of the films commissioned by Dances Made to Order will be screened at the Topanga Film Festival Dance Film Showcase. It takes place this Friday, July 27 at 8:30 p.m. I went last year and it was a great evening.

In this excerpt, Kingsley talks how she came to Los Angeles, and some thoughts about dance and screendance:

Laura: The dance film or screendance genre is so diverse. Some of the dance films on the site don’t contain conventional dance steps at all. So what makes a work a “dance film”?

Kingsley: I think that goes back to, well, what is dance, and I have a pretty expansive definition of what dance is. I think it can include a range a styles, but also gestural work. I really don’t want to limit what the definition of dance is and I don’t want to limit the idea of what a dance film can be . I feel like if it’s involving a choreographer and they’re obviously doing body-based work, then that for me is a dance film. I think physicality, big or small, is dance, and I would never want to limit something or keep someone from exploring, or going beyond even what I think it would be.

Tell me about your background, where you grew up and how you got into dance.

I was born in the Philippines, but I grew up in New York mostly. I started dancing very accidentally. I started out as a salsa dancer, but then moved into more traditional Afro-Caribbean — Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian — and have been performing that kind of work for a while. But I studied art history and creative writing as an undergrad, so I was mostly working in museums. I went to Hunter College in New York. I realized I was just sort of at a point where I wanted to do something different with my choreography, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it and I needed time and a place to think about that. And that’s when I decide to apply to graduate school at UCLA. That’s about six years ago now. [She got an MFA from UCLA.]

Which professors were a particular inspiration to you?

David Roussève and Susan Foster are probably two of the most artistic influences on me since I’ve come  came to L.A.  And I think had I not met them, my work would be very different.  So I’m eternally grateful to have had them in my life.

What was it like moving to Los Angeles?

It was hard and it’s still hard, I think. At the core of it, I think I’m always going to be a New Yorker. I’ve lived in other countries and other cities and I’ve never had culture shock the way I had culture shock moving from New York to Los Angeles. I cried a lot my first year. It was just a really hard transition for me. I have a very intense love-hate relationship with L.A. There are so many things I miss about NY. But also, NY is so over-saturated it might be hard to find yourself in all the noise.

I think being in an uncomfortable place and feeling really challenged, really  pushed me to create something, create work and create the series [Dances Made to Order]. Because  I really needed to feel attached to something. And I wasn’t feeling attached to L.A.

…When I got my acceptance letter  to UCLA, [I said,] ‘Oh, my god! I should learn how to drive.’ I was 27 years old. The first time I was on a freeway, it was here. I was surprised to make it home alive.

What do you like about working in the screendance medium versus choreographing for the stage?

I don’t think I like one better than the other. I think they can serve your artistic intentions in different ways; I think they can serve the audience in different ways. Live performance will always be important. As a choreographer it’s the heart of where I’m coming from.

The internet is a venue and it hasn’t been fully explored by dance or dance film in a way that I feel like it’s really presenting dance you want to see. When you search dance on YouTube you get all this crap. When you search it on Vimeo, most of the time, you still get crap. So [for us] it’s about presenting dance in a curated way. And also being able to reach more people. … Like Lillian Ransijn [the Atlanta choreographer-director who made the short film “To Have and to Hold” on Dances Made to Order]. I am so happy to have been able to produce her work in this way. I may not have had the funds to bring her company here. But we were still able to be connected. To not be limited by geography in creating a working relationship with an artist, feels really great to me now.