by Lara J. Altunian
On October 22nd Invertigo Dance Theatre celebrated a decade of contemporary performances, educational programs, and magical realism in Santa Monica’s Moss Theatre. The event guided the audience through three different facets of their organization, with highlights being excerpts from Interior Design, their first ever production, and Formulae and Fairy Tales, which they plan on developing during their upcoming season and which promises to be a fascinating piece on Alan Turing, father of computer science. Both showed off the company’s current talent while showcasing founder and artistic director Laura Karlin’s creativity and innovation.
Dancing Through Parkinson’s
The night began with a peek inside Invertigo’s Dancing Through Parkinson’s (DTP) program. The stage was filled with chairs as DTP dancers and their teachers, dressed all in black, began their relaxing movements to sounds of soothing and melodic yoga-esque chants, rotating their arms and reaching upward before switching seats with their partners. Established in 2010 by continuing instructor Linda Berghoff, the classes are a way to help those diagnosed to find both a creative outlet and a way of reclaiming their bodies through dance. Recently expanded to seven more locations throughout Los Angeles, the program has been gaining more traction as some of its leaders, including choreographer Sofia Klass, have been speaking to doctors at conventions about the positive effects dance has had on Parkinson’s patients. The calm routine was followed by a fun number incorporating top hats to “One” from the 1975 musical A Chorus Line, which is where the older dancers especially shined.
A full half hour of Invertigo’s debut work, Interior Design, followed the DTP presentation. First commissioned by the Mexican government and created in Tijuana, the universal plot features a mixed-race couple navigating nosy neighbors while dealing with a miscarriage. Although from 2007, the piece is perhaps more relevant now than ever thanks to the country’s state of division featuring race and gender politics.
Every action is raw and the chemistry between dancers Hyosun Choi and Jonathan Bryant carried this dance/play through melancholy moments, comic relief, and acts of tenderness and care. Like many of the company’s productions, the work made heavy use of props (sometimes unfortunately blocking the view for those seated in the bottom front row seats) and dialogue as a way to enhance movement. The dance duo showed off their dynamic partnership by swinging their bodies over and around a wooden table when “arguing” about how to arrange a small pot of flowers. Each elongation of their limbs and synchronized stance enhanced their playfulness, as did a later scene when they suddenly appear wearing boxes on their feet—a move which at first shows their clumsy attachment to their belongings but ended with the two performing a charming couples’ contemporary dance full of dips and swoons.
Audience participation is a common Invertigo thread that was showcased in the piece. Choi reeled viewers in by addressing them as her neighbors, and searcheed for someone to read instructions out loud on stage. She and Bryant lifted each other into different poses assembling furniture shapes, later matching a voice recording’s directions for a “healthy relationship.” Their communication with their “neighbors” evolved when a recording “rings” their doorbell and asked them a rapid-fire onslaught of questions that ended with intimate inquiries about their plans to have children. The quick change in tone as seen on Choi’s face as she withdrew is like PTSD, representative of the roller coaster of emotions miscarriage brings. Her following desperate cries were heartbreaking and difficult to endure. The crowd at Moss seemingly agreed as several sniffles were heard throughout the theater.
A demonstration by Invert/ED child education program lightened the mood as choreographer Sadie Yarrington invited a group of younger and older children from Hope Street Family Center, Invertigo’s partner since 2014, to take on the stage. A dozen or so girls, all members of the community program, performed simple and fun routines to themes of movie and television. The two most widely recognized soundtracks were from The Pink Panther, which saw one young dancer dress as Inspector Clouseau trench coat before revealing herself to be the elusive cartoon feline, and Ghostbusters, which showed the girls imitating the campy classic, backpacks and all.
Formulae and Fairy Tales
Formulae and Fairy Tales was the final piece of Invertigo’s 10-year celebration of community. Alan Turing, who cracked Germany’s enigma machine and helped end WWII early, became the father of computers thanks to his invention. Now a household name thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of him in The Imitation Game, many know that he committed suicide after being subjected to punishing treatments administered by the British government after being arrested for being a homosexual in the 1950s. Few however are aware that he did it by eating an apple laced with cyanide—an act eerily foreshadowed by his love for Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Artistic Director Karlin’s dedication to telling Turing’s story was visible in the dramatic 30-minute performance. Spoken introductions set the tone for rough play fights evolving into sexually charged advances. Voice recordings and viewer interaction maintained the theme set by Interior Design with an audience member being brought on stage to try and pass the Turing test, a series of questions asked to determine if a machine is capable of exhibiting intellectual behavior similar to a human being. The participant passes; the voice recording, meant as a reflection of Turing himself, does not, concluding with, “I never wanted to anyway.” Six Invertigo members are involved as dancers choreographers: Choi, Cody Brunelle-Potter, William Clayton, Jessica Dunn, Adrian Hoffman and, Shane Raiford.
Apples were used throughout the piece to keep with the imagery of death and Snow White. The most compelling moment in Formulae is a waltz that takes place between Clayton and Hoffman. They are connected at the mouth through an apple they both bite, ending up on the floor and wrapping their legs around each other in an embrace reminiscent of a kiss. As they break away, Hoffman, a physical embodiment of Turing, quickly and vigorously eats the apple concluding the preview with his suicide and a following standing ovation.
Celebrating the Past & Looking Forward
Invertigo’s emotional pieces have carried the company through a decade of performances, rooted in their sense of community. You won’t find a simplistic performance from Invertigo, which often flirts with every facet possible for telling a story; their choice of symbols and imagery has evolved to be more complex over time, but the emphatic factor behind their work remains strong and fascinating to watch.